Sadie Goldman
Israel Policy Forum
September 10, 2008 - 8:00pm

The circus that is Jerusalem local politics is back in the headlines with the kick-off of its mayoral race.

Former Shas Party (Religious-Sephardic) Knesset member, Aryeh Deri, who served two years in prison for taking bribes and is therefore banned from holding office until mid 2009, is trying to have the law adjusted so that he can run. A secular candidate, Nir Barkat, shook up the field last week when it was reported that he was endorsed by former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, only to have the rabbi?s son claim that there was no such endorsement. And the campaign of Russian billionaire, Arkady Gaydamak, began with talk that he would have to liquidate his assets, including the Jerusalem soccer team that he owns, to pay off loans.

The November 11, 2008, Jerusalem mayoral election will come after a year of negotiations over the final status issues that must be resolved to end the conflict, the most contentious of which is the future of Jerusalem. In other words, Jerusalem disproves Tip O Neil?s famous quip that all politics is local; in Jerusalem all local politics are international.

The Scene

Of the four contenders for mayor, two are religious?Meir Porush and Aryeh Deri. Two are secular?Nir Barkat and Arkady Gaydamak. But Porush and Deri represent two different strains within the religious community. Meir Porush belongs to United Torah Judaism (UTJ)?an Ashkenazi [European Jewish] party?and Deri belongs to Shas?a Sephardic [Middle Eastern Jewish] party.

But the deeper into the looking glass you stare, the more the cracks become apparent, particularly when examining Meir Porush?s bid under the UTJ ticket.

The Background

United Torah Judaism was formed in 1992 by the merging of two small Orthodox Ashkenazi parties that were unlikely to pass the threshold of votes to enter the Knesset on their own. The parties that formed UTJ, Degel Hatorah and Agudat Israel (which is itself composed of several factions), not only maintained their separate identities under the UTJ alliance but have clashed, split, and reformed.

UTJ and Jerusalem?s Mayors

UTJ?s tumultuous team work helped elect Jerusalem?s first ultra-Orthodox mayor in 2003. Current mayor Uri Lupoliansky, who is a member of Degel Hatorah, was elected under the UTJ banner; while he won with only 52 percent (to Nir Barkat?s 42 percent); he garnered 70 percent of the Orthodox vote.

His candidacy, however, was part of a rotation agreement between the two UTJ factions, in which Lupoliansky steps down after his first term and a member of Agudat Israel runs to replace him.
And so Meir Porush left the Knesset to contend under UTJ?s ticket. But while Lupoliansky?s success was in part due to his promise to represent both secular and religious Jews, Porush?s campaign is much more contentious?at least within the Orthodox community.

Many within the Orthodox community and UTJ are reeling over Porush?s candidacy, either because they do not think he can win or because they oppose him?and his politically prominent family?personally. A Ha?artetz reporter, Yair Ettinger quoted various UTJ leaders opposing Porush, protesting ?against the fact that the leading Torah scholars are being forced to support Porush,?because Jerusalem deserves a mayor ?for whom Jerusalem, rather than he or his family is of primary importance.? Or because they cannot imagine that secular voters will elect the very Orthodox Porush, ?Porush is not a pet. He will hold the reins in his hands, transfer empty secular schools to the ultra -Orthodox.?

It was reported yesterday that UTJ?s spiritual leader, Rabbi Shalom Elyashiv, has given Aryeh Deri of Shas his ?blessing.? This could propel Deri in his bid should he be allowed to run. It also could split the vote and allow for the secular businessman Nir Barkat to consolidate his early lead.

What?s at Stake

As the race heats up?concurrent with Kadima?s primary and possible national elections?it will not only be about alliances, but also about substance. And to analyst Bernard Avishai, it is all about Jerusalem?s future.

He wrote in his blog, ?Other core issues, like refugees and territory, are not simple, but they are actually more or less dependent on a larger conundrum, which ?Jerusalem? subsumes. Saying that the only problem left for the diplomats is Jerusalem is like saying that the only problem left for a divorcing couple is custody of the children.?

Resolving the problem of Jerusalem essentially entails deciding on how, if at all, Israelis and Palestinians?whose holy sites are contiguous?can share the city in the context of a peace agreement. Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs in Jerusalem (PASSIA), wrote in today?s Bitterlemons that the problem in resolving Jerusalem?s fate is that the negotiators?on both sides of the table??have been discussing Jerusalem not on any agreed formula but on a combination of what their understanding of history, faith, and legend are.?

Both Palestinian and Israeli leaders, and their constituents, are internally divided on whether Jerusalem should be divided or shared.

Abdul Hadi wrote, ?President Mahmoud Abbas says he wants East Jerusalem as it was before 1967. But Qurei [Abu Ala} and many others, realizing that time for the two-state solution has nearly passed, are beginning to advocate a binational state with one Jerusalem?East and West?as the capital for the two people . . . Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashal says that he would never share it with Israel.?

Israel?s leadership is likewise divided on whether Jerusalem must be their undivided ?eternal capital? or shared. ?Kadima?s Shaul Mofaz and the Shas party have accused Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni of partitioning Jerusalem when they discussed the possibility of giving up some Palestinian neighborhoods,? Abdul Hadi noted.

Election cycles can stop candidates from speaking about concessions and compromise. But they also force topics, and the candidates? positions on them, into the public debate. As Israel?s campaigns?local and national?move ahead and juicy news bites are revealed, the devil will be in the details: looking for consensus on viable options for the future of two?complicated?peoples.


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