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.