A religious Jewish candidate won election as mayor of Jerusalem on Wednesday in a run-off against a secular contender for a post that shapes Israel’s rule over the holy city at the heart of its conflict with the Palestinians.
Moshe Lion, a skullcap-wearing bureaucrat favored by two key members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist cabinet, defeated Ofer Berkovitch, the 35-year-old deputy mayor, after neither took enough votes in a five-man contest two weeks ago to win outright.
The 35-year-old Berkovitch is a secular activist who pushed a progressive agenda against religious hard-liners.
Nearly final results after Tuesday’s run-off gave Lion close to 52 percent of the vote.
The ballot was held as part of nationwide Israeli municipal elections in which many candidates run as independents or on non-traditional party lists, making it difficult to gauge any broader political impact from the results.
While Netanyahu’s own approval ratings are strong, a senior member of his party and cabinet who ran for Jerusalem mayor with his blessing, Zeev Elkin, came in third in the first round of the poll.
Lion enjoyed the support of key ultra-Orthodox factions and their representatives in government, as well as that of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and powerful figures in the ruling Likud party.
The Jerusalem vote was largely boycotted by Palestinians who make up a third of the city’s population. They live in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move that has not won international recognition.
The mayor has little influence over Middle East politics and diplomacy, but has a strong symbolic presence both nationally and internationally.
Many Jerusalem Palestinians complain of entrenched neglect by the Israeli municipality. A Palestinian candidate who bucked the boycott by running for the administrative Jerusalem City Council failed to garner enough votes to get in. Both Lion and Berkovitch had vowed to appeal to all sectors of the city, 21 percent of its Jewish population is secular and another 43 percent are religiously traditional and 36 percent are ultra-Orthodox.