Saving secular Jerusalem
Next Tuesday, elections for the capital's mayor will be held and the Haredi candidate and acting mayor, Uri Lupoliansky, has a good chance of becoming the real mayor. Thus will a precedent be created. The capital will get a mayor from a non-Zionist, non-democratic constituency that doesn't serve in the army, and is mostly work-shy - a mayor who is a mere proxy for an extremist Haredi rabbi.
It's quite embarrassing to remember the stormy disputes at Camp David over the fate of the Temple Mount and the status of the capital. The truth is, the State of Israel has given up on Jerusalem. Next Tuesday, elections for the capital's mayor will be held and the Haredi candidate and acting mayor, Uri Lupoliansky, has a good chance of becoming the real mayor.
Thus will a precedent be created. The capital will get a mayor from a non-Zionist, non-democratic constituency that doesn't serve in the army, and is mostly work-shy - a mayor who is a mere proxy for an extremist Haredi rabbi.
But many in the center of the country, including leaders of the secular political parties, don't care about the capital. If the possibility that Jerusalem will have a Haredi mayor is keeping Justice Minister Yosef Lapid awake, he hasn't shared his worries with the public. Infrastructure Minister Yosef Paritzky, who knew how to foil much pettier Haredi moves in the past, shows no interest. Meretz leader Yossi Sarid is apparently sunk in the left's deep coma described so accurately this week by French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy in Haaretz.
Since the battle for Jerusalem mayor doesn't interest those people or their colleagues, neither is it on any public agenda for debate. Under such circumstances it is difficult not to feel a powerful longing for the late leader of the secular community of Jerusalem, Ornan Yekutieli, who is no doubt now proof that sometimes there indeed are people in the cemeteries who cannot be replaced.
One of the factors numbing the senses is Lupoliansky's personality. He is heavily involved in charity activities, always smiling, and is very easy going. But he is little more than scenery. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, the spiritual patron of United Torah Judaism, is Lupoliansky's source of influence and the spiritual and political power behind him. Eliashiv is the person who last year prevented the Leo Baeck school, one of the finest educational institutes in the country and affiliated with the Reform Movement, from taking over the management of a Jerusalem school that was about to be closed. If he started intervening in secular education while Ehud Olmert was mayor, it's frightening to think about how Eliashiv will behave when the mayor is his protege and envoy.
While the Haredi campaign gives Lupoliansky a high profile, his number two, Yehoshua Pollack, of Agudat Yisrael, is barely mentioned. For many years, Pollack was the budgets man for the Aguda, and is closely identified with the various "special finances" that were delivered to Haredim over the years. In a few weeks he could be holding the financial portfolio for the city of Jerusalem, capital of Israel. It's difficult not to regard the team of Lupoliansky and Pollack as a "good cop-bad cop" combo.
The Haredim in any case will throng to the polls, which will give them an enormous influence over the results, far beyond their real public strength. The possibility that they will crown a mayor of their own will give them even more motivation. The rest of the voters, religious nationalists, secularists, and the traditional have shown little motivation about going to the polls, ever since local elections were separated from national elections. Low motivation means low turnout. Only a public debate could awaken their sense of danger and send them to the polls. The message should be simple and clear: "Save Jerusalem from a Haredi takeover."
The fact that election day is not a public holiday worsens the imbalance and inequality. The working voter will have to make an effort to reach the polls, while two-thirds of the Haredi voters are either kollel students, meaning free to vote by virtue of their lifestyle, or non-working women, who have no problem getting out to vote. It is possible that this lack of equality in the electoral process would justify a petition to the High Court of Justice.
Lupoliansky's candidacy proves how little the Haredi community understood the message that was sent by the secular voters when it gave 15 Knesset seats to Shinui. The message said, among other things, that the secular are fed up paying for the Haredi lifestyle, and fed up with Haredim trying to dictate a lifestyle to the seculars. The Haredim are now paying the price for the hubris, vanity, and patronization of the past.
A public debate is also important because Lupoliansky's run for office is not certain until the last minute. Those who launched him - meaning Eliashiv - are not convinced a Lupoliansky victory is worthwhile, if it sparks a new wave of rage directed at the Haredi community.
The sleepy campaign until now has helped to persuade Eliashiv that he can conquer Jerusalem without paying a price. But he should not allow the quiet to deceive him.
Even if it doesn't happen this week, the time will come when the non-Haredi public will realize the Haredim have taken over Jerusalem, and also get the hint about their future ambitions on national issues.
In that case the Haredim may yet long for the economic decrees issued against them by the Sharon-Shinui government.