Don't Judge a Porush by His Beard

Billboards across Jerusalem depict a sweet grandfatherly Smurf who greets pedestrians with the words: 'Jerusalem will like Porush. From experience.'

Billboards across Jerusalem depict a sweet grandfatherly Smurf who greets pedestrians with the words: "Jerusalem will like Porush. From experience." This promise, containing a veiled threat, is Meir Porush's campaign slogan. A member of the Agudat Yisrael party and a very well-known figure in the municipal and national political scene, Porush is running for the post of Jerusalem mayor. Together with the slogan, "Don't be Haredim" (the Hebrew word for ultra-Orthodox, which can also mean "afraid"), these billboards are spearheading Porush's campaign to appeal to secular voters (separate campaigns are aimed at ultra-Orthodox and national religious voters). The goal of the campaign, as expressed by its director, Yuval Porat, is to help Jerusalem's secular public overcome its aversion to an ultra-Orthodox mayor and show that Porush may well be "something different than what they are familiar with."

The ads are accompanied by an Internet campaign, featuring a speech by Porush himself. The aim of this, according to Porat, is to provide secular voters with a new perspective on the ultra-Orthodox, since, "if an ultra-Orthodox candidate is willing to wage a state-of-the-art campaign on the Internet, poke fun at himself by means of a caricature and is ready to divulge personal information, perhaps he should not be judged by the length of his beard - another slogan of ours."

With that in mind, the site lists 10 facts, which the campaign's designers believe offer proof to secular citizens that one can be both ultra-Orthodox and completely cool. Among other things, the site mentions that Porush hates ties, that his wife always makes sandwiches for him alongside fruits and vegetables, that he quit smoking in a day, lost 56 kilograms in one year and is a soccer and basketball fan, "and a devoted follower of Beitar Jerusalem."

"When you want to talk to people, you do so in their own language - to the English in English, to the French in French," explains Porush. "The same is true for an election campaign. You speak with each sector about its demands because each sector wants its own representation."

Do you really believe that you can represent the secular public?

Porush: "I wouldn't say it if I hadn't done so in the past already. As deputy mayor under Teddy Kollek and as deputy minister of housing, I represented all sectors."

So how did you lose weight?

"What does that have to do with the campaign and my candidacy for mayor?"

That's exactly what I'm wondering about. You decided that this fact is likely to interest me as a secular person.

"Okay, so there is a bit of exaggeration here. Firstly, I lost only 42 kilograms and not 56. And it took more than a year. I went to a dietician and I learned how to eat properly."

This piece of information surely won't be mentioned in the ultra-Orthodox campaign. What will it feature?

"Each sector has its own focus. The ultra-Orthodox sector is very worried about issues relating to housing, the status quo, education and neighborhood development."

On the Web site you are asked whether you are a Zionist and you evade giving an answer. Are you a Zionist?

"If Zionism means being in Israel and not leaving, then my answer on the site, to the effect that we have already been here for seven generations, is an excellent answer. If the intention is that we should be a nation like all other nations, then we have a big argument."

It also says that you are a devoted fan of Beitar Jerusalem. When and where exactly do you see their games?

"What's a fan? From my perspective, I am what you call a fan. It's not that I'm obsessed with the team or go to games, and I also don't watch them on television. But during my stint in the Jerusalem municipality, because both Beitar and Hapoel Jerusalem are very important to the city's secular and national religious sectors, I took an interest and was aware of what was happening."