With Deri Out, Porush Courts Haredi Elite

MK Meir Porush can expect to sweat it out until the last minute, without knowing the conditions under which he will become the agreed-on ultra-Orthodox candidate for Jerusalem mayor. And "the last minute" is no turn of phrase; the ultra-Orthodox don't ask by what day they need to submit the names of candidates - they ask by what time.

And the time when the current chapter in ultra-Orthodox politics ends is 9 P.M. tonight, when the names of mayoral candidates must be submitted. Until then, Porush will continue running around trying to close deals with the people supposed to be his ultra-Orthodox partners: Shas, Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael.

But by yesterday afternoon, Porush was already able to breathe a sigh of relief when former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri was removed from the running. This puts Porush closer than ever to being the only candidate running against secular businessman Nir Barkat, in a bid to keep the city in ultra-Orthodox hands for another five years.

When Deri announced he was dropping out, Porush was at home, meeting with a Shas delegation ahead of a deal for the support of the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party. Shas reported "significant progress" in talks on a deal, which will apparently be signed today. Once Deri was removed, Shas remembered its successful cooperation with Porush in the ultra-Orthodox city of Upper Betar a year ago.

Deri has refrained from calling on his supporters to vote for Porush, but he did issue an encouraging assessment, telling ultra-Orthodox radio station Kol Hai he expected that ultimately, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv - the two leading rabbis who had supported Deri - would swing to Porush.

Thus, the major hurdle still facing Porush is winning the support of the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox factions - the Lithuanian (non-Hasidic) Degel Hatorah party and his Hasidic one, Agudat Yisrael, which make up United Torah Judaism.

It is in these parties that some still insist on cutting Porush down to size, and maybe even causing his downfall. Porush's main threat is that UTJ's two decisive figures - Elyashiv and the Gerrer rebbe - won't urge their followers to vote for him.

The only scenario that endangers Porush's ultra-Orthodox candidacy is if the incumbent ultra-Orthodox mayor, Uri Lupolianski, who has announced he won't run again, in fact ends up running. Despite Lupolianski's announcement, the efforts to get him into the race are now in high gear. Lupolianski is still the preferred candidate for his Degel Hatorah faction and for some Agudat Yisrael supporters.

If Lupolianski is persuaded this evening to become a "contingency candidate," Porush's opponents will be able to extend the time during which they can make his life miserable - perhaps even until the polls on November 11. A Lupolianski supporter says that "despite the pressure exerted on him, at the moment he has decided not to run."

Lupolianski will change his mind only if his patron, Elyashiv, allows him to submit his candidacy by 9 P.M. tonight.