Jerusalem Mayor Looks for ultra-Orthodox Coalition Without Largest Secular Party

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Leon celebrating after winning the first round of elections in October, 2018.
Leon celebrating after winning the first round of elections in October, 2018. Credit: Emil Salman
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Jerusalem’s recently elected mayor, Moshe Leon, is forming a ruling coalition for the city based on a large ultra-Orthodox majority leaving out any representation for the largest secular party Hitorerut (Hebrew for ‘awakening’).

Negotiations foundered with the progressive party after districting disagreements. Another Haredi party, Agudat Yisrael, which campaigned against Leon, will also sit on the opposition benches.

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A few smaller secular parties were also expected to join the coalition which Leon was due to present publicly on Wednesday, among them, the local Meretz party.

Leon’s negotiations for a coalition, since his election in October, have been complicated by his commitment to the Haredi parties Degel Hatorah and Shas. However Leon failed to reach a deal with the Hitorerut party headed by Ofer Berkovitch, who lost the mayoral race by 3,700 votes.

Hitorerut is the largest party in the city council with seven seats. The party tried to enlarge their representation but Leon apparently preempted the effort by negotiating separately with councilors – Yossi Havilio, an attorney, who ran independently and Yehuda Ben-Yosef, who ran with cabinet minister Zeev Elkin’s party.

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Havilio won a deputy mayoral position for the second half of Leon’s term and Ben-Yosef will serve as director of an urban company.

Negotiations with Hitorerut blew up in light of these agreements. Hitorerut says their failure to become partners is due to a a principle difference about authorities and their classifications of the city’s secular neighborhoods.

But Berkovitch won a portfolio as an alternative chairman for the planning and construction committee. The main chairman is Eliezer Rochberger of Degel Hatorah. Berkovitch will have oversight of planning for secular neighborhoods, while Rochberger will handle that for the Haredi areas.

Hitorerut gave Leon a list of 25 neighborhoods it sees as being secular while Rochberger handed in a list of 14 Haredi districts. Rochberger has also sought to administer areas widely seen as seculra such as Pisgat Zeev, French Hill, Katamon, Rehavia, Ramat Sharrett and Armon Hanatziv. Berkovitch’s aides see this list as a reflection of Leon and his Haredi partners’ true intentions regarding the future of these communities, and  refused to join the coalition.

In a statement this week, Hitorerut wrote: “In the past month we have tried to reach understandings with the mayor, the man elected by manipulation behind the backs of Jerusalem’s citizens. The broader interests of the Jerusalem public was our priority. But Leon surrendered to his partners from Degel Hatorah and Shas and blocked Hitorerut from having any influence over preserving the city’s Zionist neighborhoods.”

Leon’s aides rejected the statement, and accused Berkovitch of threatening to blame any failure of the negotiations on Leon’s commitments to the haredim.

“Berkovitch has failed in every negotiation he has conducted since the start of the election campaign,” one aide said.

“We received appeals from Havilio and Ben-Yosef who wanted to drop pouf the bloc and hold separate negotiations. The moment the bloc decreased from nine to seven council members the proposal changed. But yesterday we set another negotiation session and an hour later Hitorerut issued a statement that the talks had failed.”

Rochberg said “the neighborhoods list was not a negotiations ploy, it’s a very marginal factor.”

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