A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman
November 12, 2008- Secular Candidtate Wins to Become Mayor of Jerusalem
Local elections took place in Israel yesterday. The most important race took place in Jerusalem. None of the usual Israeli parties took part in the race. Instead, it was a race between a secular candidate, Nir Barkat, and a Haredi rival, Meir Porush. Last election the Haredi candidate won. This time, it was Nir Barkat who won with 52% of the vote. Nir Barkat's views on many issues are not known... is he left, right or center, no one knew. What he was, was not Haredi, and that was enough for most voters. A split within the Haredi world helped Barkat; a split that Israeli media observers are hard pressed to explain. I heard one Haredi activist claim he voted for Barkat as a vote against Porush, who he described in the most negative terms. It was almost scary to hear the hatred of Porush from this Haredi activist. What Barkat will be able to accomplish is a big question. However, if Jerusalem remained under Haredi rule, its future as a home for any secular Israelis would have been over.
Last night a dinner was held at the UN to kick off a special conference on religious tolerance. The conference has been co-sponsored by the King of Saudi Arabia. President Shimon Peres represents Israel at the conference. While it was worked out in advance that Peres and the Saudi King would not shake hands, it was also worked out that the Saudi King would not leave the room when Peres speaks. Often these meetings are meaningless. In this case it may have true meaning, both in terms of Arab- Israeli relations, and certainly within the politics of the Arab world. That was clear by the amount of time Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah spent attacking the fact that Peres was invited. Nasrallah was speaking at the event celebrating Hezbollah's first suicide bombing.