Jerusalem – The grand rabbi of the Gur hassidic dynasty decided on Monday that he would not be endorsing any candidate for mayor of Jerusalem, a decision which, although expected, will come as a blow to Likud-Beytenu candidate Moshe Lion.
A well-placed source said it was now extremely unlikely that any of the major hassidic courts would openly back Lion. The source added that, although there are no explicit instructions, the implicit message of the Gur rebbe’s decision is to either vote for haredi fringe candidate Haim Epstein, Barkat, or to spoil the ballot.
Lion’s campaign has been banking on united haredi support in order to overcome Barkat’s large lead among non-haredi voters.
An official connected to the Lion campaign accused Barkat of signing deals with haredi factions in order to get their political support.
“The box of gifts which Barkat is offering haredi groups to support him has become irresistible for some. Once again Barkat is relying on splitting the haredi vote in a series of secret promises and back-room agreements,” said the official.
Lion himself has been publicly backed by haredi parties Shas and Degel HaTorah, and Shas chairman Aryeh Deri has been extremely active in securing support for the Likud-Beytenu candidate.
Splits within the haredi community between the hassidic and non-hassidic parties, as well as an internal conflict within the non-hassidic community as well, have led to only partial ultra-Orthodox backing for Lion.
Although a recent poll published by Globes last week showed the race in Jerusalem narrowing significantly, Barkat still enjoys a six percent lead over his rival. A previous poll gave Barkat a 28 point lead over Lion. The much reduced gap is likely due to the formal announcement made by the mainstream non-hassidic rabbis between the two polls instructing their community to vote for the Likud-Beytenu candidate.
Voter turnout could now be the most important factor for Barkat. Although Lion has not received united haredi support, the non-hassidic Degel HaTorah movement, as well as Shas, have both endorsed the Likud-Beytenu candidate and have urged their supporters to go out and vote for him as a religious obligation.
Voter turnout from those communities will be high and Barkat will need the non-haredi public to come out in large numbers if he is to be re-elected.
There are approximately 522,000 Jewish voters in Jerusalem, with between 95,000 and 100,000 of those coming from the haredi community.
Alongside the failure of the large hassidic groups to support Lion, the Bnei Torah party, a rebel faction from the non-hassidic community, has refused to withdraw its candidate for mayor Haim Epstein from the race despite facing heavy pressure.
The Bnei Torah party, headed by its spiritual guide Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, commands several thousand votes in Jerusalem and the failure to persuade the rabbi to withdraw his candidate is yet another obstacle for Lion.
On Sunday, Deri reportedly visited Auerbach at his home in Jerusalem’s Shaarei Hesed neighborhood to make one last attempt to persuade the rabbi to back down, but to no avail. This follows several meetings held between Auerbach’s advisers and Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman to try and bring about a unification of the non-hassidic haredi political and rabbinic leadership.
On Monday morning, a death threat was placed on Auerbach’s car demanding that he withdraw his Bnei Torah party from municipal and mayoral elections.
“Shmulik Auerbach,” read the note derisively, “close your party, and your blood shall not be on your head.”
And Yated Neeman, a haredi daily newspaper and Degel HaTorah mouthpiece published two letters on Monday morning denouncing, implicitly, Bnei Torah, and decreeing that it was “forbidden” not to vote.
Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, the second most senior haredi rabbi in the country and who commands great respect in the ultra-Orthodox community said it was “an absolute obligation on anyone with the right to vote to vote only for United Torah Judaism,” referencing not only the Jerusalem municipal race but also the elections in Bnei Brak and Modiin Illit where Bnei Torah are also running.
Kanievsky referred to the rebel faction as “empty and reckless people have risen up amongst us and caused division,” and accused them of undermining the leadership of Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the spiritual leader of the non-hassidic haredi world.
Content is provided courtesy of the Jerusalem Post