Peres' change of voter venue disappoints supporters

"It's a holiday, but it's a day of freedom to vote," the president said; Justice Minister Neeman arrives at a closed polling station.

January 22, 2013 13:11
President Shimon Peres voting in Jerusalem in the Knesset elections, January 22, 2013.

Peres voting 22.1.13 370. (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)


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Even though there had been several media announcements that President Shimon Peres would vote at the Jerusalem School for the Arts, which is where presidents of Israel traditionally vote, regardless of where they have their private homes, his name was listed for the Beit Hinuch polling station on the capital’s Kaf Tet B’November Street, where voting booths had been set up in classrooms.

There was great excitement in the mistaken belief that the president would cast his vote at this particular school.

The let-down when it was learned that he had voted elsewhere was palpable.

Beit Hinuch is arguably closer to the president’s official residence than the School of the Arts, but in his case, tradition is tradition.

Quite a few changes were made this year with regard to where residents of the Rehavia, Talbiyeh, Kiryat Shmuel and German Colony neighborhoods vote.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his family, for instance, voted at the Paula Ben-Gurion School, which is closer to both his private residence and to his office than it is to his official residence. His neighbors on Smolenskin Street and Balfour Road, who used to vote next door to the Prime Minister’s (official) Residence at what was once the Rubin Music Academy and later a branch of the Shuvu network of religious schools for boys with little or no background in Jewish observance, located in what was originally the Schocken House, were assigned for the first time in decades to far less conveniently located polling stations.

The school closed down more than a year ago, and the building now belongs to a private property developer, whose plans for building a high rise in its stead are being hampered.

In other polling stations in the radius of the four above mentioned neighborhoods, Jerusalemites were complaining that they used to go somewhere else to vote and couldn’t understand why they had been transferred.

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Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who voted at the same polling station as Peres, was not a happy camper. Neeman, accompanied by his bodyguard, arrived at the polling station promptly at 7 a.m.

only to discover that it had not yet been set up and that the personnel listed to be on duty had not yet arrived. It took 40 minutes before he was able to cast his ballot. Other voters who had also arrived early at the polling station began to lose patience because the pace was so slow. Some people standing in line said that they didn’t get up early just to waste time, and were on the verge of leaving when the pace began to pick up.

Meanwhile, local and foreign media representatives, mostly television crews and stills photographers, were converging on the classroom in which the president was scheduled to cast his vote at 8.30 a.m. They jostled for space in the narrow confines of the room to get a good angle of the country’s No. 1 citizen performing his civic duty.

A Chinese photographer who had arrived early refused to yield space to an Israeli television cameraman and ignored the politely phrased requests of personnel from the President’s Spokesman’s Office. An ugly exchange erupted between the Chinese photographer and the Israeli cameraman, with the latter declaring angrily: “You are not the boss here!” By the time Peres arrived, the media squeeze had become almost unbearable.

The president shook hands with the three people manning the polling station, asked them if it had opened on time and whether everything had gone without a hitch, and received an affirmative reply on all counts, even though it wasn’t exactly true.

After greeting the media, he presented his ID card to the people in charge so that his identity could be verified, was given an envelope and went behind the screen to select a party ballot slip to place in his envelope.

When he emerged he posed for the cameras, holding the envelope over the slot in the ballot box until photographers gave him the green light to deposit it.

Peres then addressed the media in Hebrew and English saying that he wanted to wish all the candidates well, and that he wanted to once more ask all citizens to vote. “It’s a holiday, but it’s a day of freedom to vote,” he said, emphasizing that Israel is a free, democratic and strong country. He didn’t know of any state more democratic than Israel, he said. In its almost 65 years of sovereignty, Israel had been embroiled in seven wars, but had never lost sight of freedom, he asserted.

“We were forced to fight but continued to build. We are a unique country forced to face challenges and dangers, but we have never given up on freedom.

Neither war nor troubles can overcome freedom,” said Peres, adding “I call upon citizens to come and vote freely.”

Peres had taken a little longer than necessary behind the screen, which prompted one of the journalists to ask if he had hesitated about where to cast his vote. “Everyone may hesitate over which party to vote for, but not whether to vote,” Peres replied.

When another journalist asked him about allegations that he had intervened in the election campaign, Peres made no attempt at denial. “Of course I intervened,” he said.

“I voted. Doesn’t that constitute intervening?” Reporters wanted to ask him more questions but his spokespeople instantly muzzled them.

How Peres voted is anyone’s guess.

Peres was leader of the Labor Party before being defeated by Amir Peretz in the Labor primary in November 2005. Soon after, Peres quit Labor and joined Kadima, six days after the party had officially been registered, and was a minister in the Kadima-led administration..

On Election Day, he chose to ignore a question as to whether he had voted Labor or Kadima.

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