Anger at Jewish Home campaign warning of ultra-Orthodox takeover in Jerusalem

Posters showing leading mayoral candidates decked out in black hats and sidelocks draws condemnation from part’s national HQ, others

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A campaign poster published by the Jerusalem branch of the Jewish Home party, August 6, 2018. (Twitter)
A campaign poster published by the Jerusalem branch of the Jewish Home party, August 6, 2018. (Twitter)

The Jerusalem branch of the Jewish Home party was widely criticized Monday after campaign posters appeared warning of ultra-Orthodox influence in city hall by photoshopping Haredi garb on three mayoral candidates.

Among those to condemn the posters as anti-ultra-Orthodox was the headquarters of the Orthodox-nationalist party.

The posters featured doctored photos showing Minister Ze’ev Elkin and city council members Moshe Lion and Ofer Berkovitch, three leading candidates for mayor in upcoming elections, decked out in ultra-Orthodox attire including black hats and dangling sidelocks.

A slogan read: “At a time when they are quaking over their fate, only a victorious Jewish Home will stop the ultra-Orthodox influence.” The point seemed to be to exhort the city’s voters to favor the Jewish Home party in elections for city council.

None of the mayoral candidates pictured is ultra-Orthodox, though Elkin and Lion are both religiously observant. The only ultra-Orthodox candidate to enter the race, deputy mayor Yossi Deitch, was not included.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who leads the national Jewish Home party, quickly distanced his faction from the posters, saying they was produced without his permission.

“Jewish Home strongly condemns the campaign that the party branch published this morning in the Jerusalem municipal elections,” he tweeted. “The campaign was not done with knowledge of the party’s national leadership, and doesn’t represent our position.”

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich also slammed the posters.

“The painful and shameful campaign that was published this morning in our name for the Jerusalem municipal elections was not done with our knowledge and we completely reject it and demand that it be removed,” Smotrich said according to a report from the Srugim website.

Elkin, of the Likud party, told the Hebrew-language Ynet website that the Jewish Home campaign “really isn’t clever” and pointed out that historically, Jewish Home had often voted with the ultra-Orthodox parties in the council, or abstained.

“So from that point of view, no one should give me lessons on morality,” he said.

Berkovitch’s Hitorarut party said in a statement the campaign “raises disgust and hard feelings that border on anti-Semitism. In public debate, we should act responsibly and avoid contempt toward entire populations.”

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin speaks at a press conference, May 2, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Jewish Home branch in Jerusalem defended the posters.

“It is a supreme interest for the residents of Jerusalem and religious Zionism that Jerusalem does not become Bnei Barak,” the branch said, referring to a central Israeli city with a with a mostly ultra-Orthodox population.

“We have nothing at all against the ultra-Orthodox but the reality of life proves that making Jerusalem more and more ultra-Orthodox distances it from the Zionist and secular communities.”

The party stressed that the October elections are not just about the next mayor but also the composition of the city council. Jewish Home currently has two seats on the council, but no candidate for mayor.

The issue of ultra-Orthodox influence over daily life in Jerusalem has been a hot-button issue for years, with some fearing the closure of shops and nightlife venues on Shabbat or other restrictions under ultra-Orthodox leadership. Current mayor Nir Barkat ran on a secularist platform when he took over the city from ultra-Orthodox mayor Uri Lupoliansky in 2008.

Whichever candidate wins “they must not stand alone against the ultra-Orthodox,” said Jewish Home member Deputy Mayor Hagit Moshe in the Ynet report. “The stronger the religious Zionist element is in the coalition, the more we will be able to ensure that Jerusalem will be the capital for all of Israeli society and not just a narrow sector.”

Yehoshua Mor Yosef, who created the campaign, told Army Radio that “only religious Zionism can connect between sections of the public — Jerusalem must not fall into the hands of one camp.”

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Hagit Moshe, at the Jerusalem municipality. May 3, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The National Union, a hard-line faction within the Jewish Home’s Knesset faction, said in a statement on Monday that it “distances itself from the severe and painful poster which was published. Jerusalem is a city of unity and any division between populations is not our way.”

The party said it was looking into the matter and that the poster would be quickly removed.

Representing some 37% of the Jewish population of Jerusalem, according to recent CBS data, the ultra-Orthodox may hold the key to the city. Because the city’s Arab residents generally boycott the municipal elections, the voter share of the ultra-Orthodox, who often vote as a bloc, is even higher.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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