Haredi MK Tapped as Candidate for Jerusalem Mayor Poses 'Real Test' for Secular

Porush will need approval from Degel Hatorah and Shas to become the accepted ultra-Orthodox candidate.

MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) appears to be the ultra-Orthodox candidate for Jerusalem mayor, replacing the previous ultra-Orthodox choice of Uri Lupolianski, the incumbent mayor.

It looks like only a surprise development will keep Porush, the scion of a family of seasoned politicians, from being selected by his Agudat Yisrael faction on Monday. Lupolianski, who belongs to the Degel Hatorah faction, has already announced he won't run in the municipal elections scheduled to take place in November if Porush runs for mayor. The two ultra-Orthodox factions comprise the UTJ party.

Nonetheless, Porush's path to the mayor's office remains fraught with obstacles. Before he faces off against his potential secular rivals - including Nir Barkat, Shlomo Mor-Yosef and Arcadi Gaydamak - Porush will need to win over the ultra-Orthodox who either oppose him or doubt his chances of reprising Lupolianski's victory. The latter argue that the polls don't look good for Porush.

Porush announced his candidacy Thursday, and the possible candidacy of his fellow faction member, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yehoshua Pollak, was taken off the table. Assuming he is chosen by Agudat Yisrael, he will still need to get approval from Degel Hatorah and Shas to become the accepted ultra-Orthodox candidate.

Porush has been waiting for this moment for five years. In the last election, Agudat Yisrael supported Lupolianski as part of a deal whereby Lupolianski's Degel Hatorah faction would then support Porush the next time around.

The MK flexed his muscles in Upper Beitar, where a similar deal had been made but was not honored in municipal elections in late 2007, when the candidate Porush supported, Meir Rubinstein, did not receive support across the board. Porush and Rubinstein ended up winning Shas support and beating the other ultra-Orthodox candidate. The message was blunt: "If [agreements] aren't honored, we will make sure they are honored a different way," as Porush said at the time. "An agreement needs to be something sacred."

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the spiritual leader of Degel Hatorah (and Lupolianski), has recently said he would honor the deal for the Jerusalem mayoralty, but Porush's troubles don't end there. The fight in Upper Beitar has alienated the non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox, whom he humiliated in the race, as well as his own personal rabbinic patron, an influential figure among Jerusalem voters.

The ultra-Orthodox are well aware that Porush is totally different from the smiling Lupolianski.

"Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox pet is going home, and now comes the real thing," said ultra-Orthodox journalist Yossi Elituv. "Now the secular public in the city is facing a real test: Will it be able to accept a Haredi with a beard to the floor and all the stereotypes? Porush is not a pet. He will hold the reins in his hand, transfer empty secular schools to the ultra-Orthodox. He has the motivation to conquer the city, not just on paper."