Jerusalem Mayoral Candidate Leon Attacks Haredim in Russian Press

To beat incumbent Nir Barkat, Moshe Leon must make sense in secular Russian and ultra-Orthodox Yiddish; no small task.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

G, a resident of Jerusalem, shopped last Saturday at a Russian-owned delicatessen in the Talpiot industrial area. After purchasing Russian bread, ham and smoked pork, he received at the cashier's a plastic bag with a photo of Moshe Leon, the main contender to Mayor Nir Barkat in the upcoming municipal election, with the slogan residents before all. On Sunday, he already distributed photos of the bag with non-kosher exhibits.

Such a photo might significantly harm Leon's chances if it reaches the Haredi public, and represents Leon's main campaign problem. In order to beat Barkat he needs the support of two diametrically opposed publics: the ultra-Orthodox Haredim and the staunchly secular Russian-speaking public. This dilemma causes his slogans in Hebrew or Yiddish to be different, or even contradict, his messages in Russian.

Long-time social activist Alex Tentzer points to the differences between Leon's campaign in the Russian press, compared to his Hebrew campaign. For example, in a pamphlet, "Our Jerusalem," published last month among the Russian community in Jerusalem, Barkat is criticized for increasing budgets for Haredim.

"The municipality significantly increased payments to the Haredi sector at the expense of secular citizens," Leon was quoted as saying, adding that "the municipality must take care of every resident and citizen, and not support one sector at the expense of another." The piece continues to report that the municipality under Barkat issued building permits for 147 apartment blocks for Haredim, but only 68 buildings for the secular population. The edition also quotes Rabbi Yitzhak Pindrus, Barkat's deputy on behalf of United Torah Judaism, praising the secular mayor. Barkat is also accused of subsidizing Haredi institutions and handing the Rene Cassin high school to Haredim. The school is in Ramot Eshkol - a neighborhood that is becoming increasingly Haredi - but still operates as a secular school.

In the campaign ads aimed at the Russian community Leon stresses the role of Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avidgor Lieberman in his decision to run for mayor. Lieberman is quoted saying: "Recently I've been asked many times why I'm so positive that Moshe Leon would be a good mayor for the city and its residents, I met him for the first time 20 years ago "

Lieberman continues to tell about working with Leon in Likud, when he was the director general of the party, how he assisted his appointment to director general of the Prime Minister's Office and chairman of the board of directors of Israel Railways. "The message is that whoever votes for Leon is really voting for Lieberman," Tentzer said. "As a Russian reader I understand that Lieberman appointed him to all these posts, and now he's appointing him mayor of Jerusalem."

Tentzer says that Barkat's campaign in the Russian-speaking community is virtually nonexistent, and that Likud-Beiteinu is dominant as far as ads. "Those who vote for Barkat are young people, but they won't vote. The older population that votes for Lieberman will show up en masse."

Tentzer believes the Russian-speaking community in Jerusalem numbers some 45,000.

Leon's campaign responded by saying that "Doublespeak and spins actually are typical of Nir Barkat's detached conduct. We underline Lieberman's role in the Russian, Hebrew, Amharic, English and French media. Nir Barkat gave the Haredim more than any other mayor, but since he is condescending, vain and isolated, they don't support him and won't support him."

The billboards at the entrance to Har Homa, South Jerusalem, supported Moshe Leon, left, and Nir Barkat for mayor. But neither candidate succeeded in uniting the city's fractious tribes.Credit: Ilene Prusher

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