Violent confrontation is an anomaly in an unusually quiet campaign.
By SHEERA CLAIRE FRENKEL
The national elections saw their first violent confrontation Saturday, when a group of Labor and Kadima activists had to be separated by police after brawling over a street corner in Tel Aviv.
Although the incident was quickly condemned by election officials, one Labor Party official added that it felt "a bit more normal" for the campaigning season.
"Maybe it means that people are starting to get more excited about the elections," said the official.
While daily brawls and mischief have come to characterize Israel s election spirit in the past, the absence of foul play thus far in the final weeks leading up to the election has campaign officials concerned that it is indicative of a general lack of interest in the March 28 vote.
"The quietest national elections in recent memory," was a phrase echoed by officials in Kadima, Labor, Likud, National Union-National Religious Party, and Meretz representatives, who could count fewer than a dozen instances of vandalism between them.
"People are tired, we have elections here every two years. People are fed up with politics," said a Kadima official. "People are cynical; there isn't the same passion as in the past."
A Kadima spokeswoman said that in one campaign office east of Tel Aviv a window was broken and in another branch, paint had been thrown on the walls outside the office. Similar incidents were reported at Meretz and NU-NRP branches, while Labor had the more than a dozen
activists were attacked in Petah Tikva last month.
"It has been a much calmer campaign because there haven t been as many people on the streets," said one Labor official.
Due to a lack of election funds, the major political parties have shifted toward spending more funds in multimedia campaigns and less on man-on-the-street activists, said a spokesman for the Knesset s Central Elections Committee. Sign-wielding activists have played a major role in advertising for parties in the past, but the pricey endeavor has also paid a price in violence as rival party activists earned a reputation for coming to blows over popular street corners.
"Fewer people on the street - with signs or bumper stickers or whatever - means fewer people to get into confrontations," said the Labor official. "The interaction between the constituents is based, more and more, on TV and radio."
Asserting that there was "no comparison" between this election and past campaigns, a Meretz Party spokeswoman said that overall, these elections had been "less dramatic."
"There is a concessionary feel, as if Olmert has already won," said the Meretz spokeswoman. "People are less excited because less is going on in Israel right now. They don t feel as interested in these elections."
In Jerusalem, however, a group of former Likud activists disagreed with the assessments of the officials. "There is less fighting because none of these candidates is worth it," said Moshe Yavini, as he ate lunch with four cab drivers from his Ma'aleh Adumim company. In the 2003 national elections, Yavini had witnessed a fight over
bumper stickers. "I would have fought for the [Ariel] Sharon bumper sticker in 2003," said Yavini. "Where are the Sharons of this election? There is nobody I would fight for now."
The three friends who sat with him nodded in agreement, and admitted that, for the time being, they did not intend to vote on March 28.
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