Drama High as Jerusalem and 54 Israeli Municipal Governments Prepare for Runoff Elections

In Jerusalem contenders Moshe Leon and Ofer Berkovitch compete in last-ditch fight for support of the ultra-Orthodox party

Ofer Berkovitch, secular candidate for mayor of Jerusalem, speaking to ultra-Orthodox residents while campaigning in the city, November 8, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

No less than 110 candidates in 55 municipial governments in Israel will be vying in runoff elections around the country on Tuesday. The additional round has been called in locales where no one candidate managed to win more than 40 percent of the vote in the election two weeks ago.

Between 1 P.M. and 10 P.M. on Tuesday, nearly two million people in 19 municipalities, 29 local councils and seven regional councils will be eligible to cast their votes, along with personnel from the Israel Prison Service and the Israel Defense Forces.

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In Jerusalem, in one of the tensest races, contender Moshe Leon was in talks Monday to garner the support of the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party, a Hasidic faction; he already has the backing of the ultra-Orthodox Degel Hatorah party. However, a city councillor affiliated with the Gur Hasidic sect told Haaretz the die had not yet been cast and secular candidate Ofer Berkovitch "is still an option."

"Talks are still ongoing but to reach an agreement, his [Berkovitch's] people need to understand that it's possible to live together in this city," said the councillor, Yohanon Weitzman. "But Ofer has to make a bigger effort to show good will in order for this to be 'marketed' within the party."

One source involved in the negotiations noted that only lower echelons were involved in the talks between Berkovitch's Hitorerut (Awakening) party and Agudat Yisrael.

Meanwhile, Berkovitch was also making last-ditch efforts Monday to win over supporters of Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin, a member of Likud, who lost in the first round of municipal elections. Hitorerut activists due to be deployed en masse in non-ultra Orthodox neighborhoods around Jerusalem to encourage citizens to vote.

“The drama is at its height,” said Mordechai Cohen, director general of the Interior Ministry, which will be publishing updates on the runoffs on its website. “We anticipate a high proportion of voting percentages in this round, too.”

Cohen said Monday that his staff had finished all preparations for the vote and his ministry had called on the candidates to behave respectfully and help preserve the democratic process.

Twenty-six incumbent mayors – one of them a woman – will be facing off in the vote. Altogether 11 women were elected to head local governments in the first round and seven are in the run-offs.