When he became mayor of Israel’s capital in December, the fifty-seven-year old Moshe Lion was a relative outsider who had first run for public office only five years earlier. He is the first Sephardi Jew to hold the post—his father was born in Thessaloniki—and unusual in that he is a religious Zionist who was elected thanks largely to ḥaredi voters. Having interviewed Lion, Tal Kra-Oz writes:
Lion’s [electoral] victory did not come easily. When I asked him about his policy for the handful of city businesses that operate on the Sabbath, he was adamant that he was a staunch supporter of the existing status quo, which allows for restaurants and bars to operate seven days a week in certain areas, but volunteered that his opponents had always accused him [of wanting to shut down these businesses on the Sabbath].
During his first run for office in 2013, Jerusalem residents knew only that Lion’s candidacy was the result of a political deal between his two unlikely patrons: Avigdor Liberman of [the staunchly secular] Yisrael Beytenu and Aryeh Deri of [the Mizraḥi and ḥaredi] Shas. The two master politicians who, at least publicly, agree on very little, decided to mount a joint effort to place their friend at the helm of Israel’s capital. When Lion finally prevailed in last November’s elections, it was in no small part thanks to his success in securing wide swaths of the ultra-Orthodox vote in backroom deals. None of Lion’s candidates made it into the city council. But of the 32 elected council members, fifteen are ultra-Orthodox and form the core of his coalition. . . .
Lion is charged with the well-being of some 900,000 residents. Upward of a third are Arab, and nearly another third are ultra-Orthodox, making him mayor of the largest Arab and ultra-Orthodox city in the country. Though the remaining non-Orthodox Jewish population is still sizable, it has gotten smaller. . . . Lion . . . plans to spend billions on overhauling eastern Jerusalem’s much-maligned roads and sewers, and on revolutionizing its schools, many of which are run by the Palestinian Authority.
“So far, not enough effort has been made to bring the Israeli education system to the residents of eastern Jerusalem,” Lion said. “Today only 7 percent of schools in eastern Jerusalem are run by the Israeli Ministry of Education. My goal is to bring that number up to 50 percent within five years. That will make a world of a difference. The level of education will be much higher. And even more important, we’ll be rid of the incitement that you find in the Palestinian curriculum.”