Multiple reports have Likudniks Ze’ev Elkin and Dudu Amsalem staying in the Knesset while the head of Hitorerut, Ofer Berkovitch, has opened a wide lead against his closest non-Haredi rival. These new details are helping to clarify the race to replace Nir Barkat as mayor of Jerusalem. The largest question that remains is who will represent the Haredi interests in the upcoming election.
Regarding Elkin, Yediot Yeruhsalayim is reporting that despite Elkin’s desire to be the mayor, Prime Minister Netanyahu has asked him to remain in national politics. The reason for this is that Elkin is a key figure in relations with Russia, an increasingly pivotal actor in the Middle East. Elkin is unexpected to run for mayor without the blessing of Netanyahu.
Another big Likud name is Dudu Amsallem, who also announced that he is leaning towards staying in the Knesset. Amsalem’s exact motives are unclear, though the fact that he would be competing with other candidates for the Haredi vote may have played a factor.
Two polls released by Midgam suggest that Ofer Berkovitch is sitting comfortably as the leading pluralist candidate. In the first poll (published in Kol Hair), Berkovitch held a 60 point lead over main rival Yossi Havilio amongst those who are running, however, almost 69% of those asked have not made up their mind yet and 37% said that they had not heard of either candidate. These numbers do leave room for another pluralist candidate to make a run.
In another poll, Berkovitch was pitted against Ze’ev Elkin. Amongst the pluralist/Zionist community (secular, traditional and religious Zionist), Berkovitch won, receiving 35.1% of the vote to Elkin’s 21.1% (34.7% of respondents were undecided). When the poll was expanded to include Haredim, Berkovitch remained ahead albeit by a slimmer margin 24.3% to 23.4%.
While it is looking as if Elkin may not run, his support is a solid facsimile for the Lion vote from the last election. That is to say, his base is older Likudnikim and Haredim just as Lion’s was in 2013.
The information has helped clarify a number of points:
- At this point, Ofer Berkovitch is the primary non-Haredi candidate – There are still others considering a run, such as Rachel Azaria and Nachman Shai, but with six months to go, Berkovitch has a huge head start. As elections near, the pressure will be placed on non-serious pluralist candidates to leave the race to prevent a Haredi victory.
- If two candidates appealing to the Haredim run, it could be disastrous for their chances – Currently, the main Haredi friendly candidates are Elkin, Moshe Lion, and Yossi Deutsch. Individually, each presents a formidable challenge to Berkovitch. However, considering the Elkin vs. Berkovitch poll, none can afford to split votes with another.
- Jerusalem is still not in election mode – There are still huge numbers of undecided voters even when asked to choose between people like Havilio and Berkovitch who have been running for some time. The question remains if these voters are waiting for someone else to run or if they just have not considered who they will vote for in just under 180 days. With many voters used to automatically selecting Barkat, we will now see if candidates can get Jerusalem excited about a new mayor.
(Header Photo by Reuters)