The results of the Israeli municipal elections have been coming in overnight, with shock results in Jerusalem and Haifa.
Who will fill the position of Mayor of Jerusalem as yet remains undecided, with none of the candidates reaching the 40 per cent threshold needed to win. The two candidates who won the most votes – Ofer Berkovitch and Moshe Leon with 28 per cent and 32 per cent respectively – will go head to head on 13 November.
Berkovitch is the founder of Jerusalem’s Hitorerut movement, a coalition of secular and religious-Zionist members. In November 2017 Berkovitch pulled the movement out of the Jerusalem city council following a disagreement over a deal which would see the institutionalisation of preferential regulations and funding for the city’s Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community.
For his part, Leon ran for Mayor of Jerusalem back in 2013 but lost to Nir Barkat, who has served as the city’s leader since then. His candidacy this year was backed by Shas and Degel Torah, two political parties representing the Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) and Ashkenazi (European) ultra –Orthodox communities respectively.
The biggest shock was the defeat of Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who was previously expected to be the front-runner. Elkin, the ruling Likud party’s candidate who had received endorsement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem’s current Mayor Nir Barkat, came third in yesterday’s election.
The Times of Israel explained that initial exit polls indicated a “high voter turnout in the secular and ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, but low turnout in the national religious and traditionally religious neighbourhoods,” which likely caused Elkin’s low performance.
Yesterday it emerged that Netanyahu had worked to orchestrate a position swap between Elkin and Barkat in the event that Elkin won the position of Jerusalem mayor. Under the swap, Netanyahu promised current Mayor Barkat that he would replace Elkin as minister of Jerusalem affairs if the latter was elected to replace him. All parties denied allegations of an underhand deal.
Meanwhile in the coastal city of Haifa, Einat Kalisch Rotem became the city’s first female mayor, beating the incumbent Mayor Yona Yahav who has served 15 years in the position. Kalisch Rotem won 56 per cent of the vote, according to the Times of Israel, while Yahav only gained 35 per cent. There were also cries of foul play, with both candidates accusing their opponent of stealing voting slips, missing ballots and cyber-attacks.
In Tel Aviv, Labour party candidate Ron Huldai – who has already served as the city’s mayor for 20 years – was re-elected for another term. He fended off a challenge from his deputy mayor, Asaf Zamir, who only secured 34 per cent of the vote.