Barkat, Habayit Hayehudi Give Crucial Nod to Leon in Jerusalem Mayor’s Race

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and the Habayit Hayehudi party announced their support for Moshe Leon over secular candidate, Ofer Berkovitch, in the second round of voting

Jerusalem mayoral candidate, Moshe Leon (center), on election night in Jerusalem, October 29, 2018
Emil Salman

The Habayit Hayehudi party and outgoing Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat announced their support on Wednesday for Moshe Leon in next week’s runoff election for the Jerusalem mayoralty. Barkat, in his statement, described Leon as “the best choice.”

Leon is also negotiating with Agudat Yisrael, whose Council of Torah Sages ordered its local representatives to pursue contact with Leon. Likud ministers Yariv Levin and Tzachi Hanegbi also expressed support for Leon.

The move by Habayit Hayehudi is a blow for the secular candidate, Ofer Berkovich, who had tried to win the party’s endorsement because he needs heavy support from the city’s religious-Zionist residents to win.

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Habayit Hayehudi’s statement said, “Moshe Leon responded to all the demands on Habayit Hayehudi’s agenda, which are aimed at assuring the Zionist character of Israel’s capital.” It was also agreed that the chairman of Habayit Hayehudi’s Jerusalem faction would be a deputy mayor and get the education portfolio.

Barkat’s statement said, “I believe that the choice of Moshe Leon in the second round is a choice for the benefit of Jerusalem, which is why I decided to support him. Moshe Leon has the ability to lead the city for the benefit of all its residents. From my familiarity with both candidates and my work with both of them, I have no doubt that Leon is the best choice for Jerusalem.”

Barkat added, “After many conversations with Moshe, in which he presented his path and his plans to lead the city, I was convinced that he intends to lead Jerusalem through inclusion and dialogue with all sectors and that everyone will be equal to him, so there will be a continuation of the way I led Jerusalem over the past decade.”

Five years ago Leon was a bitter rival of Barkat’s in the mayoral race and the latter attacked him harshly, accusing him of corruption and saying his candidacy was the result of a shady deal. Since then the two reconciled, and Leon in recent years was part of Barkat’s municipal coalition. Leon was disappointed when Barkat supported Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin in last week’s first round of voting.

Relations between Barkat and Berkovitch, who had been his senior secular partner in the coalition, fell apart a year-and-half ago and Berkovitch’s Hitorerut faction left the municipal coalition. Since then Barkat has criticized Berkovitch periodically. Leon thanked Barkat for his support, saying “it’s very precious to me.”

Agudat Yisrael, whose candidate Yossi Daitch came in fourth in the first round, is negotiating with Leon and is expected to support him. It still isn’t clear what Agudat Yisrael’s terms are, however, and how enthusiastic the endorsement will be. An Agudat Yisrael source said the party’s endorsement of Leon was expected, but will apparently be half-hearted and not call on party supporters to get involved in the campaign. At this point, however, even a weak endorsement could tip the scales in Leon’s favor.

During last week’s voting, Leon got more than 79,000 votes – 33 percent. Berkovitch got 68,000 votes, or 29 percent.