Days before election, courts disqualify Haifa, Elad mayoral candidates to uproar

Einat Kalisch Rotem, Yitzhak Pindrus vow to take cases to Supreme Court; vote is on October 30, but Interior Ministry yet to release official approval of candidates, lists

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Dr. Einat Kalisch Rotem, a candidate for Haifa mayor. (YouTube screenshot)
Dr. Einat Kalisch Rotem, a candidate for Haifa mayor. (YouTube screenshot)

Days before Israel’s local elections across the country, the northern city of Haifa and the central ultra-Orthodox city of Elad were mired in an 11th-hour political drama, after courts disqualified two front-runner candidates, drawing a furious outcry from backers and vows by both candidates to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, just 12 days before the local polls, the Interior Ministry — despite an October 10 deadline — has yet to release its lists of approved mayoral candidates and party lists nationwide.

In Haifa, the District Court on Thursday morning upheld the disqualification of Einat Kalisch Rotem, one of two candidates who pose a realistic challenge to the longtime mayor of the northern coastal city, Yona Yahav, in the October 30 vote.

Kalisch Rotem had been blocked from running by the Interior Ministry last week after her Labor party attorney submitted two candidates, including Kalisch Rotem, to the race, in violation of the election rules.

Following the District Court decision, she vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court for a final ruling.

Yahav, a former Knesset member, has been mayor of Haifa since 2003. He is facing off against David Etzioni, a lawyer and former finance minister adviser; Mendy Saltzman, the director-general of the Haifa Port; Yisrael Savyon, the second Labor candidate and former director of the Haifa Municipality; and Avihu Hahn of the Haifa green party. Recent polls had placed Yahav, Kalisch Rotem, and Etzioni neck-and-neck, with the remaining candidates polling in the single digits.

On Wednesday night, the Haredi city of Elad was the scene of an angry debate among the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Yisrael, Degel HaTorah, and Shas factions after the Lod District Court on Wednesday evening shot down the candidacy of Yitzhak Pindrus, the Shas and Degel HaTorah candidate.

Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Rabbi Yitzhak Pindrus. May 30 2011. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Pindrus, a former mayor of Beitar Illit and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, had relocated from the capital to Elad in recent months to run for mayor, at the prodding of the Shas and Degel HaTorah religious leaders.

But according to Hadashot television, his rivals have hired private investigators, who tailed Pindrus since his move and found he continued to spend most of his time in Jerusalem.

“The fundamental demand of the ruling is that the candidate’s life be centered in the city in which he serves or is running [for mayor],” the court decision said.

Pindrus has also pledged he will take the case to the Supreme Court.

The other main candidate in the race is the incumbent mayor, Yisrael Porush, of the Agudath Yisrael faction.

Together, the Agudath Yisrael and Degel HaTorah factions form the Knesset party United Torah Judaism. In the local races, however, the Haredi groups have frequently found themselves at odds. Degel HaTorah had also supported Kalisch Rotem in Haifa. And in Jerusalem, Agudath Yisrael has backed its own candidate, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yossi Deitch, while Degel HaTorah and Shas have supported rival Moshe Lion.

Israel goes to local and regional council elections on October 30.  If mayoral candidates fail to garner 40 percent of the vote on that date, a second runoff will be scheduled between the top two contenders on November 13.

But even as the polls near, the Interior Ministry has not yet provided official confirmation on the 3,400 parties and dozens of candidates in the running.

Multiple attempts by The Times of Israel to obtain the information from the ministry since the October 10 deadline has been met with reassurances it will soon be released.

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