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Why are Jerusalem leftists voting for a pro-settlement mayor?

From left to right: MK Hanin Zoabi, Jerusalem Mayor Ron Barkat, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai (photo: Activestills/U.S. Embassy)

Over 5 million Israelis have the right to vote in the municipal elections today. National politics are not as directly reflected in municipal polls as they were in the past – when Likud and Labor used those as platform for securing their parties’ political machines (plus, there just isn’t much of a competition in the big cities) – but you can always learn about some of the deeper trends from them. Here are a few things to watch:

1. Jerusalem: Major Nir Barkat is favorite against Moshe Leon. Leon’s candidacy is backed by a political deal between Shas’ Aryeh Deri and Avigdor Lieberman. The idea was to rally the ultra-Orthodox vote behind him as well as to swing some of the national religious his way. But the campaign never gained real momentum; Leon was endorsed by the Likud but not backed by Netanyahu, and the fragile secular voters joined Barkat, who remains a favorite.

Like previous elections, the fight in Jerusalem is between the Israeli right and the ultra-Orthodox bloc. It is interesting to note that the secular camp, which became important during those elections due to its ability to determine the winner, rallied behind the pro-settlement Barkat, who backed the Jewish effort to colonize the Palestinian neighborhoods Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah. Labor publicly endorsed Barkat, and Meretz withdrew its symbolic candidacy of longtime council member Pepe Alalo. In the choice between solidarity with the Palestinians and the battle against the ultra-Orthodox, the secular camp clearly prefers to join the national religious and the right, which is rather disappointing. In all fairness, Leon ran on an extreme-right platform and promised to destroy Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem after the elections, so some claim that Barkat is actually the lesser of two evils.

One could also say that the secular-national religious pact in Jerusalem, which began in the 2008 elections, foresaw the Bennett-Lapid alliance in national politics, and is part of a larger trend.

Unlike in the national elections, East Jerusalem Palestinians can vote for the municipality. They chose not to, as such a vote would be a de facto recognition of the annexation of East Jerusalem and the surrounding villages and towns by Israel.

2. Tel Aviv: The 2008 race, which saw a surprising challenge to mayor Ron Huldai from far left Dov Khenin, is considered among the early signs of the 2011 social protest (housing issues were the driving factors behind both). This time around, Huldai, Tel Aviv’s mayor for the last 15 years, seems to be sailing to his fourth term, despite lack of popularity in the city’s center and south. Meretz candidate Nitzan Horowitz failed to gain much momentum, and the interesting candidacy of Aharon Maduel, a former Likud member who is leading a grassroots movement and is backed by Hadash and some of the hard-left, remains rather marginal.

Read more: Will Tel Aviv have its first openly gay mayor?

Many small fractions are expected to split the vote in the center of the city, while the big bloc of voters in the north remains united behind the pro-business Huldai. If the 2008 elections were an early indication of the social protest, the 2013 ones reflect its current state – fragmented, co-opted and in search of a new way.

3. Nazereth: Balad’s Hanin Zoabi, who was the favorite target of right-wing politicians in recent years (they even tried to ban her from participating in the elections, with only the High Court interfering in her favor), is challenging Ramez Jraissi, who has led the most important Palestinian city inside the Green Line since 1994. If elected, Zoabi will become the first woman to lead a Palestinian city in Israel.

4. Nazereth Illit: The mayor of mostly Jewish Nazereth Ilit, Shimon Gapso, ran a racist campaign which promised to stop Palestinian immigration into the city. Although he is facing corruption charges, Gapso is allowed to run, despite being recently removed from his post by the High Court.

5. Party performance: Bennett’s Jewish Home party is polling very well nationally. The settlers party is now looking to increase its national appeal through a strong performance in the elections. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid ran a more modest campaign, with some of candidates even distancing themselves from Lapid, whose popularity is seeing some sort of a meltdown recently. Furthermore, Shas‘ strength in the post-Ovadia Yosef era will be tested for the first time.

Read more:
Will Tel Aviv have its first openly gay mayor?
Tel Aviv’s mayoral race: Time for a Mizrahi candidate

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    1. Vadim

      The PLO also calls for east Jerusalem residents to boycott the elections. (http://english.wafa.ps/index.php?action=detail&id=23368)

      Without participation – they will remain misrepresented.

      Another example where politics and stupidity come before any attempt to improve people’s lives.

      Reply to Comment
    2. I think there needs to be a discussion to address the fact that East Jerusalem’s Palestinian population are encouraged to boycott the municipal elections.

      The Palestinian people understandably do not wish to legitimize Israel’s illegal annexation of territories beyond the green line by participating in these municipal elections, however I think that an innovative alternative could be very effective here.

      To use a comparable situation within the consociation of Northern Ireland we see the political party Sinn Fein running in elections both in Northern Ireland (an entity/state that Sinn Fein don’t truly recognise as legitimate) and the free state (otherwise known as the Irish Republic) – my point by now should be obvious:

      What if a Palestinian political party (preferably one not linked to violence or a paramilitary) that is active within the oPt ran in the Jerusalem municipal elections and encouraged East Jerusalem’s many eligible voters to cast their ballot?

      Just a thought.

      Reply to Comment
      • Philos

        You’re living in la la land if you think that would work. The government, most likely backed by a plurality of Israelis, would never permit such a situation to occur. They’d find many bureaucratic tools to make an East Jerusalem vote irrelevant. And I don’t know if proving the point that Israel isn’t as democratic as it claims to be at the price of giving legitimation to the Occupation is worth it. I think the Palestinians are quite cognizant of what they’re doing

        Reply to Comment
    3. Maurog

      Don’t be naive, leftists don’t vote for Barkat, they vote against the other clowns in the race. Have you seen them?

      Next to Moshe Leon, Barkat looks like a shining paragon of virtue by comparison, and not because he’s anything special.

      Reply to Comment
    4. XYZ

      Jerusalem Leftists support mayoral candidates who support strengthening Israeli control of east Jerusalem for the simple reason that they know the city CAN NOT be divided, no matter what “progressives” might think. Dividing the city would mean destroying the city, and Leftist Jerusalemites know this better than Leftist Israelis in other parts of the country.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Steve

      Irish nationalists used to vote for members of the British House of Commons, never recognizing British control of Ireland. I wish Palestinians in East Jerusalem would do the same.

      Reply to Comment