Azaria pulls out of Jerusalem mayoral race, backs Elkin

Kulanu MK, the only woman candidate in the running, rejects accusations of ‘backroom deal,’ plans to stay in the Knesset

Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria attends a Kulanu faction meeting in the Knesset on May 7, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria attends a Kulanu faction meeting in the Knesset on May 7, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria, the only woman who was in the race for Jerusalem mayor, announced Wednesday that she was withdrawing her name from the ballot and backing the presumed frontrunner, Likud’s Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin.

“I’m proud of the historic opportunity to be a woman candidate for mayor [of Jerusalem] and break that glass ceiling. I’m withdrawing my candidacy out of a sense of responsibility for Jerusalem,” she said at a press conference in the capital Wednesday evening.

“Elkin is the only Zionist candidate who can win,” Azaria said.

According to a statement from Elkin’s Yerushalayim Tatzliah (“Jerusalem Will Succeed”) faction, Azaria will remain in the Knesset and not serve on the city council, but two members of her Yerushalayim faction will receive slots four and six on Elkin’s list.

The merger of the two lists is a boost to Elkin’s bid against city council member Moshe Lion, who is backed by the Shas and Israel Beytenu parties, and secular candidate Ofer Berkovitch. Jerusalem’s non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox population makes up over a third of the capital’s Jewish voting population and have served as the deciding swing vote in municipal elections in recent years. Jerusalem’s Arab population has historically boycotted the mayoral race.

The Ynet news site alleged Wednesday that Azaria had offered to back secular candidate Ofer Berkovitch last week in a meeting with his supporters from the Hitorerut (“Awakening”) faction, but they refused her demand to cover her campaign bills.

Her campaign went into debt in part after funding a lawsuit to force the Egged bus company that runs most of Jerusalem’s bus lines to run ads on the sides of its buses with the faces of women — despite the fact that such ads were routinely defaced in the capital by suspected Haredi extremists.

She also reportedly demanded the fourth, eighth, and 12th slots on Berkovitch’s city council list.

While Berkovitch’s and Azaria’s factions are thought to be ideologically close, both backed by Jerusalem’s secular and pluralistic publics, the two longtime city council members famously don’t get along.

Azaria’s withdrawal was not a surprise. She has trailed far behind the three frontrunners Elkin, Berkovitch, and Moshe Lion since announcing her candidacy in June.

Her entry into the race was accompanied by accusations from Berkovitch backers that she had signed a “backroom deal” with Elkin, who allegedly promised to appoint her deputy mayor in exchange for her run weakening Berkovitch’s chances of winning.

Hitorerut slammed Azaria’s announcement Wednesday, saying, “Azaria was a backroom deal candidate from the start. We warned from day one: this is a fake run meant to hurt [Berkovitch’s] chances.”

Elkin and Azaria both denied the accusation.

“Contrary to the spin, I’m not getting any job offer and won’t serve as deputy mayor,” Azaria said. “Removing my candidacy was the right thing to do, even if I had hoped to be mayor myself.”

Elkin insisted “she didn’t ask for a job for herself. She made a difficult decision out of a sense of what’s good for Jerusalem.”

Azaria is the third candidate to pull out after secular candidate Yossi Havilio announced he was withdrawing and backing Berkovitch, and Palestinian activist Aziz Abu Sarah withdrew himself earlier this month.

The field remains crowded. Even after the withdrawal of Havilio, Abu Sarah, and Azaria, it still includes the three frontrunners, little-known Avi Salman, struggling Haredi candidate Yossi Deitch, and far-right deputy mayor Aryeh King.

The first round of voting is set for October 30. If no candidate garners over 40 percent of the vote, a second round will be held in mid-November between the two frontrunners.

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