Casting votes - and aspersions

The second round of community council elections was anything but mundane.

Safra Square 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Safra Square 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Jerusalem, the Holy City, is considered by many to be a major gateway to heaven. But it seems that all too often this city paves the way to hell – or at least to some sticky situation. That is what happened last week with the second round of the community council elections, when a celebration of democracy deteriorated into an exercise in frustration. Or as one highranking employee at Safra Square put it, “It was more of a farce than a democratic process.”
Some 13,000 residents participated in the elections, which is less than 20 percent of the 84,000 eligible voters. Gilo was the only neighborhood that reached the 20% level. In the other two neighborhoods, the figures were even lower – 13% in Katamonim and 17% in Baka.
But not everything in this story is gloomy.
According to the municipality, the results of the elections show that most of the newly elected members of the community councils are young (30 to 40 years old), and there are more women than before.
However, when one looks at the figures, eight women elected for three community councils can hardly be considered a serious victory.
But the real story behind these elections is more on the negative side.
It started with the hasty decision to hold separate elections for the two community councils in Ramot – one for the haredim and one for the secular. Besides the fact that the decision – albeit understandable from the standpoint of the secular residents – was not exactly a shining example of democracy (as expressed with more than a hint of sarcasm by the haredi city council representatives, famous for their gallant defense of democracy), it failed to provide a solution to the genuine problem of this neighborhood. What’s more, it will be used as a precedent for the next round of elections, where haredi representatives have already announced that they will request separate elections for the two community councils in Kiryat Hayovel (scheduled for 2012), a previously secular neighborhood that has seen a massive influx of haredi families in the past few years, with all the attendant tension and mistrust.
So the elections in Ramot were canceled because no one, neither at the municipality nor at the Israel Association of Community Councils and Centers, knew how to conduct separate elections on the basis of religious affiliation (should voters be sent to the polls according to their skin tone? How they were dressed?).
Then the elections scheduled for Beit Hanina, one of the largest and most well-to-do Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, also had to be canceled lest this municipality be the first Israeli administration to hold democratic elections that would bring Hamas representatives to power. In fact, this potential embarrassment was averted not because anyone among the organizers had been clever enough to check things before it was too late but because the director of the community center was fair-minded enough to inform the municipality that all the candidates were official members of Hamas.
And then came the “main event” – the elections in the haredi Bukharan Quarter, which includes Mea She’arim. Oh, what a feast! True, plainclothesmen and police officers in uniform were deployed here and there, but nothing had been organized to prevent any provocation, even though anyone who has been living here for even a short time could have foreseen it.
And provocation there was. But contrary to what was reported in the media, it did not have much to do with the issue of excluding women but rather with internal disputes among opposing sects within the haredi community.
At polling station C on Straus Street, everything went smoothly on voting day until the last 20 minutes before closing time (scheduled for 10 p.m.), when a group of supporters of one faction of the Breslov sect challenged the rival segment of the sect.
(There are two Breslov sects – the original Breslovers, mostly Ashkenazim, and the repentant sect, mostly Sephardim, which doesn’t share any of the friendship and love principles of the hassidic stream – but that’s another story.) As a result of their eruption in the polling station, the ballot box was opened, the ballots were annulled and, on the way, the women who were there were hustled out in disrespect.
Oh yes, there will be another election in that polling station next Thursday. Let’s hope that this time, the people in charge will see to it that law and order are maintained.