JERUSALEM – Residents of Jerusalem chose a secular businessman to lead one of the world's most revered and complicated cities, putting an end to five years of ultra-Orthodox Jewish control, election results showed Wednesday.
At the end of a divisive campaign, Nir Barkat, a former paratroops officer, promised to be a mayor for "all of Jerusalem's residents," including the city's large ultra-Orthodox and Arab populations.
"I stand here and express my thanks for the great honor I have been given to serve as the mayor of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel and the heart of the Jewish people," the 49-year-old Barkat told jubilant supporters as he claimed victory at a pre-dawn celebration.
Final results released by Israel's Interior Ministry showed that 52 percent of the city's voters supported Barkat. His opponent, veteran ultra-Orthodox politician Meir Porush, received 43 percent.
Barkat will begin his five-year term in December, succeeding Uri Lupolianski, the first ultra-Orthodox Jew to serve as mayor of Jerusalem. Barakat's election reflected a rejection of Lupolianski's term by secular residents, who widely believed the outgoing mayor favored the interests of his ultra-Orthodox constituents over their own.
Many secular Israelis resent that thousands of ultra-Orthodox men shun work for religious study, leaving their families to depend on government stipends and benefits.
In Jerusalem, national political parties failed to field candidates for mayor for the first time, leaving the race to representatives of two of the city's three often fractious groups.
With a high birth rate, ultra-Orthodox Jews are a growing proportion of Jerusalem's population. Many secular Jews, meanwhile, have left the city to find better job opportunities and more affordable housing.
Absent from the race was Jerusalem's third sector — its Palestinian residents. They make up a third of the city's population of 750,000 and have the right to vote after Israel annexed their section of the city in 1967. But most boycott the elections, believing that taking part would be recognizing Israeli control. Palestinians claim their section of Jerusalem as the capital of the state they hope to create.
Barkat opposes any division of the city and has said he supports building thousands more apartments for Israelis in the disputed part of the city, a policy certain to anger Palestinians.
In Tel Aviv, two-term incumbent Ron Huldai defeated a surprisingly strong challenge from Dov Khenin, a member of Israel's parliament from the Communist party Hadash. While Khenin is Jewish, his party is especially popular with Arab voters because of its calls for Palestinian and Arab rights.
Khenin's environmental and pro-working class stand won him popularity in Tel Aviv, Israel's commercial and cultural center. Huldai, 64, a former general, fighter pilot and high school principal with a pro-business bent, won 50.7 percent of the vote to Khenin's 34.3 percent.