November 12, 2008 / 8:05 AM / 10 years ago

Secular Jew wins Israel's mayoral vote in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - High-tech entrepreneur Nir Barkat won Israel’s mayoral election in Jerusalem on Wednesday, defeating Rabbi Meir Porush in a political battle between the holy city’s secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Nir Barkat, a Jerusalem mayoral candidate, touches the Western wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem November 11, 2008. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Barkat, 49, took 52 percent of the vote, final official results showed. He takes over the post from ultra-orthodox Uri Lupolianski who served a five-year term after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s two consecutive terms as mayor.

“Tonight has to be a night of unity,” Barkat said in a victory speech after polls closed late on Tuesday.

“As of tomorrow, I will become the mayor of all the residents of Jerusalem,” he said, pledging to preserve the religious status quo in the city.

Palestinians boycotted the vote. They make up some 34 percent of Jerusalem’s 750,000 residents and do not recognize Israel’s rule over occupied Arab East Jerusalem and its claim to all of the city as its capital.

Barkat ran on a platform of fighting poverty and unemployment in the city. He also pledged to reverse an exodus of secular, mainly young Jerusalemites seeking better employment opportunities in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities.

Religious and secular Israelis in Jerusalem live in a delicate balance. In Orthodox neighborhoods, families in traditional black garb stroll to synagogues during the Sabbath and Jewish holidays on roads blocked to cars. In downtown Jerusalem, secular Jews frequent non-Kosher bars and eateries.

Analysts said Barkat’s victory, on the back of a high turnout, reflected secular Jews’ concerns that a Porush victory would deny them a political say in Jerusalem where many ultra-Orthodox Jews have large families and low incomes.

Barkat had angered some supporters by courting religious voters with promises to support Jewish settlement expansion in Jerusalem.

Some 160 local elections were held across Israel on Tuesday, but with many of the candidates unaffiliated with major political parties, the vote was not seen as having a significant impact on a national parliamentary poll scheduled for February 10. (Editing by Louise Ireland)

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