Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Israeli Municipal Elections

Spray paint stencil for Tel Aviv mayoral candidate Dov Khenin

Two interesting notes regarding yesterday's municipal elections in Israel.

First, in Tel Aviv, Dov Khenin a member of the Knesset for the Israel Communist Party - Hadash - received 34% of the vote! This is almost unbelievable in a country that has been moving steadily to the right, and in which anti-Arab feelings have only increased in the past decade (Hadash prides itself on being a joint Jewish Arab party, and is, in fact, dominated by Arab members.) Khenin ran on a platform of maintaining affordable housing, limiting high rise development, improving city services, and better care of the envoronment. Khenin is a lawyer and a noted envoronmentalist. He is chair of the of the Knesset's Social & Environmental Lobby, and a member of the Knesset's Children's Rights, Interior and Envionmental committees.

While I think this is a very positive development, we should put this vote in perspective. More than showing that Israel is more left and liberal than we thought, I think this merely proves how bohemian and out-of synch Tel Aviv is with the rest of the country. Still it shows that some elements of Israeli society are willing to think outside the box, and break with politics as usual.

Second, in Jerusalem, Nir Barkat a secular centrist candidate, beat the ultra Orthodox candidate MK Meir Porush of Agudat Yisrael, for position of mayor. Jerusalem has had an ultra Orthodox mayor for the past four years, and most non Orthodox people have thought his term was a disaster. Jerusalem has been declining economically for years - it is Israel's poorest major city. Jewish Arab tensions are high, and development and service in the Arab sector is poor to non-existent. The city - outside of the major tourist attractions - looks (and is) run down. And there has been a mjaor emigration of young, talented - and mostly secular - people from the city to greener pastures. These trends pre-date the previous mayor, but were all accelerated during his term.

Most people expected Porush to win, given the large number of ultra-Orthodox in the city and their usually disciplined block voting. Apparently however, secular Jerusalemites had had enough, and got seriously organized to elect Barkat - or stop Porush. So much so, they where bussing in voters from other cities.

At 6 P.M. on Tuesday two buses stuffed with about 75 Jerusalem voters who now live in or near Tel Aviv left for the capital. "These elections are crucial," says real estate lawyer Yossi Basson, 27, explaining his reasons for being on the bus.

"After the last municipal elections I moved my life to Tel Aviv but I purposely didn't change the address in my identity card so I could affect the election. The results of the last election, in which an ultra-Orthodox mayor was chosen, were a disaster for the gay and lesbian community, to which I belong. Last year I went to the Gay Pride parade and felt like I was in detention, living in oppression. I know that everyone in the gay community is voting. I hope that Nir Barkat will bring freedom and progress back to the city and that he'll fight against the trampling of human rights. Everyone tells me, 'Let it go, you live in Tel Aviv,' but Jerusalem's the capital and I can't accept that a minority living there walks all over the majority and tramples their human rights," Basson said.

... Computer technician Yosef Orr, 24, nods ... "I left Jerusalem because of employment," he said. "In Jerusalem I found a job with starvation wages and in Tel Aviv I got an offer that was three times as much, within a year. Jerusalem became ultra-Orthodox. I'm coming to vote but I don't believe there will be a change. Barkat is the lesser evil. Porush will ruin the city, Barkat will prevent catastrophe. It's important to me to return because Jerusalem is in my soul," Orr said.
Read the full story here.


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