Incumbent Nir Barkat endorses Moshe Lion for Jerusalem mayor
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Incumbent Nir Barkat endorses Moshe Lion for Jerusalem mayor

In blow to rival Ofer Berkovitch, candidate receives backing from local branches of Likud, Jewish Home and several ministers from ruling party

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Moshe Lion (R) seen with Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, during the wedding of Lion's daughter in Neve Ilan, June 19, 2016. (Yaakov Cohen/Flash90)
Moshe Lion (R) seen with Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, during the wedding of Lion's daughter in Neve Ilan, June 19, 2016. (Yaakov Cohen/Flash90)

Jerusalem mayoral candidate Moshe Lion on Wednesday was met with a flood of endorsements from incumbent mayor Nir Barkat, the local Likud and Jewish Home party chapters, and several Likud ministers, in a blow to his rival, Ofer Berkovitch.

Six days before a runoff that will pit Lion against Berkovitch for leadership of the capital, Barkat — who narrowly defeated Lion after a bitter 2013 mayoral race —  said he believed Lion was best suited for the position.

“From my close acquaintance with the two candidates and my work with the pair, I have no doubt that Moshe Lion is the best pick for Jerusalem,” said Barkat in a statement on Wednesday night.

Barkat had formerly backed Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who was knocked out of the race after the first round of voting last Tuesday left him with less than 20 percent of the vote. Lion led with 33%, followed by Berkovitch at 29%, sending the pair to a second contest next week after no single candidate scooped up the required minimum of 40% of the votes.

Lion enjoys the backing of both Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and ultra-Orthodox faction Shas and part of United Torah Judaism, leading to charges of behind-the-scenes political wheeling and dealing on the national level to secure him the position. That charge was largely led by Barkat during his acrimonious 2013 race against Lion, when his campaign accused his then-rival of a political “combina,” or backdoor deal.

Even before Barkat’s decision was formally announced, Berkovitch, also a city council member, earlier on Wednesday had slammed the Jerusalem mayor for his rumored about-face.

Ofer Berkovitch, Jerusalem mayoral candidate and head of the Hitorerut (Awakening) movement, is seen at the opening of the Hitorerut election campaign in Jerusalem on September 2, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The man who not long ago convinced Jerusalem that it cannot support the backdoor deal of [Shas Interior Minister Aryeh] Deri, [UTJ MK Moshe] Gafni, and Liberman, today has thrown Jerusalem under the bus on his way to Likud,” said Berkovitch, referring to Barkat’s acrimonious 2013 campaign, which underlined the longtime association between Lion, Liberman and Deri.

Berkovitch has led the vanguard of the secularist flank of the city with his Hitorerut party, and despite years on Jerusalem’s city council campaigned as an outsider unsullied by political horse-trading.

In his statement, Berkovitch also highlighted that Lion, despite winning the most votes last Tuesday, failed to win a single council seat for his party (voters pick a mayoral candidate and list separately). Berkovitch’s Hitorerut party picked up six seats on the 31-seat council. Lion will need special permission from the Interior Ministry to govern the council, should he be elected mayor, as he has no representation on the city government.

Earlier on Wednesday, the local chapters of the Likud and Jewish Home parties on Wednesday also backed Lion for the job.

Lion is “the most suitable person for mayor of Jerusalem,” the Likud said in a statement, adding that the Jerusalem council member’s “nationalist views dovetail with ours.” The local Likud office had previously refrained from backing Elkin, despite his being a high-level Likud minister, in a bruising slight.

From the Jewish Home, Jerusalem council member Chagit Moshe announced her Orthodox right-wing party would be siding with Lion.

“After much thought and talks with the two candidates for mayor, we have decided that Moshe Lion is the most suitable candidate to be mayor of Jerusalem,” Moshe said in a statement. “Moshe Lion is a candidate with managerial experience and the ability to govern such a big, complex, and important city.”

Likud ministers Tzachi Hanegbi and Yariv Levin also put out videos backing Lion on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to announce which candidate he will be supporting after Elkin’s loss. In 2013, Netanyahu sent 43 letters of support to all of the candidates backed by the Likud for local positions nationwide, excluding just one: Lion.

Lion on Wednesday thanked the various parties, and Barkat, for their backing.

An accountant and former director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office under Netanyahu, Lion has the support of much of the ultra-Orthodox community in the city.

The Hasidic Agudath Yisrael faction, which ran its own candidate — deputy mayor Yossi Deitch — in the first round, was also expected to announce whom it will support on Wednesday night.

Jerusalemites next Tuesday, from 1 p.m. to 10 pm., will go to a second round of voting to determine its next mayor.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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