Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Yossi Deitch announced Tuesday he will run for mayor in the October elections, becoming the first ultra-Orthodox candidate in the race and representing a possible spoiler.
Deitch made the announcement after receiving the backing of ultra-Orthodox rabbis of the Agudath Israel faction.
Deitch joins an already-crowded field for the October 30 election to determine control of Israel’s largest city, running against Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Deputy Mayor Moshe Lion, ex-deputy Jerusalem mayor and current Knesset member with Kulanu Rachel Azaria, Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai, political activist and councilor Ofer Berkovich and right-wing activist and Jerusalem city councilman, Aryeh King.
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, which often vote as a bloc, is even higher.
Tensions run high between the capital’s ultra-Orthodox communities, particularly where religious observance of the Sabbath is concerned.
In Jerusalem, Shabbat is observed far more strictly than in secular Tel Aviv. Few restaurants and cultural facilities are open on Saturdays, and secular residents who drive in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods risk having their cars stoned.
Each opening of a new corner store or facility on Shabbat is met by ultra-Orthodox protests and secular complaints that religious residents are trying to impose their beliefs on the whole city.
In June Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman offered the support of of Gur Hasidic sect to any candidate who would promise to shutter the nightlife in the Mahane Yehuda market. Both Elkin and Lion rejected the demand.
The only former ultra-Orthodox mayor of the city, Uri Lupolianski, won the vote in 2003, with 52% against then-entrepreneur Barkat, edging him out by some 9%.
Lupolianski was later convicted in the so-called Holyland Affair — along with another former Jerusalem mayor, ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert — though his sentence was later reduced to community service due to ill health.
Barkat, who served as the capital’s mayor since 2008, announced earlier this year he would not seek a third term as mayor and instead run for the Knesset with the ruling Likud party.
Marissa Newman contributed to this report.