Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What's happening in Jerusalem? Elections!

Israel's first Hareidi (aka Ultra-Orthodox) mayor, Uri Lupolianski, nicknamed "Loopy," is facing mandatory retirement due to a rotation agreement between the Lithuanian and Chassidic branches of the Hareidi party, United Torah Judaism. To replace him, three candidates have joined in the running.

In last place:

Arcadi Gaydamak

Aliyah isn't just for refugees any more. Plenty of wealthy Anglos have made a home in the holy city, and over the last several years, with the sky-high Euro, rising anti-Semitism in Europe, a wave of French immigrants have arrived as well. Now, even a Russian oligarch has seen the wisdom of living in Israel. Wanted on illegal weapons smuggling and tax evasion charges in France, Gadyamak has been in Israel since the 1990's, and makes his base amongst the Russian immigrants who came at that time. He's spent the recent years digging from his deep pockets to sponsor hospitals, children's homes, and social welfare programs. Still, in a capital city whose voting population is about a third secular, a third national-religious, and a third Hareidi, there is no natural block of voters for a candidate who can barely speak Hebrew and English, and addresses crowds through an interpreter. He seems to be polling well amongst the two non-Jewish demographics; the Russians and the Arabs, but over all, he's still at the bottom of the pack.

Then there are the two front-runners:

Meir Porush

He's being called a scion of a 10th generation Jerusalemite family. (Can someone tell me what a scion is?) As United Torah Judaism's new candidate for mayor, without lifting a finger he already has an automatic voting block of one third of the city. While most Hareidim are personally politically apathetic, their rabbinic leadership always coalesces around a candidate, and these rabbinic endorsements result in turnouts in the Hareidi sector of over 90%, and of almost 100% voting for the endorsed candidate. Porush was recently caught on tape saying, in Yiddish to his supporters, that as the it would be difficult for a non-religious candidate for mayor to ever win in Jerusalem again. Of course the tape was translated and rebroadcast ad nauseum by Israel's anti-religious media, but his point was that on demographics of the city. With Hareidi families having ten to fifteen children and secular families having two or three, in the future secular candidates will not be viable.

Nir Barkat

On the opposite end, there's Nir Barkat. Semi-balding and bare-headed (secular,) at first, Barkat is eerily reminiscent of the previous mayor of Jerusalem, current failed and soon-to-be-indicted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Posters have threatened that, just as Olmert made a 180 degree turn and began advocating a retreat from East Jerusalem once he was promoted from Jerusalem Mayor to Israeli Prime Minister, so too might another secular mayor like Barkat. Some of the bumper stickers reading, "No faith in Barkat ," play off these fears of his lack principle due to his lack of religiosity. I don't buy it. United Torah Judaism was as complicit in the Oslo negotiations with the PLO in the 1990's as were the secular parties. They therefore bear as much responsibility for the grotesque acts violence and terror which subsequently rocked the country, and trying to smear Barkat with Oslo just because he's not religious doesn't pan out in my book

Barkat is no Olmert. He actually made his millions as a high tech entrepreneur, and has spent five years on the city council, unlike Olmert who inherited his position from his position from his father, who was a hero of the resistance to the British and later became a hawkish politician. Barkat has also been actively courting the Anglophonic and National Religious demographics, both of which I belong to. His positions are focused on constructive action, and he favors the rebuilding of Jewish life in East Jerusalem, a topic dear to my heart.

I'll be voting Barkat, if for no other reason than he's the first candidate to make an active appeal for my vote and doesn't assume it's coming his way as a matter of course. Also, he was once a fully-functional, successful human being outside of the corrupt Israeli political establishment, with no investigations or arrest warrants outstanding, which is more than can be said for many Israeli politicians.

As for how the rest of Jerusalem votes, it's up in the air. Despite polling which would indicate Barkat being far in the lead over Porush, the 90% turnout among Hareidim gives Porush a hefty boost beyond what polls might indicate. So it's going to be close, and I'd better get off to the polls.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Barkat's election is good news. He better be serious about building in Eastern Jerusalem.