Jerusalem, Tel Aviv mayoral races highlight Israeli municipal elections

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The battle for the mayor of Jerusalem will be among the  closely watched races as Israelis go to the polls in municipal races.

Voting is being held Tuesday for mayor and local offices in nearly 200 cities and towns in Israel.

In Jerusalem, the incumbent Nir Barkat is being challenged by official Likud candidate Moshe Lion, though Lion is one of the few official Likud candidates for mayor that has not received the backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Lion has been endorsed by the haredi Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties.

In Tel Aviv, longtime incumbent Ron Huldai is being challenged by the left-wing Meretz Knesset member Nitzan Horowitz, who if elected would become the first gay mayor in Israel.

In the central city of Ra’anana, popular former mayor Ze’ev Bielski, who served as a Knesset lawmaker for the Kadima party between 2009 and 2013 and also chaired the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, is again on the ballot for mayor.

A contentious race for mayor is being fought in Beit Shemesh, the site of several conflicts between haredi Orthodox and secular residents, between the Shas-backed incumbent Moshe Abutbul and independent candidate Eli Cohen, who also is backed by the Jewish Home party.

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