An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man stands at the headquarter of of municipal candidate Yossi Daitch during the municipal elections in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. Israelis are voting in for municipal elections across the country. In the closest watched race Tuesday, four candidates are hoping to become the next mayor of Jerusalem. Posters read in Hebrew; "Yossi Daitch, Jerusalemite at heart". (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Israel holds municipal vote, Jerusalem chooses new mayor

October 30, 2018 - 12:58 pm

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israelis voted in municipal elections across the country on Tuesday, with a closely watched race taking place in Jerusalem — a city with great importance to billions of people around the world.

Ofer Berkovitch, a young secular activist, was running against veteran political activist Moshe Lion, Cabinet minister Zeev Elkin, who is supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ultra-Orthodox candidate Yossi Daitch, and Avi Salman, a former aide to outgoing Mayor Nir Barkat.

If no one captures 40 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will advance to a runoff.

Jerusalem is a diverse city, with a Jewish population divided between secular residents, modern Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox. In addition, about one-third of the population is Palestinian.

Few Palestinians vote, however, seeing participation as recognition of Israeli control over east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally. In a rare move, a Palestinian from east Jerusalem is seeking a seat in the city council, but it is unclear whether he will win enough votes.

Tuesday's vote also featured the first municipal elections in Druze villages in the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967 and later annexed. Voter turnout in the four communities was very low. Police dispersed Druze protesters who disrupted voting in the largest town, Majdal Shams.

The Arabic-speaking community adheres to a secretive offshoot of Islam. Many Druze, especially the older generation, remain loyal to Syria and dream of returning to Syrian control one day. The younger generation includes Druze who are much more integrated into Israeli life, or at least pragmatically believe that closer ties with Israel can improve their daily lives.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry protested the elections in letters to the U.N. secretary-general and the Security Council president, calling the elections an "attempt to pass their Judaization, settlement, and racist schemes," according to the Syrian state news agency.

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