Run-off election likely in
 race for Jerusalem mayor

Four candidates are vying for the top job in the city, Anshel Pfeffer writes


The general rule in Israeli local elections is that the incumbent wins.

The platform that a mayor or council leader has, along with their control of municipal affairs and a certain degree of voter apathy, makes matters extremely difficult for challengers.

It means that most local elections, which are held every five years, tend to be rather boring affairs.

Next Tuesday’s election, however, promises action in both major Israeli cities .

In Jerusalem, there is no incumbent. Mayor Nir Barkat has decided after ten years in the job to move to national politics. Four candidates are dividing the vote between themselves, without a clear front-runner.

As in every Jerusalem election, the balance of power between the Strictly Orthodox community and the other Jewish communities in the city is the main factor in this contest.

But this time it is more complicated because of an unprecedented fracture in the Charedi leadership.

This has resulted in Jerusalem’s various religious groupings supporting three different candidates for mayor — a situation that favours the fourth, Ofer Berkovich, a youthful former deputy mayor and the only secular candidate.

He is expected to gain most of the votes of secular and many Modern Orthodox voters.

To win, a mayoral candidate needs at least 40 per cent of the vote. With four strong candidates in the running, it appears almost inevitable that there will be a run-off round a fortnight later between those who end up in first and second place.

But it is extremely difficult to predict the strength of the candidates supported by religious factions. Opinion polls conducted in recent weeks are of dubious value.

The main Ashkenazi Charedi list, United Torah Judaism, has split between its constituent parties after running together in elections for much of the last two decades.

The Chassidic Agudat Yisrael is fielding one of its veteran council members, Yossi Deitch, while the Lithuanian Degel Ha’Torah supports Moshe Lion, a candidate close to Shas Leader Arye Deri and Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

But Shas is also divided, with its former leader Eli Yishai running a different list in the Jerusalem elections and putting his support behind Mr Deitch.

In addition, the Lithuanian community in Jerusalem has split too, with the more radical Peleg faction supporting Likud Minister Zeev Elkin.

A further factor muddying the waters is that some believe the Charedi community’s allegiance to rabbis who direct them how to vote is weakening.

In the privacy of the voting booth, they may well make their own decisions.

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