Berkovitch for a Tolerant Jerusalem

A victory in Tuesday’s mayoral race by 35-year-old Ofer Berkovitch would be a victory for an open and modern Jerusalem

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A campaign poster for Jerusalem mayoral candidate Ofer Berkovitch, September 2, 2018.
A campaign poster for candidate Ofer Berkovitch. For now, the secular contender is still No. 1 in the polls.Credit: Emil Salman
Haaretz Editorial

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin, who’s running to be the city’s mayor in Tuesday’s local elections, likes to say that Jerusalem is a “lab for the future” of Israel. This is generally taken to mean that the city’s demography today, along with the social and economic problems that stem from it, foreshadow the future of Israel as a whole. But this time around, one can actually draw some encouragement from the capital’s election campaign.

Jerusalem is known as a city of “camps.” All the candidates are walking around with notes calculating the blocs of voters – ultra-Orthodox (Haredi), religious-Zionist, masorti (traditional) and secular – taking into consideration the Hasidic court, the rabbinic leadership and lifestyle issues.

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But it could be that Tuesday’s elections will be decided by the people who will vote differently from their assumed affiliation. Many Haredi voters are expected to support the secular candidate, Ofer Berkovitch, while many secular voters are leaning toward the Haredi candidate, Yossi Daitch, and some Jews will vote for the Palestinian candidate for city council, Ramadan Dabash.

Jerusalemites may have a conservative reputation, but in this campaign they’ve been ignoring the “vote contractors” and have shown political maturity and independent thought.

Of the mayoral candidates with a chance to win, two are political veterans who came from outside Jerusalem hoping to conquer it. One, Moshe Leon, an associate of ministers Arye Dery and Avigdor Lieberman, arrived five years ago. The other, Elkin, a Likud hawk, moved to the city a few months ago.

Both are relying on the old-style politics of rabbis and vote-getters to take them to the mayor’s office. They conducted two campaigns, one overt using ads and posters, and one in the courts of rabbis and the offices of political activists. A victory for either would be a victory for this type of politics that views Jerusalem as a political chessboard, over the new, locally focused politics that makes Jerusalem residents the priority.

The other two candidates are Jerusalemites emerging from local politics. Daitch represents Agudat Yisrael, while Berkovitch is the founder and chairman of the Hitorerut (Hebrew for Awakening) movement, which is composed of both secular and Orthodox Jews.

Daitch, who has surprised many observers with his tolerant approach during the campaign, isn’t running alone. He represents a Haredi party, and no less important, a very conservative grand rabbi and Hasidic court that fought, for example, against forcing schools to admit girls of Middle Eastern or North African origin.

A victory for Daitch would return the city to the days when female dancers at a public event became an explosive political issue and the gay pride parade was an event to be ashamed of. Berkovitch, who built a strong and popular movement in Jerusalem without a political apparatus behind him, has displayed an understanding of the city’s deep problems. A victory for him would be a victory for an open, tolerant and modern Jerusalem.

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