Could This Ultra-Orthodox Man, Set to Win Full Haredi Support, Be Jerusalem's Next Mayor?

Support from the entire Orthodox camp would put Yossi Daitch at the front of the race

The ultra-Orthodox candidate for mayor of Jerusalem, Yossi Daitch, is set to win wall-to-wall Haredi approval, putting him at the front of the race for city hall. Daitch, who is currently deputy major and represents the Hasidic Agudat Yisrael party, managed to garner the support of the non-Hasidic Degel Hatorah party last week.

According to a senior ultra-Orthodox source, the division of support between the two secular mayoral candidates – city councilman Ofer Berkovitch and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin – is what persuaded the rabbis in question that Daitch has a good chance to win the first round.

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Daitch has been running an ad-hoc campaign featuring Happy New Year ads in local newspapers, but he reportedly waited to officially throw his hat into the ring until securing the backing of the entire ultra-Orthodox camp. His efforts did not bear fruit until a few days ago, when the leading Degel Hatorah rabbi in Jerusalem, Baruch Soloveichik, announced he was backing Daitch.

Daitch still needs the support of the Degel Hatorah rabbis from the ultra-Orthodox bastion of Bnei Brak, especially Haim Kanievsky and Gershon Edelstein. Daitch and Soloveichik sent emissaries to Bnei Brak to discuss the matter, and senior member of the non-Hasidic, or Lithuanian, branch of ultra-Orthodoxy said he believed the issue would be resolved in a few days and Daitch would announce his candidacy.

Ultra-Orthodox men sift through books at a market in Mea She'arim, Jerusalem, June 18, 2018.
\ Gil Cohen-Magen

If Daitch ends up winning the support of both of the Hasidic and non-Hasidic wings of Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodoxy, the Mizrahi ultra-Orthodox party Shas will have to follow suit to avoid putting the unity of the Haredi camp at risk, political sources say. This is believed to be the case despite Shas chairman Interior Minister Arye Deri’s reported preference for his friend, Jerusalem city councilman Moshe Leon.

According to one source, Daitch pledged to the rabbis who backed him that if he did not win in the first round, and would have to face off in a second round against Elkin (who is more popular than Daitch in the polls, but not more popular than Elkin’s secular rival, Berkovitch), he would drop out of the race and reach an agreement with his opponents. Thus the ultra-Orthodox camp in Jerusalem will avoid a defeat the likes of which they saw five years ago, when they supported Moshe Lion, who lost to the current mayor, Nir Barkat, who is secular.

But Dery is still an obstacle to Daitch, as are a number of other ultra-Orthodox politicians. The holdouts are said to believe that it would be better if the city did not have an ultra-Orthodox mayor at all, as a Haredi mayor elected by Haredi Jerusalemites would grant them more funding. “When you look at who has given more to the ultra-Orthodox community, [ultra-Orthodox former Deputy Mayor] Uri Lupoliansky or Barkat, you want it to be Barkat,” an ultra-Orthodox source said.