Netanyahu Backs Likud Colleague Zeev Elkin for Jerusalem Mayor

Elkin, who is both environment and Jerusalem affairs minister, does not have the full backing of his party

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, June 24, 2018.
Alex Kolomoisky

Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday officially declared his support for Zeev Elkin’s bid to become Jerusalem mayor, even if the prime minister’s Likud colleague will be running on an independent ticket.

“I support Minister Zeev Elkin for mayor of Jerusalem,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter. “As an MK and a minister, Minister Elkin worked hard on behalf of our capital and proved that it is close to his heart and very precious to him. I wish him much success!”

In recent days, Elkin, who is environmental protection minister and Jerusalem affairs minister, decided to run on an independent ticket after efforts to get the local Likud branch to back him failed.

Netanyahu’s support was thus unexpected. “I thank Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his confidence and support,” Elkin said. “We will continue to work together for a stronger Jerusalem.”

According to a source familiar with the details, Likud officials have put heavy pressure on Netanyahu to support Elkin, but he delayed because Coalition Chairman David Amsalem, one of Likud’s Jerusalem leaders, objected. Netanyahu was waiting to see whether Amsalem might change his mind.

According to the source, Netanyahu changed his approach when he heard that Likud’s Jerusalem group was in close contact with Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yossi Deutsch, who is expected to announce his candidacy for this year’s election in the coming days. Netanyahu, who is close to Elkin, therefore decided to fulfill Elkin’s request for his support.

Deutsch has held a series of meetings with various Hasidic leaders, accompanied by Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush.

The secretariat of Agudat Yisrael, a primarily Hasidic party, was expected to meet Tuesday night to approve Deutsch’s run for mayor. Deutsch will try to win the support of the Degel Hatorah party, representing the Lithuanian non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox, and a key ultra-Orthodox party, Shas.

Elkin has won the support of a number of prominent religious-Zionist rabbis including Rabbi Dov Lior, the former rabbi of Kiryat Arba, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner and Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, chairman of the Tzohar rabbinical organization.

Six other candidates are running for mayor including accountant Moshe Leon, who has the unofficial support of ministers Avigdor Lieberman and Arye Dery, as well as the backing of Chaim Epstein, who is affiliated with the Jerusalem faction, the ultra-Orthodox group formerly led by the late Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach.