A compelling drama unfolded on election night in Jerusalem, yet it overshadowed a number of important and fascinating observations while also generating a number of misconceptions over what exactly transpired in the capital.
Contrary to what has been widely believed, the voter turnout in Jerusalem was not low. Among the Jewish population -- which was the only constituency that participated in the election -- the voter turnout reached 55 percent, a far higher percentage than the national average. Out of a pool of 400,000 eligible Jewish voters, 218,000 cast their ballots. Conversely, the Arab voting public, with its 176,000 eligible to cast their ballots, boycotted, as expected.
The other surprise which has not received the attention that it deserved was the strong support that Mayor Nir Barkat received from the secular and religious Zionist communities who descended on the ballot boxes in droves to vote for the incumbent. In a number of voting precincts, the level of support for Barkat was equal to that which Moshe Lion received in ultra-Orthodox sections of the city, where organized groups of voters were ordered en masse to cast their ballots for the challenger.
Herein lies the major difference. While some of the haredim were following the instructions handed down to them by their rabbis, the secular and religious Zionist constituencies had the privilege of voting freely. The only conclusion left to draw is that if the secular public would have come out in full force on election night, Barkat would have crushed Lion in a landslide.
The relatively low voter turnout among secular Jerusalemites is an indictment against those who decided that they couldn't be bothered with doing their civic duty. It is also an indicator of the failure of the Barkat campaign to get their message out to potential voters and get them out of their houses.
Fortunately for Barkat, while the voter turnout among haredim in some precincts was significantly higher than in secular areas, it did not reach the estimated 80-90 percent as predicted, but rather ranged from 60 to 75 percent.
Another fascinating tidbit is what took place among the religious Zionists. The low secular turnout essentially rendered this constituency as the group that tipped the scales in Barkat's favor. Indeed, it was those bearing the knitted skullcaps who decided this mayoral race.
In theory, the religious Zionists were supposed to throw their weight behind Lion, "one of theirs," himself a former "knitted skullcap-wearer." The perception of Lion as Aryeh Deri's candidate, however, drove the religious Zionists -- who are not enamored with the Shas chairman, to say the least -- into the arms of Barkat en masse.
The religious Zionist vote was less a function of their affinity for Barkat and more a by-product of their apprehension of Deri, a controversial figure in Israeli politics. The Shas leader arouses fear and alienation among the religious Zionists, many of which -- including those of Sephardic origin -- were turned off by his decision to invoke the name of the recently deceased Rabbi Ovadia Yosef as someone who was "watching" the elections from above.
The more Lion was viewed as a Deri associate -- a relationship that became much more evident and open in the last two weeks -- the more the religious Zionists warmed up to Barkat. The decision by religious Zionist rabbis to endorse Barkat also stemmed in large part from Lion's closeness to Deri.
The last-minute endorsement that Lion picked up from Rabbi Zvi Tau, the head of the Har Hamor yeshiva, had minimal impact. The religious Zionist "street" is awash with rumors that Barkat and the movement's rabbis who supported him have come to an understanding whereby Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who today serves as chief rabbi of Safed, will be appointed chief rabbi of Jerusalem. This will be the quid pro quo provided by Barkat. Soon, we will know if there is substance to this rumor.
The haredim boosted their strength
The religious Zionists were rocked in this election by the total collapse of Naftali Bennett and Habayit Hayehudi. In Jerusalem, Bennett's list received 28,000 votes in the elections for the 19th Knesset. In this week's municipal elections, 20,000 Jerusalemite wearers of the knitted skullcaps punished Bennett for his decision to oust David Hadari, the popular and successful deputy mayor who worked closely with Barkat during the previous term, from the top spot on the party slate.
Hadari, who chaired the municipality's finance committee, was removed from the top slot solely because he is considered an ally of former MK Zevulun Orlev. The religious Zionists who abandoned Habayit Hayehudi divided their support between the new religious-nationalist list headed by Shmuel Shkedi -- a list that was formed in response to Bennett's "purge" of the Habayit Hayehudi branch in Jerusalem -- and "Yerushalmim" (Jerusalemites), the pluralist party comprised of both religious and secular and headed by Rachel Azaria. Some religious Zionists also threw their support behind Jerusalem Awakening.
Barkat's victory was also made possible by other factors, including the understandings he reached with the Gur and Belz Hassidic streams who turned their backs on Lion; the ultra-Orthodox Tov list headed by Hanoch Werdiger, who did not endorse any mayoral candidate (Tov failed to amass the minimum number of votes to win a seat on the city council); and the Bnei Hatorah list, which succeeded in crossing the minimum vote threshold and won a seat. Haim Epshtein, the head of Bnei Hatorah, also ran for mayor, winning 3.57 percent. This undoubtedly helped Barkat widen the gap that separated him and Lion.
The haredim who endorsed Lion now expect to receive the chairmanships of the welfare committees in city hall, a demand that the pluralist parties are sure to oppose. There is even talk among some ultra-Orthodox political operatives that they will demand the planning and construction committee, but Barkat will fight to ensure that this portfolio remains in his party's hands.
The low secular voter turnout predictably allowed the haredim to bolster their representation in the Jerusalem city council. This term, the ultra-Orthodox parties will have 14 of the 31 total seats in the council, an improvement from the 12 seats that they held in the previous term. Agudat Yisrael maintained its strength, capturing eight seats; Shas improved from four seat to five; and the newcomer, Bnei Hatorah, a list that represents the Lithuanian stream headed by Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, won a seat.
