Moshe Lion wins runoff for Jerusalem mayor with backing of haredi Orthodox

Moshe Lion

Moshe Lion

JERUSALEM (JTA) – Moshe Lion, a right-wing candidate backed by the haredi Orthodox and shunned by Hasidim, will be the first Sephardic mayor of Jerusalem following a narrow victory in a runoff election.

Lion, an accountant and former director-general of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, was declared the winner of Tuesday’s election early Wednesday with 51.5 per cent of the vote to 48.5 per cent for Ofer Berkovitch, a secular activist.

Lion, who is Orthodox, will succeed Nir Barkat as mayor. Barkat is planning to run for the Knesset and endorsed Lion, who came up short in his 2013 bid for mayor against Barkat as the candidate for the Likud party. This time he ran as an independent.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, head of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party, called Lion to congratulate him on his victory at about 2 am.

“I intend to be the mayor of all of Jerusalem’s residents, whoever they may be. Those that voted for me, and those that didn’t,” Lion said shortly after in a victory speech.

In the first round of voting two weeks ago, Lion garnered 33 per cent of the vote, followed by Berkovitch with 29 per cent.

Prior to the final round of voting, Hasidic leaders called on their followers not to vote in the runoff in an effort to harm Lion’s chances because of a feud between the Hasidic and haredi streams in the city. Lion was backed by Shas and part of the United Torah Judaism party, as well as the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party led by Avigdor Liberman.

Some 350,000 haredim live in Jerusalem, a city of 850,000 that also has approximately 200,000 secular Jewish Israelis and 300,000 Palestinians. Palestinians boycotted voting.

Lion’s Our Jerusalem party failed to gain any seats on the Jerusalem City Council. Berkovitch’s secular Hitorerut took seven of its 31 seats.

Some 50 municipal councils held runoff elections for mayor on Tuesday. Voter turnout was about 40 per cent. Municipal Election Day two weeks ago was a holiday for voters and led to a 60 per cent voter turnout.

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