Jerusalem Elects First Secular Mayor in 5 Years

Win ends years of ultra-Orthodox rule in Israel's capital
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 12, 2008 5:45 AM CST
Secular businessman Nir Barkat won an election for mayor of Jerusalem against a powerful ultra-Orthodox Jewish leader in a race that exposed the deep divide between religious and secular Israelis.    (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)
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(Newser) – A secular, hardline millionaire has won a decisive victory for mayor of Jerusalem, ending 5 years of ultra-Orthodox rule, the Los Angeles Times reports. Nir Barkat has promised to transform the impoverished capital city by boosting tourism and tech ventures. He has also demanded more homes for Jews in East Jerusalem, an area dominated by Arabs who would like to see it become the capital of a Palestinian state.

Jerusalem's slide into poverty and its huge ultra-Orthodox population, most of whom don't work, have made its mayoralty a less-than-appealing prize for many Israeli politicians. None of the country's major parties put up a candidate, despite a national election in just three months. Most Arab voters once again boycotted the election, seeing it as a de facto recognition of Israel's sovereignty over the entire holy city.