Today’s WP article on Jerusalem’s mayoral race, to be decided on October 22, strangely sidesteps many of the deep religious and cultural divisions in that city. While noting that the incumbent multi-millionaire Nir Barkat has a reputation as a secularist and the support of “middle-class, center-right Jerusalem Jews,” as contrasted with the challenger, Moshe Leon, who has the backing of ultra-nationalists and the ultra-orthodox Shas party, the WP boils the contest down to politics that would be familiar in any city — cleanliness, progress, subsidies and scandal.
But it’s worth noting that the photo accompanying the article shows Barkat taking part in a ceremony celebrating a Jewish housing development in an annexed part of Arab East Jerusalem. This particular photo op represents the mayor’s ongoing efforts to win support from Jerusalem’s religious Zionist voters by backing their settlement agenda. Bartak’s support for this agenda has won him endorsements from several important Zionist rabbis. It’s anticipated that on election day, it will be the religious Zionists who decide the election.
Leon is himself a religious Zionist and one of his most prominent backers is Aryeh Deri, Knesset member and leader of the Shas party. His greatest chance for victory depends on the haredim turning out for him.
And finally, while the article notes that nearly one-third of eligible voters — Jerusalem’s Arabs — will boycott the election as they traditionally have, their disposition is crucial to city’s future. Education, housing, and crime in Arab East Jerusalem are all important issues facing Jerusalem’s next mayor.
Despite the impression left by the WP, Jerusalem is not a city like any other. By downplaying the cultural and religious elements underlying politics there, readers miss a crucial part of the story.