The lazy, short-sighted ingrates of Jerusalem

The lazy, short-sighted ingrates of Jerusalem

Op-ed: Just imagine what would have happened if Deri and Liberman had found an actual Jerusalemite to run for mayor

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Nir Barkat celebrates with supporters after winning the Jerusalem mayoral elections, early on October 23, 2013 (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Nir Barkat celebrates with supporters after winning the Jerusalem mayoral elections, early on October 23, 2013 (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The day after, it’s easy to scoff at Moshe Lion. Despite the best efforts of that pair of veteran, skilled political heavyweights Avigdor Liberman and Aryeh Deri, despite the guaranteed high turnouts for him in the ultra-Orthodox sector, despite heading a Likud list in a Likud-leaning city, and despite positioning himself as the champion of the underclasses in a Jerusalem with numerous impoverished neighborhoods, Lion failed to unseat a rich, Ashkenazi, secular mayor with no establishment connections, and embarrassingly managed to win just one miserable seat for the Likud on the city council.

Easy to scoff, but misguided. Lion — who has no remotely comparable experience to Barkat’s evident relative competence in running this most complex of cities; who did not live here until just months before the election; who revealed in interviews that he knew far too little about Jerusalem — telling Walla he was unaware that there are cinemas open in the capital on Shabbat, and telling The Times of Israel that he had no relationship whatsoever with any prominent Arab figures in the eastern part of the city; and who was being pushed by a partnership so nakedly dubious and alienating as the ultra-Orthodox schemer Deri and the secular populist Liberman — nevertheless garnered a staggering 45% of the vote to Barkat’s 51%. The gap between them, before soldiers’ votes and other final adjustments, was a mere 12,000 votes. A badly hamstrung challenger lost to an efficient, clean governor by 12,000 votes in a city of 800,000.

But scoff we should, nonetheless. Not at Lion, however. Rather, at the lazy, short-sighted ingrates of Jerusalem. According to the unofficial figures on Wednesday morning, turnout in the city was a pitiful 35.9%, and a mere 106,000 Jerusalemites managed to drag themselves to the polling stations to cast a ballot for Barkat.

Yes, turnout in Tel Aviv was even lower — much lower, at 31.5%. But in “the bubble” to our west, the two candidates were well-known and generally well-regarded local men — a proven mayor (Ron Huldai) and an experienced Knesset member (Nitzan Horowitz). Non-voters in Tel Aviv can be cut just a little slack for reasonably concluding that both were capable of managing the city effectively, independently and in the genuine interests of all its citizens. It’s hard to say the same about Jerusalem.

It seems fair to argue, in fact, that Barkat was returned to City Hall in good part thanks to the ultra-Orthodox sector. Try as it might to brand Barkat as a godless, Sabbath-breaching leftie, the Lion camp and its dirty-trick hangers-on was up against an incumbent whom, the ultra-Orthodox community had to internalize, ran an almost wall-to-wall coalition these past five years, most emphatically including the ultra-Orthodox councilors. No, Barkat was not in the pocket of the Haredim, but he was demonstrably not their enemy either this past term. Looking at the voter turnout, it seems clear that plenty of ultra-Orthodox Jerusalemites voted for Barkat or didn’t choose a mayoral candidate at all, just an ultra-Orthodox list for the council. Another 7,500 or so voted for the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox maverick third mayoral contender Chaim Epstein — a not-insignificant 3.6% of the vote that would otherwise have presumably gone to Lion. And many thousands more may have simply stayed home, given the paralyzing choice between the kippa-wearing outsider with whom they were not entirely comfortable and the bare-headed incumbent with whom they were not entirely uncomfortable.

Moshe Lion concedes defeat in the Jerusalem mayoral race Tuesday night (photo credit: Flash90)
Moshe Lion concedes defeat in the Jerusalem mayoral race Tuesday night (photo credit: Flash90)

In his characteristically inoffensive concession speech, Lion took pains to say he had “truly” and “genuinely” sought to do good for Jerusalem, but was evasive when pressed on whether he would take the single council seat won by the Likud or, sooner or later, head back to Givatayim. Barkat, it might well be recalled in this context, served a term in opposition after failing to beat Uri Lupolianski in the 2003 elections, gaining five years of crucial council experience to become a doubtless more effective mayor when he did triumph in 2008.

It will be a measure of Lion’s “true” and “genuine” commitment to this city if he does the same. If, as he promised over and over again on the campaign trail, he has really made Jerusalem his home, come to know and love the city, and decided to dedicate himself to the well-being of our fraught and precious capital, then he will doubtless stay and partner Barkat in working for its development these next five years.

Were he to do that, Tuesday’s voting patterns would suggest he might easily emulate Barkat’s 2008 success and defeat the incumbent next time around.

What Tuesday’s voting patterns also dismally suggest, however, is that even if Lion were to disappear back to Givatayim only to reappear cheerfully promising the world to Jerusalemites in 2018, he’d likely do pretty well again.

I wrote 10 days ago that one large chunk of the Jerusalem electorate, the Arabs, wouldn’t vote for any Zionist candidate, and that another large chunk, the ultra-Orthodox, was mainly in Lion’s pocket, and thus it would fall to the rest of voting Jerusalem to “decide whether Barkat has done a reasonable job of reviving the deeply troubled city he inherited, and should thus be given a second term, or whether it’s time to let someone else have a try.” For this decisive sector of the electorate, I said, the mayoral vote “will be a referendum on Barkat, because the truth is they don’t know much about his rival, and what they do know… won’t come close to swaying them unless they are profoundly unhappy with the incumbent.”

In fact, though, the vote proved to be less a referendum on Barkat — at worst a reasonably good mayor governing by consensus, and doing the job unpaid because he loves the city — and more a referendum on that non-Arab, non-Haredi sector of the electorate. Which proved itself, dispiritingly, to be overwhelmingly indifferent to the fate of its own hometown.

Just imagine how Tuesday’s vote might have looked if Liberman and Deri had found an actual Jerusalemite to run for mayor.

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