It may be because President Isaac Herzog is a former leader of the Labor Party, or because various media outlets wanted to get the most comprehensive visuals of the nation’s leaders at the polling booth, but whatever the reason, there were many more photographers and reporters at Jerusalem’s Smith School for the Arts on Tuesday than are ever seen at events at the President’s Residence, with the possible exception of the recent visit by US President Joe Biden.
Early-bird voters anticipating that this particular polling station would open earlier than advertised showed up to cast their votes and to be free of the responsibility for the rest of the day.
A lot of joggers and people walking their dogs also came past, but strangely, the area was free of political activists urging undecided voters to vote for their respective parties. All that was in evidence was a large Labor Party banner strung between three trees.
At 7:45 a.m., a couple of Meretz activists arrived with a small booth, a banner that they affixed to the fence of the school and a small box of green T-shirts with a Meretz logo.
The president's entourage
They were then allowed into the room, Polling Station 137.2, but all the media were asked to leave the room and readmitted only 10 minutes before the arrival of Herzog and his wife, Michal. By way of compensation, they were served coffee.
Members of the president’s team went behind the voting screen to ensure that all the voting slips were in order. An announcement was made that the president was on his way, and everyone had to get behind the cordoned-off area, which was so crowded that it took up a third of the room.
Herzog and his wife entered. He greeted each of the people at the inspection table individually and then presented his ID card, which the chief inspector examined against a list of eligible voters, said, “Herzog, Isaac, OK,” and the president was then directed to the screen. He emerged and waited for his wife to make her choice.
Michal, who was a member of the Labor Party long before her husband was elected to the Knesset, looked like an advertisement for the party. She was clad in a sky-blue jacket with matching shoes, navy pants and a white blouse, the colors in Labor posters, but for that matter are also the colors of Likud.
Though exercising his right to vote, the president by law is apolitical.
Speaking in Hebrew, English and Arabic, Herzog said he and his wife had enjoyed their democratic right to vote. He emphasized that Israel is “a true democracy” in which millions of voters can decide the future of the nation.
In urging the public to go out and vote, Herzog said this right should be respected because there are many nations in which it does not exist, and every vote counts.
Changes since the last election
Despite all the bureaucracy and abundance of security surrounding the president’s brief visit to the school, everyone was unfailingly polite, nonaggressive and pleasant.
That, in itself, was a positive change for Israel.
Another change was in the school itself, where there is smooth, stairless access to the external compound and to the interior of the building.
Several of the voters were senior citizens walking with the aid of a cane, and contrary to the situation in several other schools, where there are many steps, they found no problem in walking inside.