High voter turnout in Israel's municipal races, but surprises abound

Netanyahu’s candidate in Jerusalem likely loses

"childen "vote" in Jerusalem's Municipal Elections, October 30, 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
"childen "vote" in Jerusalem's Municipal Elections, October 30, 2018
Tuesday’s municipal elections attracted a 55% turnout, some 10% higher than the local races five years ago, according to Interior Ministry figures released as polls closed.
Turnout was higher than usual in cities across the country, because the municipal election was declared a work holiday for the first time.
In Jerusalem, the turnout was unchanged at 49% not counting Arab neighborhoods, leading haredi (ultra-Orthodox) participation in the election to be much higher than in other sectors of the capital’s population.
That was seen as bad news for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s candidate in the Jerusalem mayoral race, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who was not expected to receive enough support to emerge among the top two finishers, which would lead to him being in the run-off race on November 13.
Netanyahu campaigned hard for Elkin, sending text messages to tens of thousands of Jerusalemites on Tuesday evening, visiting his campaign headquarters on Monday, and accompanying him last Wednesday to Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market.
“The prime minister did everything he could to help Elkin,” a source close to Netanyahu said. “Netanyahu can give candidates a boost and his influence is significant but it has its limits.”
Elkin tried to get people to vote on Tuesday night by warning of a haredi takeover of the city, adding that Shas leader Arye Deri would dominate Jerusalem if his candidate, Jerusalem city councilman Moshe Lion becomes mayor. Earlier Tuesday, he had expressed greater optimism.
“Jerusalemites are smart people, and I am sure they will think about who is best to lead the city, so I think they will vote for me,” Elkin said outside a polling station in the capital’s Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood.
The most likely scenario at press time was a run-off between Lion and city councilman Ofer Berkovitch.
Lion said following his vote at the Tehilla-Evelina De Rothschild School in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood that he hoped he could win the race in one round of voting. “I am emotional and tense, but we have overcome so much, and we are patient and eager to start cleaning up the city,” he said.
“It is the end of a chapter in what has been a tough campaign.”
Berkovitch said after casting his ballot in the Nahlaot neighborhood that it was an emotional moment for him as someone who grew up in the city.
“The polls say Jerusalemites are with us,” Berkovitch said. “We can save money for the state by winning in one round. I have the best team that understands the complications of the city and represents all its sectors.
We will serve everyone. I don’t like the negative campaigning there has been, and I have made a point to not be a part of it.”
Deputy Mayor Yossi Daitch started the day by praying before sunrise at the Western Wall, then voted at his local polling station in the Geula neighborhood in the morning, and spent the rest of the day touring the city, various polling stations, and his campaign headquarters.
“This is a great day at the end of a journey of many months,” he said after voting. “Jerusalem residents, go out and vote give me your mandate and voice and God willing I will be the mayor for everyone. “We have held a tolerant dialogue during this election campaign, give me a chance and let’s break sectoral stigmas, and if we can succeed with this in Jerusalem it will carry over to the whole country.”
During the course of the day, Daitch visited the Merkaz Harav national-religious yeshiva, a conservative wing of the community, which backed him on Tuesday morning, and met with its dean Rabbi Yaakov Shapira. The Har Hamor yeshiva, also from the conservative wing also backed Daitch and instructed its students to vote for him.
Daitch also met with several hassidic grand rabbis in Jerusalem during the course of the day who called on their communities to vote for him, including the rabbis of the Chernobyl, Aleksander, and Boyan communities, as well as the Slonim community to which Daitch belongs.
The latest Interior Ministry figures showed that 42.45% of residents of Tel Aviv voted on Tuesday, an increase since the last mayoral elections in the city five years ago.
Early Tuesday, Huldai posted a video message of the type he had largely stayed away from in the lead-up to elections.
Satirizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s warning to voters in the 2015 national elections, in which he threatened that Arab voters were coming on buses to the polling stations “in droves,” Huldai said that “the Tel Avivian voters are coming in great amounts to the polling stations, they’re coming on buses, on Tel O-Fun, on skateboards, by foot – some, you won’t believe it, even on scooters. And that’s great! Election Day is a celebration of democracy. Go out and vote, bring your family and friends...with your help we will make a wonderful coalition which will keep our Tel Aviv-Jaffa good, free and independent.”
Zamir had a similar message to his voters, saying: “This race is very close [and] will be decided today in the first round so I’m asking everyone to go out and vote – we are going to make history and replace the leadership in the city after 20 years. This city deserves a hungry leadership that will take it forward and I thank all of you in advance for your support.”
This type of message from the mayoral candidates continued until the final hours of voting, with Anachnu Ha’ir leader Assaf Harel saying “the energy at the polling stations is amazing.
We have a lot more support than we thought. Every second person says ‘I voted for your party.’ We can make a really big change and bring an incredible result but we need everyone to come out, come out and vote! Bring your friends to vote, come on buses,” he said in another reference to Netanyahu’s 2015 message. “There is a chance for a real revolution. Come and be part of it.”
The fourth mayoral candidate, Natan Elnatan said after casting his vote for his party, Shas: “All the spins and attempts to announce that I quit the race...have no basis and just show how stressed they are and we are going to succeed.”
Not far from Jerusalem in Beit Shemesh, candidate Aliza Bloch complained to the central elections committee about over 300,000 ballots which disappeared and had to be reprinted. Her haredi supporters left polling stations after receiving threats or finding no ballot slips for her there.
In Jerusalem’s Kiryat Yovel neighborhood, a haredi man claimed to be an election observer and was not.
Meretz filed a complaint against him after he tampered with ballots at the polling station.
Zionist Union faction head Yoel Hasson complained about Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked campaigning at a polling station and showing her vote for the national-religious party in Tel Aviv.
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said he was disturbed by Shas tweeting a picture of him voting for the party. Haifa candidates Yona Yahav and Yisrael Savion complained of cyberattacks. The phone and internet lines at the campaign headquarters of Petah Tikva mayoral candidates Itzik Braverman and Rami Greenberg were cut. Forgeries were reported in Arad.
The election was also marred by the throwing of a grenade inside a polling station in Yarka. Tear gas was sprayed at stations in Yasif, Sahnin and Jerusalem’s Shmuel Hanavi neighborhood.
Stones were thrown at police near a polling station in Arara. There was also a stabbing at a polling station in Tamra.
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.