Conversely, while the internal balance of power may have shifted, the pluralist-secular-religious camp maintained its strength from the previous term -- 14 seats. Barkat's faction, Jerusalem Will Succeed, lost two seats and numbers four; Likud Beyteinu fell from two seats to one (which will be occupied by Lion); and Meretz fell from three seats to two.
Jerusalem Awakening, the party list representing young Jeruslemites and headed by Ofer Berkovich, gained in strength, rising to four seats (it had one seat last term); and Rachel Azaria's Jerusalemites list grew from one seat in the previous term to two. There is a good chance Azaria's faction will grow to three seats after the soldiers' ballots are counted.
The party list representing the Pisgat Ze'ev neighborhood kept its one seat. All together, this bloc totals 14 seats. Three seats are divided up between Habayit Hayehudi, which slipped from three in the previous term to just one, and United Jerusalem, Shmuel Shkedi's new faction which won two seats.
What will the coalition in the second Barkat administration look like? As is his wont, the mayor will most likely seek to form as broad a coalition as possible, one which will include the haredim and other parties. That is what he did in the previous term. After the election results were announced, Barkat proclaimed that "for the good of Jerusalem we must act together and put our squabbling aside."
Logic and fairness dictate that Barkat must first reach out to the secular and religious Zionist parties who put him back in the mayor's office for a second term. Only then should he turn to the ultra-Orthodox. The proliferation of non-haredi parties -- a total of eight factions that together total 16 seats, a stark contrast to the haredi camp, which is comprised of just two parties that hold 13 seats -- may facilitate a deal with the ultra-Orthodox first.
It is not inconceivable that we may see parties form united fronts in the coalition negotiations, similar to what we witnessed following the most recent parliamentary elections, when Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi presented joint demands. In dealing with Barkat, there may be deals made between Habayit Hayehudi and Shkedi's list, and between Jerusalem Awakening and Azaria's Jerusalemites.
Bringing about change together
The repercussions of the Jerusalem municipal election are not felt solely within the boundaries of Israel's capital. Deri and Avigdor Lieberman, Lion's backers and patrons, were dealt a resounding failure. It seems as if they harmed, rather than helped, his candidacy. Deri found out that in Jerusalem it is impossible to wave a magic wand and expect the Sephardic population to bend to his will while invoking the image and likeness of the late master teacher, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, z"l.
It's one thing to hold the rabbi in high esteem and admiration. But the manner in which one conducts oneself politically is another matter altogether, as Deri certainly discovered. Many voters from the neighborhoods of Kiryat Menachem, Shmuel Hanavi, Neveh Ya'akov, and Har Homa -- districts that were penciled in as "Lion's votes" - backed Barkat.
Lieberman was certainly disappointed to discover that he no longer holds an iron grip over swaths of the capital. Just 7,000 voters cast their ballots for Likud Beyteinu, good enough for one seat on the city council. This was a debacle. Instead of boosting the party's clout in Jerusalem, it seems voters were turned off by Lieberman's involvement and the unattractive slate of candidates on the list.
It will now be worth keeping a close eye on the relationship between Barkat and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the past year, Barkat did not go public with his objections to Netanyahu's policy of limiting construction in the eastern part of the city. Instead, the mayor sought to maintain the prime minister's discrete support for his administration. Now Barkat needs to decide whether he wishes to continue to keep mum.
Construction in Jerusalem is not a trifle matter. Indeed, it is vital to the city's continued growth. The housing crisis has reached monstrous proportions. Thousands are leaving the city every year, particularly because of the lack of housing and skyrocketing real estate prices. The plots of land that are available for future construction lie beyond the Green Line, in neighborhoods that are currently home to over 200,000 Israelis.
These areas are within the bounds of the so-called "Zionist consensus." Nobody in Israel could ever conceive of the possibility that this government would cede these areas to the Palestinians in negotiations over a final settlement. In a party gathering earlier this week, Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) assailed the prime minister on this issue.
It is reasonable to assume that the subject will be broached by Barkat during his next meeting with the premier. Netanyahu would love to boost construction in Jerusalem, but there are constraints which stem from other considerations. The interim solution adopted by Barkat has been to approve high-rise apartments in the western part of town. This is a change in policy for a city that has usually limited the number of high-rise buildings. The major plot of land that has been allocated for construction in southwest Jerusalem -- known as the Safdie plan -- has been put on hold by Barkat due to objections by environmental activists.
In his five years in office, Barkat managed to steer Jerusalem in new directions while instilling a glimmer of hope among the capital's younger population. This is evident in a palpable drop in the number of young people fleeing the city. Nonetheless, there is still a huge discrepancy between the number of those emigrating from the city to the number of newcomers taking up residence.
The mayor is likely to continue with his policy of encouraging high-rise construction while investing heavily in tourism, culture, and education. Still, he must heed the criticism over issues like high municipal taxes and education costs. Barkat would be smart to reserve key jobs in his next administration for the younger generation that supported Berkovich's Awakening faction and Azaria's Jerusalemites list. He could also rely on the wealth of experience offered by Shkedi, an excellent former deputy mayor for 15 years. Change, as Barkat himself noted in his victory speech, needs to be done together.