Tuesday , July 27 2021

Jerusalem elects a new mayor in the second round of municipal elections – 11/13/2018 7:59:12



JERUSALEM (AP) – The Israelis chose their upcoming mayors in dozens of places in the country on Tuesday, with a main focus on the largest city in Jerusalem.

The vote marks the second round of municipal elections in cities where no candidate has guaranteed at least 40 percent support in the vote on October 30. The most visited running race is in Jerusalem, the capital proclaimed by Israel and a place of pilgrimage for billions around the world. While the mayor of the city has little influence on the politics and diplomacy of the Middle East, presides over everyday life in the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has a strong symbolic presence at the national and international levels.

The polls were conducted in the midst of the most serious violence between Israel and Hamas, an Islamic militant, who regulated the Gaza Strip, as they fought in a 2014 war. An election in a regional council in southern Israel near the Gaza border was postponed because of the ceaseless rocket and violence could lower the participation of voters elsewhere near Gaza.

Jerusalem is the poorest city in Israel. Its diverse population is divided almost equally between Palestinian Arabs, Jewish ultra-Orthodox and the remaining Jewish residents, both secular and observers.

With the head of Nir Barkat abandoning his career to the national office, a quartet of candidates was disputed on an ugly campaign to replace him. The runoff presents Moshe Lion, a long-standing political accessory supported by much of the country's leadership, facing Ofer Berkovitch, a young secular activist who pushes a progressive agenda against the religious forces.

Lion, former managing director of the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1990s, enjoys the support of ultra-Orthodox key factions and their representatives in the government, as well as Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and powerful figures of the ruling Likud party. But he has few basic supports and can not put one single representative in the municipal council.

The 35-year Berkovitch manages a group of secular and modern-Orthodox Jews that make up the largest block of the incoming council. He was also encouraged by a historic division in the ultra-Orthodox electorate, who did not vote in droves in the first round. Many of the leading Rabbis refused to support a final candidate and some Hassidic Jews, whose own hope could not advance until the run-off, promised to vote for the secular Berkovitch – previously a seemingly improbable perspective.

Avishai Cohen, who runs the ultra-Orthodox branch of Berkovitch, says that it is the result of major changes in the community, with a younger generation and more open to change and less dependent on the strict edict of all rabbinical authorities. With many now joining the army and the modern labor force in increasing numbers, he said it was natural that they would also emerge from their traditional voting patterns.

"There is a reason for a real leadership," said Cohen in an impromptu campaigning office where he tried to convince his ultra-orthodox colleagues to vote for their candidate. "I am here to show that there is another type of ultra-Orthodox Jew."

Few Palestinians vote since most consider participation as recognition of Israeli control over East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war and annexed itself in an internationally unrecognized movement. Therefore, the result will probably lower the ultra-orthodox participation and how many will fire next to Berkovitch.

In any case, the winner will have to deal with deep divisions in the city after a very disputed campaign.

"The challenge number 1 is, of course, the diversity of the city. Jerusalem has a very unique demographic structure, therefore, each chosen mayor will have to find a way to embrace the other side," said Lior Schillat, the director general of the Institute of Policy Research in Jerusalem, a non-partisan think-tank.

Elsewhere in Israel, runoffs will take place in Rishon Lezion, the fourth largest city in the country and several other major cities.

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Follow Heller at www.twitter.com/aronhellerap


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