Rockets, economics and miracles shape voting patterns in South

Rockets, economics and miracles shape patterns in rocket-battered area.

Kassam damage sderot 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Kassam damage sderot 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
In many ways, the tale of one Sderot family that is split between Labor and Shas represents the divergent political views that coexist in this rocket-battered town. Yehudit Uriel has long been an active member of the Labor Party and a loyalist of former party leader Amir Peretz. Her brother, Rabbi Oren Simha, fills the 15th slot on the Shas Party's Knesset list. Uriel, a secular woman who chairs the Ashkelon branch of the Movement of Working Women and Volunteers, has two children; Simha, who became religious, has 12. "We are very close and we respect each other," Uriel said of her brother after voting for Labor on Tuesday at Sderot's Mekif School, where the roof had been reinforced by a large concrete structure designed to withstand rocket attacks. "I help my brother where I can and offer him encouragement," she added, "but I am also loyal to my own path of Labor." Uriel is concerned about her party's standing in Sderot, saying its popularity had slumped since the 2006 elections, when it drew the highest amount of votes in town. "The Gaza operation helped the party make up for some of the loss of support, but only to a certain degree," she said. Outside, a handful of Shas activists handed out miniature prayer books and election leaflets while braving a thunderstorm under white umbrellas with the party's logo. Among them was Uriel's mother. "We need Shas and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to give the Torah to Israel," Malka Simha said. "We need the Torah so the miracles can continue in Sderot." Simha said she had talked an elderly neighbor into staying with a son just before a Kassam rocket struck close by, shaking their homes. "This can only be God preforming miracles for us," Simha said. Other voters placed their trust in Binyamin Netanyahu. Andre Elharat, who has lived in Sderot for 50 years, cast his vote for the Likud. "We've been suffering from Kassams for eight years," Elharat said. "We want to live in peace. Labor failed to secure us and Kadima will split up after Netanyahu forms a government. I support anything that will put a stop to the Kassams and end the terror." David Asulin and wife Idi also voted for Netanyahu, saying they were disappointed with what they called a premature ending to Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. "We arrived at the well but did not drink from it," said David, a Golani Brigade veteran, describing what he viewed as an incomplete mission. "We like and respect the people in Gaza," Idi said. "They are good people who are also suffering under Hamas." Some 15 kilometers away in Ashkelon, which came under heavy rocket fire during the Gaza fighting, voters appeared to place equal emphasis on economic and security concerns. Shlomi Mizrahi, owner of the popular Mitus shwarma restaurant near City Hall, said he would cast his vote for Tzipi Livni in the evening. "I believe in her. She doesn't seem as corrupt as the others. The economic situation here is much worse than the security situation," Mizrahi said, adding that he hoped Livni would have the ability to solve the country's economic woes. A steady trickle of voters flowed into a polling center at the Hadekel School in an affluent Ashkelon neighborhood that's home to Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Likud MK Gilad Erdan. "I'm voting for the Hayisraelim Party," Rahm Purer said as he exited the school. One of many new small parties, Hayisraelim has placed anti-corruption and political reform at the center of its platform. One of its Knesset candidates, John Daly, is a city resident. "This system is corrupt, and there's no real difference between the three big parties in how they will deal with rocket attacks," Purer added. "They will all listen to what military advisors tell them." An Ashkelon resident who asked not to be named said he and his wife were voting for the Likud. "We are voting for Bibi," he said as they walked toward the school. "Livni is willing to divide Jerusalem and the Golan. Would you divide your home?" Carmela Seep said she had cast her vote for Livni, adding that the rocket threat was not her sole consideration. "I believe she is the least corrupt," Seep said of the Kadima leader. "I am looking to the future rather than living only in the present, which admittedly is not pleasant." Standing just outside the polling place was a paid Kadima activist in a Tzipi Livni t-shirt. The woman admitted, however, that she had voted for Avigdor Lieberman. "The job market is tough. For NIS 300 I will stand here all day," she declared. At the Moria School, situated in a less affluent area across town, Eitan Lasri said Avigdor Lieberman had won his support. "The time has come for Lieberman to get the job done," Lasri said. As in Sderot, Shas activists maintained a high profile outside Ashkelon's polling centers and emphasized what they viewed as the miraculous escape of city residents from incoming Hamas rockets. "People were saved; only homes were damaged," said Gilad Marshaa, a party activist who immigrated from Ethiopia at age three. "My support for Shas is not political. It is a matter of belief."