Opinion |

The Scary New Jerusalem

The religious mayoral candidate, who could never be elected on his own, is liable to succeed anyhow, because the capital may not be cut out for the 'awakening' it so badly needs

Uzi Baram
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Billboards promoting Ofer Berkovich (left) and Moshe Leon (right) in Jerusalem, October 2018.
Billboards promoting Ofer Berkovich (left) and Moshe Leon (right) in Jerusalem, October 2018.Credit: Emil Salman
Uzi Baram

Mayoral elections in Jerusalem always take me back to the grand days of Teddy Kollek, with whom I worked very closely. Kollek managed to shatter the prevailing political frameworks. Likud, which in all its permutations (Herut, Gahal and Likud) was strong in the balloting for the Knesset, collapsed before him. We also were successful in the contest for city council. We were the first to link outside representatives to the Labor Party under a new name, One Jerusalem. The list won a majority on the city council, but created a broad coalition that included the ultra-Orthodox.

Many people who, like me, live in Tel Aviv but regard themselves as Jerusalemites, are looking sadly at what’s going on in the capital. I don’t know Ofer Berkovitch, the Hitorerut (Awakening) party candidate who is running for mayor against Moshe Leon, but from afar I am impressed by his ability to force a runoff in such a hostile city.

If you do the political math, his chances of winning are very small. The political alliance between Degel Hatorah, Interior Minister Arye Dery and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman – which has been joined by Habayit Hayehudi despite its antipathy to Leon’s unholy covenant, and which may yet be joined by Agudat Yisrael, which was humiliated during the first round of voting – makes Leon’s victory virtually certain.

This will be a very strange choice. Not because Leon is without financial and managerial abilities, but because if we would strip him of all the accoutrements provided by the agreements he signed, Berkovitch would beat him easily. After all, Leon is the first mayoral contender ever whose slate failed to pass the electoral threshold for city council. He has no personal base of support in the city. The next mayor of Jerusalem may be a man who has no political party behind him and who is essentially an emissary of the Haredim and their allies.

This would be unbearable. This new Jerusalem will be a merger between the Haredim and the spirit of La Familia, courtesy of the party of Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. Let no one be surprised if secular Jerusalemites begin to feel even more strongly that the capital can no longer be their home. I heard Habayit Hayehudi representatives explain that they are supporting Leon because Berkovitch is backed by leftists, heaven forbid. Of course he is backed by leftists, but they alone could not have brought him to a runoff. He got support from different parts of Jerusalem’s population.

To me, Berkovitch represents that spark of normality that Israel’s capital needs so badly. He deserves the support of a broad range of the public, because he could give Jerusalem the element it is so lacking – the universal element.

In religious, right-wing Jerusalem there have always been thriving secular outposts – in Beit Hakerem, the Greek Colony and German Colony. In recent years young secular people have occupied a large section of the downtown area. These residents must support Berkovitch’s heroic struggle for a different type of Jerusalem.

The city has changed. It is now a stronghold of the kippa-wearers. Their attempt to place at the city’s helm a candidate who on his own could never be elected is liable to succeed, unfortunately, because the capital may not be cut out for the “awakening” it so badly needs.