Jerusalem mayoral challenger Moshe Leon suffered a major blow Monday when several leading Hasidic groups controlling thousands of votes announced that they were not endorsing any candidate.
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The first to announce that position was the rebbe of Gur, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, who controls over 3,200 votes. Leaders of the Belz Hasidim, who control some 4,300 voters, made a similar announcement, as did the Vizhnitz, Boyan, Sanz and other Hasidic groups.
Hasidim in Israel generally vote en bloc, in accordance with their rabbis' directives.
Leon, who was counting on near-total ultra-Orthodox support, had also hoped that a fringe Haredi mayoral contender, Haim Epstein, would drop out of the race at the last minute, but he did not. Epstein is running on a list that broke away from the Haredi Degel Hatorah party, and his candidacy is liable to draw away votes that might otherwise have gone to Leon.
Leon and the incumbent mayor, Nir Barkat, each expressed confidence that he would be the capital’s next mayor.
Barkat continued to attack Leon for not being a Jerusalemite - he only recently moved to the city from Givatayim - and for the support he received from Shas leader Aryeh Deri and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman.
“Moshe Leon is a resident of Givatayim, which is where he raised and educated his children and where he still pays taxes,” Barkat wrote Monday to his supporters. “We Jerusalemites know very well why Lieberman and Deri are behind him and we won’t let this dirty deal win.”
Leon also sharpened his tone, telling Channel 2 News that he had nothing positive to say about Barkat.
“It’s time for a real revolution in Jerusalem that will improve the residents’ quality of life," he said. "Tomorrow the truth will come out and it will turn out that I’ve won."
Jerusalem has 809 polling stations and 576,406 eligible voters. In 2008, 43 percent of them turned out to vote, an increase over the previous election.
A strong turnout in secular neighborhoods is likely to increase Barkat’s chances for reelection. Dozens of polling stations will be set up in East Jerusalem, but very few of the area’s Arab residents are expected to cast ballots.
As the campaigning intensified in the hours before the balloting, Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, chairman of the Central Elections Committee, disqualified a campaign initiative that aimed to stimulate voter turnout, on grounds that it was essentially an effort to bribe voters.
The campaign, conceived by local political movements including New Spirit and the Jerusalem Movement, promised that voters who came to the polls would be given stickers saying “I voted,” which could later be used to get discounts from various businesses or for tickets to cultural events.
The campaign was challenged by a city resident, Haim Levy, who argued that the encouragement to vote was aimed primarily at the city’s secular Jewish population.