Daydream nation: Jerusalem goes to the polls

Israel went to the polls Tuesday for its municipal elections. One of our Israeli Observers gave his perspective on the vote. Read more...


Deemed too scary for public consumption, ultra-Orthodox candidate Meir Porush was presented by his PR team in cartoon form.

Israel went to the polls Tuesday for its municipal elections. One of our Israeli Observers gave his, somewhat disillusioned, perspective on the vote.

UPDATE (12/11/08 - 10AM): Nir Barkat won with 52.4% of the votes while Meir Porush received 43.4%.

Jerusalem election poster


Rabbi Meir Porush has promised the Torah Giants:

All jobs in the Jerusalem Municipality will be manned only

by kippa wearing men and women with their hair covered

[ie, only Orthodox/Ultra Orthodox religious people]

Give your voice [vote] to an Ultra Orthodox Mayor

Yerushalayim is gonna love Porush,

from experience!!!

An Ultra Orthodox Municipal Council Majority is Possible!!

Translation courtesy of The Muqata.

"If you're looking to Jerusalem for the wisdom of the sages, you'd be hard pressed to find it"

Israel is synonymous with gridlock. Frequently unable to produce stable governments, the country's parliament is perennially unable to do anything other than elect multiple iterations of the same coalitions: Likud, Labour, Shas, and any number of smaller parties; Kadima, Labour, and Shas, together with the same junior partners. It's simply a question of combinations. The only thing that ever changes is how many seats and legislators are exchanged between the country's leading political parties. Meanwhile, the conflict with the Palestinians continues to grind on.

As typical as this situation seems in contemporary Western democracies, take a listen to what Israeli politicians have to say for themselves. What you'll hear will not only surprise you, but make the otherwise indistinguishable veneer of any Israeli election sound a lot more lively than it appears. Such is the case with the Jerusalem municipal elections, underway Tuesday. Vying for the mayor's job are Rabbi Meir Porush, an ultra-Orthodox member of Israel's parliament, and Nir Barkat, a secular, high tech millionaire.

Relatively unknown outside of Israel, Porush has spent the last decade as a United Torah Judaism legislator in Israel's Knesset. Currently running in second place, according to polls, the 53-year-old rabbi, a religious anti-Zionist who has sought to reach out to Jerusalem's dwindling population of secular voters, was caught last week triumphantly telling a conference of fellow Belzer Hasidim that there will be no more non-religious mayors in Israel in a decade.

'It won't take long, 10 years, 15 years, and they'll have to hunt for a secular candidate to heady any city,' Porush was quoted by Ynet as stating. 'We are growing and multiplying at a fast pace, God willing, and in another 10 years there won't be a secular as mayor in any (Israeli) city.'

Though one might take it for granted that Israel's capitol city is religious, imagine the kind of message such statements broadcast to a country that is still 50% secular, and a city of 730,000 that is at least one-third non-Jewish. It is incendiary, and yet still so commonplace as to be written off by Porush's critics as "bad" for his credibility with Jerusalem's secular community. Otherwise, its business as usual for the world centre of monotheism, with its 250,000 Palestinian residents anticipated to boycott the elections, as they are wont to do.

Secular front-runner Barkat is equally guilty of foot-in-mouth disease. Running his campaign on the basis of his reputation as a successful entrepreneur, the Labour Party-backed candidate has resorted to stereotypically nationalist proposals to highlight the superior value of his candidacy. At a press conference in Jerusalem in the beginning of October, The American Prospect's Gershom Gorenberg reported Nir as stating that he supports "the united capital of Israel," and Jews moving into Palestinian neighbourhoods.

To add fuel to the fire, 10 days ago, Nir declared his support for establishing a Jewish neighbourhood in Anata, on the other side of the 1967 Green Line. Situated in between the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem, extending the city's municipal boundaries that far east would cut off the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah from each another. Already a site of intense debate, not only between Israelis and Palestinians, but also between Israel and Washington, last spring the Bush administration explicitly warned Israel from building in Anata, lest it further antagonise the Palestinians.

Indeed, if you're looking to Jerusalem for the wisdom of the sages, you'd be hard pressed to find it among the city's politicians. Precisely at a time when the Israeli government is making its most profound peace overtures in nearly a decade, Israeli arch-enemies like Syria are open to negotiations, and Israel's best friend, the United States, has elected a liberal, mixed-race peace proponent as President, the biggest political battle in the Eternal City is taking place between religious and nationalist chauvinists, oblivious, or so it seems, to what is going on in the world around them. God help them."