Ultra-Orthodox Split Over Backing MK Meir Porush for Jerusalem Mayoral Candidate

The chairman of United Torah Judaism is using the Bein Hazmanim vacation (during the Hebrew month of Av) to update the yeshiva boys and young married students among the Gur Hasidim on several burning issues. Yaakov Litzman made the rounds of shtiebels (small neighborhood synagogues) and institutions of the major Hasidic movement, among other things to inform people on whose behalf he was sent into politics, that in advance of the elections in Jerusalem he does not intend to run a candidate in addition to MK Meir Porush. However, he added dryly, "I'm not telling anyone to vote for Porush."

The typical Litzman message is a good reflection of the Haredi paradox in advance of the Jerusalem mayoral elections: Porush will be the Haredi candidate for mayor on November 11, but until the elections the cool-as-a-cucumber politician will drip gallons of sweat vis-a-vis the Haredim: Those who will try to undermine his candidacy openly and clandestinely, and those Haredi groups that will simply sit on the fence, waiting to see what happens to him in the test of his life.

Secular people have their work done by Haredim. At least in Jerusalem. That doesn't mean that Porush will not be the next Jerusalem mayor, but if he loses - as predicted by surveys that are being published one after another in the local press - he will have someone to blame.

The Haredi front, United Torah Judaism, is composed of the Lithuanian Degel Hatorah and the Hasidic Agudat Yisrael, which itself is composed of several factions: the "Merkazit" (central faction) of Gur Hasidim controlled by Litzman, the "Meuhedet" (united faction) of the Vishnitz Hasidim and the "Shlomei Emunim" (keepers of the faith) faction of the small Hasidic courts led by Porush along with his partner, Jerusalem's Deputy Mayor Yehoshua Pollak.

Officially, none of the factions is blocking Porush's path to the mayor's office, thanks to an agreement signed five years ago between Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael. Present Mayor Uri Lupolianski (Degel Hatorah) was elected at the time with the support of the Haredi front, and now is the turn of Shlomei Emunim. About two weeks ago, the Agudat Yisrael secretariat announced that fact, but Degel Hatorah has not yet had its say, nor have Porush's partners in Agudat Yisrael.

The first to come out openly against Porush is MK Avraham Ravitz of Degel Hatorah, who does not conceal his disgust with the man, a scion of the powerful Porush family. Jerusalem, he says, "deserves a mayor who intends to run the city fairly, for all its residents, one for whom Jerusalem, rather than he or his family, is of primary importance."

Last week, Ravitz met with Litzman and suggested removing Porush and replacing him with Mordechai Karelitz, former mayor of Bnei Brak, or Lupolianski, who is now ending his one term in office - both members of Degel Hatorah. "I'm against the possibility of having two Jews sit together and share the market stall called Jerusalem between them," Ravitz told Haaretz regarding a Porush-Lupolianski agreement. "I'm coming out with a major protest against the fact that the leading Torah scholars are being forced to support Porush, regardless of the question of how this one performed or that one will perform. I respect a person who will be acceptable to the entire Haredi public. After all, some of the Hasidim don't want Porush as mayor either."

But Litzman has an account of his own with Porush. It's a 30-year-old account, which began in the days when Porush was a Gur Hasid. Litzman plans to settle this account in his own way. The various factions in Agudat Yisrael met this week for a stormy discussion, at the end of which Porush's candidacy was ratified. But that happened not before the factions put together a special team that will have to decide on preparations for the elections. The decision is likely to be insufficient for Porush, whose partners find it difficult to forgive him for his victory in Beitar Illit at the end of 2007. A candidate he ran was elected mayor of the ultra-orthodox Jerusalem satellite town, beating Degel Hatorah without receiving the support of his own party, Agudat Yisrael.

"Porush looked like a big winner after Beitar. Today he regrets it. Now he has to sit with each Haredi circle separately in order to obtain support," said a senior member who participated in the meeting and suggested to Porush not to hasten to meet with representatives of the secular public. "First of all he should meet with the Haredim," he said.

Porush's Haredi partners enjoy seeing him sweat. "We formed a team and we'll examine things. If it's possible to work things out, then we will. If not, we won't," explained Litzman. "The secretariat chose him as a candidate, according to the agreement. I didn't interfere with that. Beyond that, we'll see. If they meet us halfway, things will work out."

And in what way do they have to "meet halfway?" Litzman won't interfere, but he is acting like a horse trader for the Gur Hasidim, trying to squeeze the lemon called Meir Porush for the sake of his group. He demands that the Jerusalem municipality, and primarily the Planning and Construction Committee headed by Yehoshua Pollak, Porush's leading disciple, will approve plans for his Hasidic movement. The main one is for a 700-square meter lot in the Romema neighborhood, near the entrance to Jerusalem. "There are things that we want. Pollak caused us damage in Jerusalem during the present term. We want the lot, and there are other things," said Litzman.

But Pollak says that Litzman can forget about the lot. "I'm declaring: They won't get that lot. In terms of planning Litzman doesn't deserve it. I'm saying in the clearest possible manner, if it depends on me - and it does depend on me - they won't get that lot. Even if he conditions his support for Porush on that, even if he promises Pollak the mayoralty, they won't get it."

That is how the Haredi election campaign in Jerusalem is being run. Will the mutual threats of the two sides cause Porush's candidacy for mayor to fail? Even Porush's Haredi opponents are not willing to bet on that.