Jerusalem mayoral candidate Moshe Leon. Photo: Kobi Kantor via Wikicommons.

Jerusalem mayoral candidate Moshe Leon has suddenly become the front-runner in the upcoming municipal elections after receiving the endorsement of leading Haredi parties.

According to Hebrew news site Walla, the Sephardi party Shas and its Ashkenazi counterpart Degel HaTorah have decided to throw their support behind Leon, who had previously been running well behind candidates Zeev Elkin and Ofer Berkovitch. The popular current mayor Nir Barkat bowed out to run for Knesset for the Likud party.

Walla reported that Leon is considered close to Shas leader Aryeh Deri and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Haredi candidate Yossi Deitch had previously attempted to unite the various Haredi parties behind him, but appears to have failed, only gaining the endorsement of the Hasidic party Agudat Yisrael.

A source told Walla that the Haredi parties are intent on endorsing a candidate who can also garner non-Haredi support, saying that their endorsement is conditioned on such an outcome. Degel HaTorah, the source said, made it clear to Leon that “he must prove that he is capable of getting at least 30,000 non-Haredi votes, otherwise his candidacy will be reconsidered.”

Former front-runner Ofer Berkovitch reacted strongly to the news of Leon’s endorsement, telling Walla, “If Jerusalem is not for everyone, it simply is not.” Despite the Haredi parties’ decision, Berkovitch asserted, “the Jerusalem public is with me. … Jerusalem under my leadership will act together for the good of all and the inclusion of all, side by side, not at the expense of each other.”

Zeev Elkin, who is minister for Jerusalem in the current government, said, “After they denied and concealed for many months, Deri and Lieberman’s plan to try and rule Jerusalem has been exposed. … To my sadness, the good of Jerusalem is not a priority to them, but rather political deals and foreign interests that endanger our future here in Jerusalem.”