The local Jerusalem branch of the Likud party on Monday conspicuously snubbed Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who is running for mayor of the capital with the endorsement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hebrew media reported Tuesday.
At an event to launch the official Likud list running for Jerusalem council, Elisha Peleg, who heads the list, issued veiled criticism of the Likud minister, who has jumped into the race against the wishes of the local membership.
“Unfortunately, some of the movement’s members chose to pasture in fields of others,” he said. “I call on Jerusalem voters to put their faith in the original and not in the imitation, and to only place Likud tickets in the voting booth because we are the list that represents Likud in the city.”
Although Elkin belongs to Likud in the Knesset, he is running for mayor as an independent, on a ticket called “Jerusalem will succeed.” The city’s Likud branch is running a separate list for city council.
Several Likud ministers and lawmakers reportedly attended the event, including Transport Minister Israel Katz, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, Deputy Minister Yaron Mazuz, and Coalition head David Amsalem.
Amsalem said he would support Elkin because he was backed by Netanyahu, but was disappointed that the minister was not supporting the local Likud members.
“I would have expected the Likud candidate to support Likud,” he said. “A true Likudnik will vote Likud.”
Mazuz attempted to deflect the harsh criticism of Elkin, suggesting a compromise.
“We have Elkin, our Likud minister,” he said. “I suggest that you combine your votes — choose Elkin with one vote and with the second vote for the Likud list.”
However, he was immediately rebuffed by branch head Ilan Gordo, who said, “Nobody can parachute himself in to be the mayor.”
Elkin’s main residence until recently was not in Jerusalem but a nearby settlement, though he moved into a family member’s house for the mayoral campaign.
In a statement, Elkin responded to the criticism by stressing that the entire party at a national level was united behind his candidacy, “following the support of Prime Minister Netanyahu, Likud ministers and MKs.”
He said that he was running on an independent platform in order to draw a broader support base in the city, as many mayors throughout Israel have done.
“There is no doubt that anyone for whom Likud is important must care that a Likud person will lead Jerusalem in the coming years,” he said.
Outgoing mayor Nir Barkat, who has headed the city council for a decade, endorsed Elkin in May. Barkat announced in March he would not seek a third term and will instead run for Knesset on the Likud party ticket.
When announcing his candidacy, Elkin stressed the sacrifice he would be making if he became mayor.
“I am willing to give up the position of a senior minister and member of the security cabinet for the sake of Jerusalem because Jerusalem is a challenge at a national level of the utmost importance,” Elkin, who also serves as environmental protection minister, said.
Jerusalem’s municipal elections on October 30 will see Elkin run against at least half a dozen candidates, including fellow Likud member Moshe Lion, ex-deputy Jerusalem mayor and current Knesset member with Kulanu Rachel Azaria, political activist and councilor Ofer Berkovich, right-wing activist and Jerusalem city councilman Aryeh King, and ultra-Orthodox Deputy Mayor Yossi Deitch.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.