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Israelis Go To Polls In Important Municipal Elections

JERUSALEM – As of Tuesday afternoon, election experts in Israel were tabulating ballots cast by millions of citizens in major municipalities across the country. Orthodox and Anglo voters were expected to play influential roles in the Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh outcomes.

In Modiin, Ra’anana, Tel Aviv and Petach Tikva, religious Israelis and English-speaking voters hoped to boost their influence by helping to elect new City Council members. They are projected to work closely with both new mayors and long-time incumbents.

In Jerusalem, the battle between incumbent independent Mayor Nir Barkat and the Shas-Yisrael Beiteinu party-backed candidate, Moshe Leon, was dominated by strong rhetoric and controversial maneuverings – including “blessings” from revered living and deceased rabbis – in efforts to attract voters. Israel’s TV news channels 2 and 10 reported that despite Shas leader Aryeh Deri’s best attempts to entice Sephardic religious Zionist and Ashkenazic haredi voters to vote for Leon (who was also backed by Yisrael Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman), many leading haredi rabbis quietly urged their constituencies to support Barkat.

Barkat, a self-made hi-tech multi-millionaire known for his brash political style, was backed by several senior Likud Party figures, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Culture & Sport Limor Livnat.

In Beit Shemesh, Orthodox American and secular voters were predicted to rally behind secular candidate Eli Cohen, who enjoyed the support of the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi parties. Haredi incumbent Mayor Moshe Abutbul has been heavily criticized for allowing a growing group of radical haredim, affiliated with the Neturei Karta and Eda Haredit factions in Jerusalem, to wreak havoc on the local population. During the past three years the radical group has instigated several violent incidents, which has drawn international headlines. The episodes have included the stoning of Chicago-born girls’ elementary school yeshiva student Na’ama Margolis on her way to school in 2011.

There are 43,000 haredim among Beit Shemesh’s 97,000 residents.

In Modiin, home to one of the fastest-growing American Jewish populations in Israel, the city’s Habayit Hayehudi slate was expected to receive enough votes from religious and English-speaking voters to become the city’s second largest City Council faction after Mayor Chaim Bibas’s independent slate. Bibas’s easy reelection was expected. The head of Modiin’s Habayit Hayehudi faction, Deputy Mayor Moshe Charlop, enjoys an excellent working relationship with Bibas and has played an integral role in helping English-speaking immigrants adjust to the city’s educational, cultural and religious ways.

Ra’anana, originally founded as an agricultural town by former New York residents over a century ago, experienced a bruising mayoral campaign. The incumbent, Nachum Hofri, faced former mayor and former MK Ze’ev Bielski of the Kadima Party.

Laborite Ron Huldai, the mercurial Mayor of Tel Aviv who enjoys the support of the business community, was expected to handily win a third term. In Petach Tikva, which is in the midst of a hi-tech and real-estate building boom, no less than four candidates representing various political and religious factions waged a spirited campaign to replace controversial Mayor Yitzchak Ohayon. A runoff election between the two leading candidates is expected.

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