Tarnishing the trends from the municipal mayhem

 Ron Huldai and his wife the day after the election, leaving their house to the city hall, October 3

Ron Huldai and his wife the day after the election, leaving their house to the city hall, October 31, 2018.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)

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There are three trends that have been talked about as emerging from Tuesday’s municipal elections – and all three of them may prove unfounded in the long run.

The first is that the race served as a bellwether for the support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, just like next Tuesday’s mid-term elections in the United States for US President Donald Trump.

By that logic, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin’s disappointing third-place finish after putting the prime minister on his campaign posters would indicate that Netanyahu is doomed in the 2019 general election.

But Elkin lost in spite of Netanyahu, not because of him. He lost, because he ran a poor campaign, started too late, failed to prevent Deputy Mayor Yossi Daitch from running, and because Jerusalemites don’t like it when candidates move to the city to run.

The second alleged trend is that women are now taking over municipal politics in Israel and that this is “the year of the woman” in Israeli politics.

One could receive that impression from the high-profile victories of Einat Kalisch Rotem in Haifa, Aliza Bloch in Beit Shemesh and another nine women mayors. There are another six women who made run-off races, four of whom have a good chance to win.

But if there end up being 15 female mayors out of 257 local authorities in Israel, is that really supposed to impress anyone? When it comes to municipal government, women clearly still have a long way to go.

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The final trend is that the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) have changed, because they backed female candidates for mayor, and that they have become so divided, their political power could plummet in the next Knesset.

Indeed, Kalisch Rotem received a big boost from Degel Hatorah and Bloch could not have won her race if all the haredim united behind incumbent mayor Moshe Abutbul.

But Kalisch Rotem was merely an instrument of haredi revenge against her predecessor Yonah Yahav, who they saw as anti-religious, and Bloch received no public endorsements from major haredi leaders. Any backing she got from them in her race against a sitting haredi mayor was kept hushed, and there was a revenge factor in that support as well.

As Channel 2 religious affairs correspondent Yair Cherki tweeted, the true test of how haredim see women is how many haredi women ran for mayor or city council across the country, and the answer is only one: Petah Tikva city council candidate Racheli Morgenstern, and she lost.

That leaves the trend of haredim becoming more divided. That is unquestionably true.

United Torah Judaism ran divided in Jerusalem and other cities across the country. UTJ’s parties Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael sued each other in Elad. Degel seems to have more in common now with the Sephardi Shas than their longtime Ashkenazi political partner.

But can this trend keep up? It will soon be clear, from two upcoming indicators.

The first is the run-off in Jerusalem. Daitch told the haredi station Radio Kol Chai Thursday that he wants his rabbis to endorse city councilman Moshe Lion. If all the haredim unite against councilman Ofer Berkovitch, it could be a step toward their reunification, learning the lessons from their municipal splintering.

But perhaps the haredi infighting can allow Berkovitch to win.

The second is Netanyahu’s behavior in the weeks ahead. If he pushes forward the lowering of the electoral threshhold to enable Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael to run apart, the rift is really serious. That could mean haredi influence in the next government could fall and religious pluralism could be advanced.

But the more likely scenario is that the electoral threshold will remain the same and haredi power will continue to grow along with the size of their families.

So these trends will all be tested. And time will tell how many of them will turn out to be tarnished.

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