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October 31, 2018 9:39 am

Jerusalem Mayoral Race Narrows to Religious and Secular Jewish Candidates

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Campaign posters of Jerusalem mayoral candidates Ofer Berkovitch (L) and Moshe Lion are seen on a building in the Israeli capital, Oct. 31, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

The race for mayor of Jerusalem, a role shaping Israel’s rule over the sacred city at the heart of its conflict with the Palestinians, will go to a run-off between religious and secular Jewish candidates, election tallies showed on Wednesday.

Moshe Lion, a skullcap-wearing bureaucrat favored by two key members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist cabinet, will face off against Ofer Berkovitch, the 35-year-old deputy mayor, after they came out on top of Tuesday’s five-man contest — but neither with sufficient votes to win outright.

The ballot was held as part of nationwide Israeli municipal elections in which many candidates run as independents or on non-traditional party lists, making it difficult to gauge any broader political impact from the results.

While Netanyahu’s own approval ratings are strong, a senior member of his party and cabinet who ran for Jerusalem mayor with his blessing, Zeev Elkin, came in third in Tuesday’s poll.

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The Jerusalem vote was largely boycotted by Palestinians who make up a third of the city’s population. They live in East Jerusalem, which Israel took control of in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed.

Many Jerusalem Palestinians complain of entrenched neglect by the Israeli municipality. A Palestinian candidate who bucked the boycott by running for the administrative Jerusalem City Council failed to garner enough votes to get in.

Both Lion and Berkovitch — whose second-round ballot is on Nov 13 — have vowed to appeal to all sectors of the city. Neither is likely to break with Netanyahu government policy against ceding East Jerusalem for the Palestinians’ hoped-for future state.

Trailing fourth in Tuesday’s mayoral election was Yossi Daitsh, the sole representative of ultra-Orthodox Jews who, by making up 36 percent of Jerusalem’s Jewish Israeli populace, might have been the biggest voting bloc.

Instead, many ultra-Orthodox voted for candidates outside their close-knit community — a possible gauge of their assimilation in wider Israeli society where their welfare benefits and military draft exemptions are often resented.

On the Jerusalem City Council, however, ultra-Orthodox lists took 14 of the 31 seats — the same presence as previously.

Twenty-one percent of Jerusalem Jews are secular, while 43 percent are not ultra-Orthodox but of various less strict religious denominations.

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