For the past three months, I have been managing the francophone campaign for
reelecting Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat.
At the time I write this
article, election results are not yet known.
However, you read this
article knowing the results of the municipal elections.
This gives me the
opportunity to write an article of a uniquely pure nature: I have no reason to
convince you of voting for my candidate, and on the other hand, I cannot spin
the results of the election.
It is precisely because of this window of
opportunity that I choose to dedicate this column to insights from the past few
months, as I managed a political campaign for the first time.
electorates are dangerous
Less than 250,000 people vote in Jerusalem’s municipal
election. Usually, the difference between a win and a loss is around 10,000
votes. The race is tight.
Every vote counts.
While there are
definite advantages to the fact that “every vote counts”– politicians are forced
to listen to every citizen as an example – this advantage loses value when the
electorate also includes organized groups, which make demands that do not
necessarily take into account the good of the whole electorate but solely that
of their own.
In fact, any group of 1,000 people can list demands. If the
candidate facing them is not incredibly ethical, he might very well sacrifice
his vision of what is good for the city at large to make a deal with this group.
All to increase electability.
Of course, this highlights the importance
of requiring your elected officials to outline their vision for the city and to
make sure to elect those officials who come to serve the interests of the
greater electorate. This reality has far-reaching consequences, not limited to
For example, for a long time I believed in primaries
for parties trying to enter the Knesset. Once, I even said I would only vote for
a party that holds primaries.
However, most parties in Israel have a
small membership, even smaller than the Jerusalem electorate. This means that
any well-organized group of a few thousand people within a party membership can
decide the fate of certain MKs, by making demands that can swing the results of
the primaries, since the electorate is so small. The MKs are dependent on these
Remember, for a spot in the Knesset, 30,000 votes might
be enough! Parties without a primary system also have problems. The MKs in some
cases become dependent on the party leader and if they do not do everything he
asks, they risk their job (see Danny Ayalon’s relationship with MK Avigdor
Liberman). That being said, at the very least, the party leader is then
accountable to the electorate in the general election.
that enter party membership to influence MKs are never held
The real solution would be to widen party membership to
minimize the strength of interest groups in primaries.
approaches exist for such a model: In the US, every registered voter registers
for a party or as an independent, thus making the electorate in primaries much
wider. One might also think of non-legislative ways to influence party
membership, with NGOs calling on the masses to join parties and change Israel’s
However, until this happens, I am unsure whether we
can claim that parties with primaries (called in Israel “democratic parties”)
have a healthier system than those that do not.
Negative vs positive
The feeling of most people in Jerusalem has been that this municipal
election has been one of the most negative elections they have seen in a while.
As someone who was behind the scenes and knows exactly how much was invested in
negative campaigns and how much in positive campaigns, at first, I was not sure
why people felt this way.
The reason is simple: It is not that more was
invested in negative campaigns than in positive ones. Not at
However, negative messages became viral while the positive ones did
How many people know of Barkat’s detailed plan for the city for the
next few years? How many people know the people on his list? We invested much in
promoting his detailed plan and the identity of his list. Yet no one pressed
“share” when these things appeared on their Facebook newsfeed.
other hand, when a few videos outlined facts pertaining to why Moshe Lion was a
problematic candidate, these immediately became viral. People laughed at Lion’s
knowledge of Jerusalem; they were afraid of his ties with MKs Lieberman and Shas
leader Arye Deri; they wanted to understand what a person from Givatayim came to
look for in Jerusalem. When they saw videos outlining these topics, they pressed
share. They wanted everyone else to know these things.
This meant that
the public was exposed to a plethora of negative campaigning, instead of the
positive campaigning in which we invested much, much more. This made
Jerusalemites surmise this was a very negative election cycle (on both
The future of the Holy City
There is a very special feeling when
working in the campaign for the Jerusalem Municipality. The fact that you are
helping decide the fate of Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital, lends a great
sense of mission.
It is also a little scary. When you really believe in
your candidate, the way I did, and when elections are expected to be so close,
you quickly realize that the amount of work you put into this election can
actually be the deciding factor. Maybe, if I convince another 1,000 people to go
out and vote or support Barkat, I can change how Jerusalem will look in the next
five years! This sense of responsibility is what fuels the insanely long hours
of work invested in the campaign.
Sense of mission
There is a difference
between those working on a campaign just because the salary is good, and people
who, even if paid, also really believe in their campaign. Both types exist on
both sides. However, I have come to understand that the electorate can quickly
see through masks.
From the very start of the campaign, we
invested less in getting a message across and more in encouraging a strong
turnout. The reason is simple: We knew that if 100 percent of people were to
vote, our candidate would win in a landslide.
If voter turnout would end
up being low or unevenly distributed, it could spell disaster.
hand, we know what the people of the city want; on the other hand, the
democratic process will not give them what they want unless they go out and
vote. Our opponents even created a Facebook page calling for people not to vote!
They thought: If we cannot convince them to vote for us, let us at least keep
them from voting for Barkat.
For democracy to work, people need to engage
in democracy. If not, a minority can decide for the majority, and at that point,
there is not much difference left between democracy and other forms of
Democracy in Jerusalem
As we come to the end of this intense
campaign, I feel privileged to have been part of a campaign defining the future
of Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.
Three thousand years ago,
Jerusalem was established as our capital, and today, through democracy, we all
have the opportunity to be a part of defining its future. It is a real privilege
of historical proportions.