From the Archive: When Jerusalem’s Jews backed an Arab mayor

Last week’s Jerusalem mayoral election was seen as once again pitting the city’s haredi and non-haredi Jews against each another. Jerusalem’s Arabs, who make up more than a third of the city’s population, could be a major electoral force, but they overwhelmingly opt not to participate in municipal elections.

In 1927, Jerusalem’s electoral dynamics were very different. Then Jewish voters were a crucial voting bloc, but the city’s political landscape was still dominated by Arabs. JTA reported that the city’s voter registry included 1,463 Muslims, 1,227 Jews and 830 Christians.

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The municipal elections of that year pitted the party of Jerusalem’s incumbent mayor, Raghib al-Nashashibi, against opponents from the Palestine Arab Executive, led by Jamal Husseini. The strongly anti-Zionist Arab Executive denied reports that it was trying to cut a deal with the city’s Jewish voters to gain their support. A couple months later, however, JTA reported that the Jewish community had reached election deals with both Arab parties regarding the municipal government.

In the end, Nashashibi’s party emerged victorious, with overwhelming Jewish backing. Nashashibi won nearly as many Jewish votes as Muslim and Christian votes combined, and he was re-installed as mayor by the council. A Jew and a Christian were tapped as his vice mayors. Four Jews, running on a united Jewish list, were elected to the city council. The Jewish councilors, JTA noted, held the balance of power between the two Arab parties. Ultimately, however, the Jewish community was looking for the establishment of a separate municipality in Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods.

But whatever cooperation existed in the 1927 election, the mood soon soured. In 1929, Jerusalem erupted in a frenzy of murderous anti-Jewish rioting that quickly spread across Palestine. Tensions mounted between the Jewish community and Nashashibi. The next year, the Jewish members of the city council — frustrated by the behavior of the council’s Arab majority — resigned en masse.

Daniel Treiman is a contributing writer to JTA.