Analysis / Who will replace Lupoliansky as Jerusalem mayor?
By Shahar Ilan
Haaretz - 17 Feb:
The Associated Press news agency reported Sunday that for the first time an ultra-Orthodox Jew assumed office as mayor of Jerusalem, "a reflection of the growing numbers and power of the black-suited, strictly observant Jews in the holy city."
The accession of Uri Lupoliansky, the agency said, underlined a growing rift in the city, as the ultra-Orthodox gain power. The agency quoted secular councilwoman Roni Aloni as saying that Lupoliansky was the worst thing that could happen to Jerusalem.
In the upcoming days it is reasonable to assume that world media will report that Jerusalem now has a new mayor that belongs to an extreme ultra-Orthodox sect, and represents a non-Zionist party. These reports would hardly be noticed if it wasn't for the war on Iraq.
The symbolic difficulty in Israel is more serious. Many secular Israelis have in fact renounced Jerusalem and regard it as a foreign city. Outgoing mayor Ehud Olmert's statements on Jerusalem being open on Shabbat, and that secular Israelis never had as many entertainment venues in the capital as they do now, did not convince anybody. Not because they were incorrect, but rather because the general feeling is that while the number of entertainment venues is rising, the number of people being entertained is dwindling.
Young secular Israelis are fleeing Jerusalem, very few new secular Israelis arrive at the capital and the Hebrew University's status among students is growing weaker. Secular Jerusalemites, living in neighborhoods completely isolated from haredi neighborhoods, are required to explain time after time why they are still living in the capital.
The city suffered a series of blows to its status among secular Israelis over the past decade. In the beginning, it was the victory of Olmert's haredi, right-wing coalition, then the closing of the Bar-Ilan road and now, Lupoliansky's accession.
And why is it so important to have secular Israelis in Jerusalem? First, so that a reasonable number of Zionists will live in Israel's capital. Second, because the municipality's budget comes from the secular population that pays taxes.
The statements of haredim who have reservations on holding the role of Jerusalem mayor must be examined cautiously. There is a large gap between ideology and politics among them, as in any other sector. Ideologically, haredim object to wide-scale financing of yeshivas, in order to avoid dependence on the government. In practice, they do all they can to get the highest funding possible.
Ideologically, some haredim object to senior appointments in order not to raise the anger of secular Israelis and in order to avoid the many offences associated with these posts. In practice, haredim have been dreaming of the post of Jerusalem mayor for many years, and this is an important achievement for them.
At first Lupoliansky was allowed to assume office as mayor under the assumption that he was only acting as a temporary replacement for Olmert. But it should be remembered that in 1988 Lopoliansky refused to enter politics. His patron, Degel Hatorah leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv forced him to run for the municipality and he has been in politics for 15 years since. It is reasonable to believe that Lupoliansky will also compete for the permanent role of Jerusalem mayor.
But Jerusalem's problem is not Uri Lupoliansky – it is hard to think of a better haredi representative than Lulpolisnaky, an especially moderate man who founded the Yad Sarah organization, which has become Israel's main arm for distributing free medical equipment to sick people.
But as moderate as he is, Lupoliansky's political representation is rabbi Yosef Elyashiv, a conservative and zealous man. He represents a party that regards the political system as a lever for promoting the economic interests of a growing sector. The problem is that after Lupoliansky, another ultra-Orthodox leader may come who is more extreme, more demanding and less pleasant mannered.