Strong politicians come up with some inspired philosophical statements on their bad nights. I recall the Ed Koch’s famous “Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you,” possibly after his failed bid to take up residence in the governor’s mansion in Albany, NY. MK Avigdor Lieberman, who many say orchestrated Moshe Leon’s meteoric campaign to unseat incumbent Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, equaled the immortal Koch last night, with his own quip: “If you want to win, you need to know how to lose.”
But while Moshe Leon, the accountant who switched his residency from Givatayim in the Tel Aviv area to Jerusalem just under the wire, was expected to lose, his patrons, Israel Beiteinu strong man Lieberman and Shas strong man Aryeh Deri, who labored tirelessly to unseat Mayor Barkat, walked away strong, as their man picked up 45 percent of the votes. The incumbent took 51 percent, but it remains to be seen whether the city council he received from the voter would be governable.
In my humble opinion, the entire Jerusalem campaign was not so much about unseating Barkat—not a realistic goal in anyone’s book—but about offering an alternative on the national level. The pairing to such an extent of Deri and Lieberman in this campaign will not end in this municipality, important though it is. As the Shas leader himself has put it, he is envisioning a coup in the government, involving removing Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home and substituting it with Shas and the Haredi UTJ. It’s a logical move, especially should the “peace talks” start making their impact and the right wing of Netanyahu’s coalition starts quaking. No matter what one may think about such a move, it cannot be attempted without Avigdor Lieberman’s support.
Aryeh Deri did sustain a painful defeat in the city of El’ad, outside Petach Tikva in central Israel. El’ad has been long synonymous with Sephardi-Haredi politics, and Deri, while knowingly fighting a losing battle that nonetheless had to be waged in Jerusalem, was determined to win in El’ad. The competition was between Deri’s candidate Tzuriel Krispel, and the UTJ, Haredi-Ashkenazi candidate Israel Porush, son of UTJ MK Meir Porush.
Late last night it was reported that Porush has won, and, adding insult to injury, it appears that a full 30 percent of this largely Haredi city Sephardi voters preferred the Ashkenazi candidate over “their own.”
So far, of the three major campaigns Deri has waged this time around, he only won in Beit Shemesh (more on that in a few paragraphs).
Jewish Home did well last night, considering its size and the municipal battles it picked. The party candidates have won three peripheral mayoralties: Alon Davidi is the new mayor of the rocket battered Sderot, Eliyahu (Lello) Zohar will run Kiryat Malachi, and Yair Revivo took the city of Lod.
All three places are heavily Sephardi and working class. In earning the voter’s faith in those three places, Bennett’s people are signaling that the Haredi-Sephardi Shas is no longer the only option for social mobility. And Bennett, as minister of the economy, is in a unique position to make this a stellar success story for his people.
last night, in Kiryat Malachi, the southern town that’s become synonymous with lingering poverty and neglect, Bennett made a “Shehechyanu” blessing (I suppose saying Hallel would have been too much even for Jewish Home), and said: “Something new begins tonight in Kiryat Malachi. They Jewish Home returns to the periphery and the periphery returns to the Jewish Home at this moment.”
The city elders probably understood that Bennett was referring to the old NRP, in the pre-Shas years, when Labor and the National Religious offered the only viable option for traditional Sephardim in “development towns” across Israel. Shas changed all that, working patiently to create a grassroots alternative that swept the political map in 1984.
Bennett announced the next economic miracle in Kiryat Malachi, courtesy of his office: “As soon as you made this selection,” he said, “we’re defining the city of Kiryat malachi as the model city for the Jewish Home…”
Turning to the winner, Zohar, Bennett promised: We will help you with all our back wind, and show all of Am Israel what’s the meaning of a city with [you], led by a Jewish Home candidate.”
So, that’s the Jewish Home strategy: use the power of its government ministries (economy and housing) to push Shas out of territory it had gotten used to owning without a fight.
They failed in one crucial battle, in the city of Beit Shemesh, where the Shas mayor, Moshe Abutbul, has been accused for the past four years of selling out to the Haredim. Beit Shemesh has been viewed in the local media (and now and then internationally as well) as the ground zero of Haredi intolerance. Beit Shemesh is where a little American girl was spat on, where Haredi soldiers in uniform were kicked out of shuls, and where segregation between the sexes was affecting the quality of life of the non-Haredim. Not the secular, mind you, just the knitted yarmulka folks.
Jewish Home candidate Eli Cohen was known as the “Zionist candidate” in his fight against Abutbul. I have no idea what went wrong in Beit Shemesh. Turnout was huge: the average voter turnout in this municipal round was around 45 percent – in Beit Shemesh it was 72%. It probably means the Haredim voted in a block, and the non-Haredim have either migrated to more tolerant places, or weren’t as motivated. The score so far in Beit Shemesh is Shas with 52% and Jewish Home with 47%.
In Tel Aviv, incumbent mayor Ron Chuldai easilty defeated Meretz candidate MK Nitzan Horowitz to win a fourth term, with one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country: 31%. In Haifa, Mayor Yona Yahav won a third term. Kfar Sabba, Raanana, Be’er Sheva (incumbent Ruvik Danilovitch won 92%), Rishon L’Tzion, Cholon, Netanya, Eilat, Acco, Tzfat and Ashdod have all reelected their mayors.
Altogether, 42 incumbent mayors lost yesterday, including Givatayim’s Reuven Shachar, Ashkelon’s storied Benny Va’aknin, and Chadera’s Chayim Avitan. Ofakim also voted in a new mayor: Itzik Danino, with 64%.
A few races are still being counted, a few spots will have a runoff election—Hertzliya is one of them, Petach Tikva another.
In a few races mayors who were in trouble with the law during the campaign have one handily: in Bat Yam Mayor Shlomi Lachiani won with 57% while being prosecuted. Natzrat Illit (Upper Nazareth) Mayor Shimon Gapso, and Ramat hasharon Mayor Itzik Rochberger have both been unseated by the Supreme Court for mishandling their cities – yet the voter reelected them. Now the three winners will have to get the support of their councils, which can still decide to let them go with a vote of no confidence.
If you’re looking for a national trend emerging from Tuesday’s municipal elections I don’t think you’ll find any. Every municipality is decided based on extremely local politics, and they rarely reflect on one another. Maybe Aryeh Deri’s Shas is the most prominent loser of the Tuesday vote. Shas is definitely where the next chapter in Israel’s politics is going to take place. It might disintegrate into several components, following the recent demise of its great unifying power, or it might find a way to keep it together.
My money is on disintegration.
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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