Jerusalem Mayoral Race Highlights Religious Rifts

November 10, 2008

Author: Allyn Fisher-Ilan

Source: Reuters

An Israeli mayoral election in Jerusalem has turned the holy city into a political battleground between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Palestinians, who along with the international community do not recognize Israeli rule over occupied Arab East Jerusalem and its claim to all of the city as its capital, say they will boycott Tuesday's vote.

An ultra-Orthodox rabbi, Meir Porush, 53, and Nir Barkat, 49, a centrist city councillor and high-tech entrepreneur, are the main contenders in a race that includes darkhorse candidate Arkady Gaydamak, a Russian immigrant and business magnate.

"The culture war is the main issue. It's a battle between the secular and the ultra-Orthodox," said Shmuel Sandler, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv.

With ultra-Orthodox voters estimated at 27 percent of the electorate and secular voters 43 percent, a candidate needs support from a middle constituency of moderately religious Jews, estimated at about 30 percent, to win, analysts said.

The religious and secular communities in Jerusalem live in a delicate balance.