Did J'lem mayoral candidate trade draft bill for haredi support?

Recording suggests mayoral candidate Moshe Leon got haredi support in exchange for Liberman giving Draft Law go-ahead.

Tzvi Lev ,

Moshe Leon
Moshe Leon
Hadas Parush/Flash90

A new recording suggests that Jerusalem mayoral candidate Moshe Leon earned the endorsement of the city's haredi community as part of a backroom deal to enshrine IDF draft deferments for yeshiva students.

Four politicians are running to succeed outgoing Mayor Nir Barkat: Jerusalem Minister and Knesset member Ze’ev Elkin, former executive and current councilman Moshe Leon, former Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkovitch, and haredi candidate Yossi Deitch. Local businessman Avi Salman has also thrown his hat in the ring but is not expected to have a realistic shot at the top job; recent polls show him languishing in the low single digits.

Leon earned the endorsement of both the Shas and Degel Hatorah haredi parties. As haredim make up 40% of Jerusalem, it is considerably difficult to win city-wide elections without their support. However, a new recording suggests that Leon, a close confidant to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, only earned haredi support as part of a deal to ensure that the Draft Law passes in the Knesset.

According to Yediot Aharonot, Leon can be heard in the recording telling local power brokers that Liberman will enable the Draft Law to pass if Shas and UTJ throw their weight behind Leon. Leon told the assembled group that "the draft deal will work out" because Liberman "had met with [UTJ leaders] Litzman and Gafni", something he said was "a national secret".

Leon responded by alleging that his remarks were said in jest. "Knowing the facts, it is clear to me, as it is clear to every reader, that these are matters that were taken out of context," Leon said.

"Anyone who reads or listens can understand that these are not serious things, spoken in an atmosphere of jokes and they are not real. I am proud of the support of Shas and Degel Hatorah and my deep friendship with the defense minister and intend to win the first round so that I can take care of Jerusalem and its residents."

The Shas and UTJ factions have been attempting to pass the Draft Law for more than a year. Their law would enshrine Torah study in the "Basic Laws" of the State of Israel, circumventing the Supreme Court's ruling that deferments and exemptions for yeshiva students are unconstitutional and making the exemptions for full-time yeshiva students permanent.

Yet the coalition's efforts have been repeatedly stymied by Liberman, who refuses to support a bill that is not endorsed by the defense establishment. Earlier this year, Liberman said that his party "will not allow the law to pass unless without a discussion...and the insertion of the changes we demand." This, Liberman insisted, would happen "even if it comes at the cost of breaking apart the coalition."

Next Tuesday's elections will not be Leon’s first time contending for the capital city’s top job. Leon had narrowly lost to Nir Barkat in the previous elections back in 2013.