No Matter Who Is Elected Mayor, Secular Jerusalem Has Already Lost

Five takeaways from Jerusalem's local elections, where two exhausted candidates, Moshe Leon and Ofer Berkovitch, must now pull themselves to the starting line for the next round

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
The ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem on the day of the polls, October 30, 2018
The ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem on the day of the polls, October 30, 2018Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The fog that dissipated Wednesday morning after the vote counting in Jerusalem left new questions about the runoff election for mayor, which the results necessitated. Jerusalem has never had a mayoral runoff election and it’s hard to assess what might happen. One thing is certain: No matter who wins the runoff, the secular residents of Jerusalem have more to worry about than they did before.

Here are five observations regarding the results.

The second round

Two exhausted candidates, Moshe Leon and Ofer Berkovitch, must now pull themselves to the starting line for the next round. Leon seems to have the better chance of winning. On Tuesday he received some 20,000 more votes than Berkovitch; what’s more, the aversion of the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi), the Haredi-nationalists and right-wing voters to Berkovitch are likely to bring Leon additional votes.

Mayoral candidate Moshe Leon, who gained 32 percent, had the unofficial support of ministers Lieberman and Dery.Credit: Emil Salman

The situation facing Berkovitch is even worse because the next round of voting on November 13 will not be a day off from work and the polls will only open at 1 P.M. On Tuesday, despite the day off and the lengthy campaign, the non-Haredi population of the city remained frustratingly apathetic; in the secular neighborhoods voter turnout was between 50 percent and 60 percent, while in the Haredi neighborhoods more than 70 percent cast ballots.

Nevertheless, it is too early for Berkovitch and his supporters to despair. Haredi observers point to the deep chasm that has opened between Agudat Yisrael, representing the Hasidic Haredim, and Degel Hatorah, representing the non-Hasidic (“Lithuanian”) Haredim, over the past month. Leon will have a hard time bridging that gap. Berkovitch is hoping that the Hasidic anger at the non-Hasidim, who supported Leon, will lead them to stay home on November 13, or perhaps even vote for him. One can assume that over the next few days we will hear about various and sundry negotiations and political deals that both candidates will offer Agudat Yisrael.

After it emerged that Zeev Elkin had failed to make it to the second round, his wife announced on Facebook that he would not throw his support to either candidate, leaving Leon and Berkovitch to scramble after the religious and right-wing voters who had voted for him.

The city council

For the city’s non-Haredi residents, the election results foretell a blow to the hopes of making Jerusalem a more open, liberal city, as the Haredim won a solid majority of council seats. According to the nearly final results, the Haredi bloc, along with the Haredi-nationalist faction led by Aryeh King, will have 17 of the council’s 31 seats. The right-wing bloc of Likud, Elkin’s list and Habayit Hayehudi will have five seats. The center-left bloc, comprising Hitorerut (Berkovitch’s faction), Meretz and the list led by Yossi Havilio won nine seats.

These results mean that if Leon becomes mayor, Jerusalem over the next five years will become more Haredi and restricted, with less territory and freedom for the pluralistic public. If Berkovitch wins, he will be forced to deal with a defiant council and a very fragile coalition. He will be squeezed between his secular supporters and his Haredi political partners.

Some 20,000 secular and religious voters won’t be represented on the city council because they voted for lists that didn’t cross the electoral threshold. These include 5,000 people who voted for Leon’s list, meaning that although he may end up mayor, he won’t be a member of the elected council.

The Haredi revolution that wasn’t

The results indicate that the revolution in Haredi politics that many were hoping for did not occur. As in all past election campaigns, the Haredi public followed the dictates of their rabbis. The Lithuanian Haredim and Shas voters went for Leon, even if they didn’t regard him as the ideal candidate, while the Hasidim voted for Agudat Yisrael’s candidate, Yossi Daitch, although they knew he had no chance of winning.

At the fringes of the Haredi camp there were some “modern” Haredim who voted for Berkovitch, but he made no inroads into the Haredi strongholds. These new Haredim – who tend to work for a living, rather than study Torah full-time – are like Higgs Boson particles: Everyone knows that they exist, as evidenced by their presence in the educational system, various colleges and the Haredi media, but from a political perspective, they’re invisible. To date, these Haredim, who don’t necessarily follow rabbis’ political edicts, haven’t proved that they carry any significant political weight.

Mayoral candidate Ofer Berkovitch at a polling station during the municipal elections in Jerusalem, October 30, 2018.Credit: Oded Balilty,AP

Moshe Leon

The shortage of votes for Moshe Leon’s list indicates that the claims he is no more than a political puppet being manipulated by others were accurate. Most Jerusalemites aren’t excited about him; five years after arriving in the capital from Givatayim, he was able to generate only 5,000 votes on his own. All the rest of his votes were the result of a political deal between him and the rabbis of Degel Hatorah and Shas. Without this support from the Haredi parties, Leon would have been competing with hapless candidate Avi Salman for last place.

Zeev Elkin

During the last days of the campaign, the minister for Jerusalem affairs looked like he had given up. He spent the weekend in his Gush Etzion home and on Tuesday journalists had a hard time hooking up with him for a tour of polling places. To his credit, Elkin did not deceive his voters, saying from the start that he would not stay in Jerusalem to sit on the city council if he lost the mayoral race. Instead he will return to the government full time and plot his political future.

Mayoral candidate Zeev Elkin during the municipal elections in Jerusalem, October 30, 2018.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

That doesn’t mean, however, that he doesn’t owe Jerusalemites some sort of accounting. Elkin was smug and self-confident when he entered the race. He related to Jerusalem as a problem – demographic, political and budgetary – that had to be resolved, and not as a city that has to be managed first and foremost for the benefit of its residents. It’s possible his candidacy undermined Berkovitch, a local politician who grew up in the city and had built Hitorerut into a large political movement. Ultimately, victory went to the Haredim, who put their own interests first and not those of all Jerusalem’s residents.

Click the alert icon to follow topics: