After Nail-biting Race, Moshe Leon Elected Mayor of Jerusalem

Refusing to concede, rival Ofer Berkovitch claims 'many irregularities' and says soldiers' votes yet to be counted ■ Leon is politically close to the defense minister and was Netanyahu’s director general

Moshe Leon celebrates his victory in the Jerusalem mayoral elections, November 14, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

One of the tensest mayoral races came to an end on Wednesday as Moshe Leon defeated rival Ofer Berkovitch with a tight 51.5% of the vote to become Jerusalem's new mayor. Based on the latest figures, with 99.88% of the vote counted, Leon led by 6,528 votes.

Leon, a former accountant, is politically close to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s director general in his first term.

While celebrating his victory in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot, Leon said, "tonight, Jerusalem chose consolidation, unity, togetherness and goodness. I plan, with the help of God, to be a mayor for all the residents of Jerusalem."

>> Analysis: Victory or not, losing the Hasidim made the Jerusalem mayoral race tough for Moshe Leon

Interior Minister Arye Dery congratulated Leon, telling the mayor-elect by phone, "Give thanks to the Lord for he is good…. Much congratulations, and good, good, good luck."

Moshe Leon celebrates his victory in the Jerusalem mayoral elections, November 14, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

Berkovitch refused to confirm that he had lost the race, saying that the soldiers' votes have yet to be counted and claimed there had been "many irregularities" and added that the legal team of his faction Hitorerut would be studying the results.

The votes in 18 booths have yet to be counted, as do roughly 9,000 votes of the disabled, soldiers and prisoners.

In a speech to Hitorerut activists, Berkovitch admitted that "at the moment, the results do not look good."

However, he added, "I really believe in what we did here. We laid down foundations for a new Israeli hope. There is a not-inconsiderable number of booths that we will thoroughly examine. I cannot release you without hope. Our legal team will work tonight and tomorrow morning. There is reason we warned about a power working against us aggressively, violently and on the borderline of legality. We are not giving up on the chance of winning in this round."

Though Berkovitch may have won a majority among the soldiers, it probably will not be enough to close the gap.

After the count, Leon went to his faction headquarters, where his supporters were celebrating his triumph. United Torah Judaism leader Moshe Gafni called to congratulate him. An announcement from the party stated that that thousands of people streamed to Kanfei Nesharim Street to celebrate, including Knesset members Uri Maklev and Yakov Asher.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday morning there were complaints, after the event, about the behavior of Leon's people for tearing down posters of rivals, and destroying rivals' ballot papers in the voting booths. Fake announcements against Berkovitch were disseminated in the city throughout Tuesday, and material inciting against Berkovitch was disseminated.

Among other things a fake video was disseminated to thousands of city residents, ostensibly showing a car with signs in Arabic urging the residents to vote for Berkovitch, with the statement, "The Arabs in East Jerusalem are now going to vote for Berkovitch. Watch Berkovitch's car distribute flyers in Arabic, saying, "Berkovitch – only with me can you keep your home."

Earlier in the day, Jerusalemites received letters ostensibly from the New Israel Fund and Peace Now movements, calling on them to vote for Berkovitch so he would push residential construction for Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Also, during the day, other material smearing Berkovitch was disseminated too. In the neighborhood of Gilo, posters went up saying, " Berkovitch, the people of Gilo are worse than Arabs… go find voters in East Jerusalem." Other ads accused Berkovitch of cooperating with the extremist Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox who demonstrate against army service.

No fewer than 110 candidates in 55 municipal governments in Israel vied in runoff elections around the country on Tuesday. The additional round was called in locales where no one candidate managed to win more than 40 percent of the vote in the election two weeks ago.

Voters on Tuesday ousted seven incumbent mayors, some of whom had been in office for years. In the Tel Aviv suburbs, Rishon Letzion Mayor Dov Tzur was defeated by Raz Kinstlich; Ramat Gan Mayor Yisrael Zinger was bested by Carmel Shama-Hacohen, Israel's former ambassador to UNESCO; and Ra'anana Mayor Eitan Ginzburg lost to Haim Broide.

In the north, the longtime mayor of Ma'alot-Tarshiha, Shlomo Buchbut, lost in the second round to Arkadi Pomerantz.

National voter turnout was 43.25%, compared to 50.9% in runoff elections in 2013.