In a surprise upset, the candidate for Jerusalem mayor endorsed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to make the second round of the tightly contested race.
Ze’ev Elkin, who serves as the Minister of Jerusalem Affairs in the government, only garnered 20% of the vote, putting him in third place. Elkin also had the backing of current Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who is transitioning to national politics after leading the city for a decade.
The two leading candidates will head to a runoff election in two weeks, since neither candidate secured the required 40% of the vote to win outright. With approximately 98% of votes counted, Moshe Lion finished in the lead with 33% of the vote, while Ofer Berkovitch finished second with 29%, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior.
Conceding defeat, Elkin posted on social media: “In politics, you have to know not only how to win, but also how to lose. I congratulate Ofer Berkovitch and Moshe Lion who made the second round, and I will work with whoever wins the election.”
Lion ran for mayor in 2013, losing to Barkat. This time, Lion had the backing of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the city, an influential force in a city which is more than a third ultra-Orthodox.
Berkovitch, who has served on Jerusalem’s City Council, was something of an upstart candidate, positioning himself as a secular leader against the influence of the ultra-Orthodox.
“We are the biggest movement in the city, and with the most dedicated volunteers in the city, and with the citizens of Jerusalem, Jerusalem will also win in the second round,” Berkovitch posted on social media after results began coming in.
Setback for Netanyahu?
On paper, Elkin’s loss appears a setback for Netanyahu. Billboards of the two men were on display throughout Jerusalem in the weeks before the election, but Elkin still fell short. Even so, Netanyahu continues to enjoy a strong lead in national opinion polls, which suggest his right-wing Likud party could increase its substantial advantage in Israel’s parliament at the next general election.
With these local elections out of the way, many in Israel expect Netanyahu to call national elections soon, and seek to drive home his popularity among Israelis.
In northern Israel, one of the country’s biggest cities will have a female mayor for the first time, as Einat Kalisch Rotem handily defeated the incumbent, who had served as mayor of the city of Haifa for the last 15 years. The working class city of Haifa is the largest city in northern Israel.
The victory makes Kalisch Rotem the first female leader of one of Israel’s three major cities – Jerusalem, Haifa, and Tel Aviv. Kalisch Rotem garnered 56% of the vote to Yoni Yahav’s 38%, according to election results from the Ministry of the Interior.
In Jerusalem’s city council elections, Ramadan Dabash had been vying to become the first Palestinian representative in the city, but his party fell short of the required votes to secure a seat on city council.
In Tel Aviv, incumbent mayor Ron Huldai won his fifth term, defeating his deputy mayor, who had been trying to unseat him.