In Jerusalem, a city divided on its next mayor until the bitter end
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In Jerusalem, a city divided on its next mayor until the bitter end

Capital contest appears wide open and headed to a runoff, with voters split over whom they support — and who they think will win

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

  • Jerusalem mayoral candidate Ofer Berkovich prays at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem Old City, on the day of the municipal elections on October 30, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Jerusalem mayoral candidate Ofer Berkovich prays at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem Old City, on the day of the municipal elections on October 30, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Jerusalem mayoral candidate Moshe Leon prays at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem Old City, on the morning of the Municipal Elections on October 30, 2018. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** ??? ?????
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    Jerusalem mayoral candidate Moshe Leon prays at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem Old City, on the morning of the Municipal Elections on October 30, 2018. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** ??? ????? ?????? ????? ?????? ??????? ????? ?????? ???? ?????
  • Jerusalem mayoral candidate Yossi Daitch prays at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem Old City on the day of the municipal elections on October 30, 2018. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)
    Jerusalem mayoral candidate Yossi Daitch prays at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem Old City on the day of the municipal elections on October 30, 2018. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)
  • Jerusalem mayoral candidate Zeev Elkin and his son pray at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem Old City, on the morning of the municipal elections on October 30, 2018. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)
    Jerusalem mayoral candidate Zeev Elkin and his son pray at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem Old City, on the morning of the municipal elections on October 30, 2018. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

As the sun rose on election day on Tuesday morning, all of the Jerusalem mayoral candidates headed to the Western Wall for a final pre-election prayer — and near-identical pensive photo-op.

Across the capital, cars plastered with campaign posters blasted the jingles of their respective candidates and young, exuberant activists reeled in undecided voters outside ballot stations in a last-ditch effort to win a few extra votes for their candidate.

Meanwhile, in East Jerusalem, Arab residents of the city largely upheld a longstanding boycott on voting for the municipality.

In the Arab neighborhood of Sur Baher, the hometown of Ramadan Dabash, who is making history by leading an exclusively Palestinian list, a poll worker said several hundred people had shown up to vote Tuesday morning. However, in other neighborhoods, only a few dozen cast ballots, according to unofficial numbers.

As voting began, Moshe Lion, who is backed by the ultra-Orthodox Shas and the Degel HaTorah factions, drew attention and some mockery on social media for the abnormally large font on his ticket as compared to his rivals (apparently submitted by his campaign, and not restricted under election rules).

View of voting notes at a voting station on the morning of the municipal elections, on October 30, 2018, in Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Throughout the day, his campaign proudly shared photos of prominent rabbis, including Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, voting for Lion and Shas (Yosef later asked that the photo not be distributed.)

As elementary schools assumed the guise of polling stations — where candidates’  proclamations and vows often clashed with the childish backdrops of the booths — Hitorerut mayoral candidate Ofer Berkovitch was photographed under a banner exhorting students: “One must win with honesty, and lose with honor.”

And at two polling stations in the Rehavia neighborhood, voters appeared divided as ever, frequently along religious and communal lines, on who was best suited for the job.

Along with Lion and Berkovitch, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin of the ruling Likud party, ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yossi Deitch, and little-known Avi Salman were also in the running.

A single candidate must win 40 percent of the vote on Tuesday to be declared mayor.  Should none of the candidates reach the mark, and none is expected to, a second round of voting will be held on November 13 between the two candidates with the most votes.

Jerusalem Mayoral candidate Ofer Berkovich and his wife Dina cast their ballots at a voting station on the morning of the municipal elections, on October 30, 2018, in Jerusalem.(Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Outside one station, a handful of secular Hebrew University of Jerusalem students touted Berkovitch as the sole candidate they could reasonably support in the race.

“All the rest are religious, Haredi or ‘Bibist,'” remarked one 24-year-old student, who asked to be identified only as Michael, and referring to die-hard supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Walking out of the polling station, Dorit Peleg, a Modern Orthodox resident of the city for 25 years, said she had voted for Elkin because he is “right-wing, religious” and because of his platform on keeping the city clean.

An Israeli man hangs campaign posters for local elections in the center of Jerusalem on October 30, 2018 (THOMAS COEX / AFP)

Does she think he will win? “No clue,” she replied. “Based on what I heard on the radio this morning, not really.”

Nearby, on Ussishkin street — where Lion had voted earlier in the day — a childhood friend of Berkovitch said he would be backing his old friend both out of loyalty and because he supports a pluralistic Jerusalem.

Meir, 36, expressed hope Berkovitch would win on Tuesday. But if there was a second round, he predicted, “Elkin will take it.”

Laurence Nachmani, a religious woman who moved to Israel from France 25 years ago, said she didn’t support Lion in his 2013 race against incumbent Nir Barkat, but will now because “now Berkovitch has arrived and I don’t want there to be a civil war” over religious issues in the city.

But Avraham Gamrasani, a middle-aged Jerusalem resident who described himself as traditional, said he formerly supported Lion — up until his alliance with Shas and its leader Aryeh Deri. Elkin has “good intentions,” he opined, but that wasn’t enough. He was on his way to vote for Deitch, whom he described as “a man of good deeds.”

One of the questions hovering above the Jerusalem election is whether Haredi voters (over one-third of the Jewish vote) would support the ultra-Orthodox-designated candidate Lion, or the candidate who was ultra-Orthodox, namely Deitch.

Mazal Bitan, a Haredi lifetime Shas supporter, signaled the former.

“Whatever our rabbis tell us to do, we do,”  she said solemnly, after walking out of the building where she voted for Lion.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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