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Jerusalem's pendulum swing

    Yitzhak Pindros and Laura Varton are not often in agreement. Respectively representing the most religious and most secularist factions on the Jerusalem municipality, they have very different visions for the city. But when assessing the current state of affairs, they are on the same page.

    Mr Pindros, who heads the United Torah Judaism faction, said he regrets an erosion of Charedi influence. Ms Varton, who represents Meretz, admits there has been a "strident and unforgiving line" against Charedi demands.

    Growing Charedi power in Jerusalem politics "is a process that has been going on for 25 years - I was writing about it in the 1980s," said Shahar Ilan, former Haaretz journalist who is today vice-president of research at Hiddush, an organisation that opposes Charedi influence in the public domain. Mr Ilan believes "the situation is much better than it was four years ago."

    Mayor Nir Barkat, who is secular, took office after Charedi mayor, Uri Lupolianski's five-year term. Before him was Ehud Olmert, who was famously accommodating to Charedi demands.

    Mr Ilan says that, under Mr Lupolianski ,there was "huge discrimination" against non-Charedim. While he believes that Mr Barkat should do more to keep Charedi demands in check, he thinks that this discrimination has been rectified.

    Teenage girls planning to dance at the opening of a new bridge in Jerusalem in June 2008 were ordered, just hours before their performance, to wear long dresses over their outfits, causing a national outcry. By contrast, when Charedi leaders demanded segregation at a municipal ceremony in the summer, the municipality refused.

    "After years of not interfering and of turning a blind eye there is now a backlash," said Ms Varton.

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