Israel Elections: Netanyahu’s battle for settler votes in Ma’aleh Adumim

SETTLEMENT AFFAIRS: Sa’ar and Bennett will fight for concentration of settler votes

A FAMILY prepares to cast a ballot at a polling station in Nokdim last March. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
A FAMILY prepares to cast a ballot at a polling station in Nokdim last March.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
 Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel has been a member of the Likud Party since 1977, longer than he has lived in the West Bank Jewish city and longer than he has sat at the head of its municipality.
“From then and until today, I have stayed with the Likud and have not gone any place else. The Likud is not just one person. The Likud is an ideology. It is a path. It is Zionism. It is settlements,” Kashriel told The Jerusalem Post.
“I never considered leaving,” he added.
The veteran settler leader has been an often overlooked voice in the last few years as the larger Yesha leadership has battled with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the issue of West Bank sovereignty.
But he heads the third-largest settlement, with a population upward of 38,000. In the April 2020 election, his city accounted for 21% of Netanyahu’s support in the settlements. Nearly 60% of the city’s residents cast their ballots for Netanyahu.
While Netanyahu prides himself on his position as the leader of the Right, most of his support comes from within sovereign Israel.
In the last election there were only seven mandates that could be found within the 245,072 eligible settler voters, and only 76.6% of them went to the polls.
Out of those votes, 29.5% went to the Likud and 22.6% to Yamina. Another 22.6% went to the Ultra-Orthodox parties of United Torah Judaism and Shas, and the remainder was split between the other parties. Most of the Shas and UTJ votes in the settlements came from the two largest settlements of Modi’in Illit and Betar Illit.
So when the leaders of the three right-wing parties – Netanyahu of the Likud Party, Gideon Sa’ar of the New Hope Party and Naftali Bennett of the Yamina Party – go stumping for votes, the largest concentration of available non-ultra Orthodox voters are from Ma’aleh Adumim.
Here, Kashriel is an important pillar of quiet support for Netanyahu. Kashriel said he is certain that his city will once more stand behind the prime minister, just as it has in the past.
One need only look at his success with the COVID-19 vaccines to understand why he is the best choice for the country, Kashriel said.
“I have friends in the US who are over 60, who cannot yet be vaccinated,” Kashriel said.
He is not deterred by Netanyahu’s failed pledges for sovereignty.
“Yes, you can criticize him, certainly he has made mistakes, but just because he has made mistakes doesn’t mean you have to flee.”
Overall his party has done a good job representing both the country and the settlements, Kashriel said.
BUT NOT everyone in the city is so convinced.
Ma’aleh Adumim resident David Cohen, who once headed the Likud chapter in the city and who also joined the Likud in the 1970s, left the party over five years ago, after voting twice for Netanyahu in 2009 and again in 2013. But in 2015, he went with Moshe Kahlon, who broke from the Likud to form the new and now defunct Kulanu Party.
But it was less about leaving the Likud and more about his personal connection to Kahlon.
“I was thinking that everyone came from the same DNA,” Cohen said.
Then, in April 2019, impressed by Bennett, Cohen went with Yamina and then second-guessed himself and returned to Netanyahu and the Likud in September 2019.
“The Likud was not my first house, it was the house, and had been my home,” Cohen said.
But he felt that the party that he had so admired and loved had changed to one that was less democratic and supported demagoguery, including accusing those on the Left of being traitors. He was also opposed to Netanyahu’s deep connection to the ultra-Orthodox parties.
Cohen said that he fought in the Yom Kippur War alongside soldiers who received medals for valor and were Left.
True, he said, Netanyahu brokered four normalization deals with Arab countries, “and I thank him for it.” There are many positive things that Netanyahu has done, but he has overstayed his time in power, he said.
So this time around, Cohen said, he is going with the New Hope Party formed by Gideon Sa’ar, who is a former Likud politician.
“Sa’ar, for me, represents the real Likud ideology,” Cohen said, adding that he is a more sophisticated and experienced choice than Bennett.
Hebrew University lecturer Shachar Loshinsky, who moved to Ma’aleh Adumim from New York in 1983, said she has vacillated between Netanyahu and Bennett since April 2019, voting for Netanyahu, Bennett, Netanyahu and now again Bennett.
“He has proven himself to be someone that hears the people on the street and comes up with viable solutions, that would be applied, and that is what the country needs right now,” Loshinsky said.
Each time she had gone for Netanyahu, it was less about the prime minister and more about strategy, particularly the last time around, when “I thought we needed one strong party” to prevent another election.
Although she lives over the Green Line, Loshinsky said, the issues that matter to her are the more global ones that impact the country, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are many more pressing issues, and not everything can be decided only on the basis of Judea and Samaria,” Loshinsky said.
She was particularly dismayed by Netanyahu’s refusal to take Bennett’s plans with respect to corona into consideration, due to political reasons.
“Some of the considerations were politically based and not necessarily in the best interest of the people,” Loshinsky explained.
“You have people out of work, you have people whose businesses are falling, old people who are suffering terribly,” Loshinksy said, adding that these were acute situations that needed to be dealt with immediately.
“Bennett set out a clear plan that could have ameliorated a lot of the situations, and for fear of his success Netanyahu was not willing to listen,” Loshinsky said.
She added, “I hope, for the sake of the entire country, that we do not have another election for another long time.”