21 Marcheshvan (October 30) was local elections day in Israel, as the local and city councils as well as mayors were elected all across the country. These elections take place regularly, every five years. Voters choose a party for the council (white ballot) and a candidate for mayor (yellow ballot).
Degel HaTorah, under the leadership of HaRav Chaim Kanievsky and HaRav Gershon Edelstein, was very pleased with its results.
The big story was Jerusalem. For almost 30 years - since HaRav Shach reunited Degel HaTorah with Agudas Yisroel after the elections of 5749, the UTJ (United Torah Judaism) party's representatives were allocated 60% to the Chassidic factions of Agudas Yisroel and 40% to Degel HaTorah. Even when the agreement was made, Degel Hatorah activists complained that it did not reflect the true strengths of the sides. HaRav Shach knew this well, but he felt it was a price worth paying for unity. In the last elections, UTJ got 8 seats and they were allocated according to the traditional formula.
The rabbonim who run the Degel HaTorah affairs in Jerusalem (HaRav Boruch Soloveitchik and HaRav Dovid Cohen) guided this time for Degel to run separately, to see the true numbers as reflected in the voting. The results were that Degel HaTorah got 6 seats and Aguda got only 3. Shas got 5, the same as previously. The Yerushalmi-Peleg party formerly led by HaRav Shmuel Auerbach kept its single seat.
For mayoral candidates, Degel backed Moshe Lion, an observant Jew though he is not chareidi. He courted the chareidi community and was strongly backed by Shas. Aguda supported Yossi Deitch, a member of their party.
The results were that Moshe Lion won 33% of the votes, and Ofer Berkovitch, the secular candidate, got 29% of the votes. Since no candidate got at least 40% of the votes, there will be a runoff election between these two on November 13 (5 Kislev). The also-rans were Zeev Elkin with about 20% of the votes, Yossi Deitch with 17% of the votes and former city attorney Avi Salman with only 0.8% of the votes.
A total of 242,490 Jerusalemites voted, representing 38% of the 638,065 eligible voters. As usual, very few Arabs voted, and turnout in secular neighborhoods was also low. In chareidi neighborhoods a very high percentage of eligible voters went to the polls.
In Bnei Brak, Kiryat Sefer, Beitar and Elad, the front-runner chareidi candidates won. In Beit Shemesh the race for mayor between Moshe Abutbol and the challenger Mrs. Aliza Bloch is still too close to call. On the council, UTJ has 8 seats, Likud has 4, Shas has 3, HaBayit Hayehudi has 3, Aliza Bloch as 2 and the Yerushalmi-Peleg party has 1.
A big upset happened in Haifa as the incumbent was defeated by Labor Party candidate Dr. Einat Kalisch Rotem who got 55% of the votes to his 38%. She is the first woman elected to head one of Israel's 4 largest cities. She was supported by Degel HaTorah, as the incumbent mayor was very anti-chareidi.
The Chazon Ish, whose 65th yahrtzeit was 15 Cheshvan (October 25 this year) famously said that many essential Torah issues are decided in the local Israeli elections. Leading rabbonim, including HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, HaRav Gershon Edelstein and HaRav Shalom Cohen of Shas, attended numerous election rallies in support of their parties. If they gave so generously of their precious time, it shows how important they felt the elections were.