Kulanu Party MK and former city councilwoman Rachel Azaria announced her candidacy for the position of Jerusalem mayor Sunday. The race already includes some half a dozen official candidates, as well as prominent individuals who have yet to announce their official candidacy.
Azaria says the city needs a candidate who can unite the highly diverse city. Jerusalem is about one third Arab and one third ultra-Orthodox (Haredi). The remainder is made up of secular and religious Zionist Jews.
“The Haredi society is undergoing profound changes and what was true a decade ago (is not necessarily so today). Already, five years ago, hundreds of Haredim voted for the Yerushalmim Party (a pluralistic party founded by Azaria).”
Azaria said that she entered municipal politics during the second Intifada, a time when Jerusalem was suffering from high emigration and things were looking grim for the city. She founded Yerushalmim in the city council in 2008.
Azaria says that she “conducted an in-depth opinion poll and discovered that the candidates considered to be strong candidates, there was actually little support. Essentially, Jerusalem citizens do not know who to choose. There are also considerably low glass ceilings as many candidates declare that they are for one sector and against another.
“But in Jerusalem it will not work. People are seeking a candidate who knows how to unite different sectors and this is something I know how to do, it is what we have done in Yerushalmim,” she said.
Azaria has already earned the ire of the Jerusalem Haredim in the past. In 2011, as a Jerusalem city councilwoman, she appealed to the Supreme Court against a sidewalk barrier segregating the sexes was erected in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim during a holiday. The court ordered that it be dismantled.
Azaria was subsequently fired by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, in what political commentators called a nod to the ultra-Orthodox community's powerful punch in municipal elections.
The memory of that dispute remains stark in Azaria’s mind. She believes that the Haredi society has changed and that “a woman has a higher chance of winning than previously thought. We need to give more credit to Israeli and Jerusalem society. Haredi society is changing and a significant percent are seeking a figure who knows to say: I understand your needs. I know how to work cooperatively. Especially because we had strong disagreements in the past… Many do not grasp that we are all here to remain and I know how to facilitate this.”
Azaria says her party leader, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, has given her his blessing. “"He understands that my heart is in Jerusalem, and he gave me the blessing for the road."
She added, "I have been living on the edge all my life. My whole family as well. We know how to live on the seams. I live in a neighborhood of seams, I live in a city of seams, and I think that ultimately we need this fusion in Israeli society. I constantly repeat that we did not return after 2,000 years to quarrel. There is certainly a way to create a partnership."