(photo credit: )
Judging by the applause Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni received Thursday morning at Blich High School in Ramat Gan, Kadima may well be on its way to victory - at least in the school's mock elections, scheduled for Monday.
Ever since students at the elite high school forecast Likud's rise to power in 1977, the institution has gained a reputation for predicting Israeli election results. High school election frenzy has taken root in a growing number of schools in recent years. This year, prominent Labor and Kadima politicians have made the rounds of several dozen schools - as many as 70 or 80, according to one politician's representative. Blich, however, still manages to attract the highest-profile candidates, who take the time to try convince at least some of its 2,000 students to cast ballots in their favor.
Having already welcomed an impressive list of prominent politicians from across the political spectrum in recent weeks, 11th and 12th graders at Blich assembled Thursday to listen to Livni and Labor candidate Avishay Braverman (himself a Blich graduate), and to challenge them with a range of questions.
"We're like a smaller New Hampshire," 12th grader Udi Dollberg told The Jerusalem Post, searching for an American equivalent to the school's reputation for predicting election results.
Wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a Kadima slogan, Dollberg said he was an active member of the Kadima cell established at the school in preparations for the mock election.
While the votes at Blich have failed to predict election results in recent years, the school's polls are still perceived as accurate, receiving the kind of media attention that has made a victory at Blich a factor that can give a boost to national election efforts.
Labor candidate Yariv Oppenheimer, who also attended Blich, accompanied Braverman there Thursday. One drawbacks of such elections, Oppenheimer told the Post, was that it is difficult to oversee the process and to ensure fair representation for all the parties.
He said a school where students came from a middle class, Jewish background did not reflect the voting patterns of the population at large.
"Politicians get an opportunity to speak to a captive audience, which is very rare in other forums," Oppenheimer said. "Although on one level it is frustrating to speak to people who cannot currently vote, it is clear that even if the student himself can't vote, he is surrounded by others who can, and it is an opportunity to influence his future decisions."
Several students, however, told the Post, they didn't think the school campaign had much influence on the votes cast by relatives of students. On the contrary, they said, the opinions of students usually reflected - rather than shaped - those of their family members.
Livni focused on Kadima's agenda regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and territorial concessions, while Braverman focused on Labor's social and economic platform.
"People who speak about social and economic issues have less of an influence on students than those who talk about other issues," said Ido Cohen, deputy chair of the school's Meretz cell, which invited MKs Ran Cohen and Yossi Beilin.
Oved Tzur, who coordinates the civics studies at Blich, has overseen the elections there for the past nine years.
"The results are not important to me," he told the Post. "What I care about is the educational learning process, which amounts to rubbing shoulders with democracy. I'm not sure about the political affect of these elections, but their pedagogical effect is great," he said.
Politicians, Tzur said, turn up for their own reasons, but nevertheless he appreciated their willingness to speak to students.
Following Livni and Braverman's appearance, Tzur rushed off to a Tel Aviv court together with school principal Gil Pereg. The two appeared there in response to a petition by the Green Leaf party, which advocates legalization of marijuana, asking the court to cancel the school's decision not to allow the party to participate in its mock election.
"One has to realize that not all political parties are represented in the school election," Tzur said. "There are about eight parties, which are selected according to student choice."
A school actively endorsing drug prevention programs, Tzur said, could not afford to introduce a party supporting the legalization of recreational drugs. On Thursday afternoon, the court rejected Green Leaf's request.