How it really is!

Good news, voters – in spite of lies for the sake of heaven.

Einat Kalisch Rotem (photo credit: Courtesy)
Einat Kalisch Rotem
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Enough time and space have passed since the municipal elections to evaluate their results calmly. And it’s good news!
These elections showed a consistent trend to throw out the old, bring in the new. There was a spontaneous explosion of voters who, above all, want good government: an enlightened electorate that votes on issues and not by solid blocs of robots controlled by politicized rabbis and rabid politicians.
More good news! Women were elected to head local councils and cities: Haifa, for example, is the first of the big three (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa) to be headed by a woman mayor, Dr. Einat Kalisch Rotem. More women than ever were elected to councils all over the country. In Hamas rocket-target Sha’ar Hanegev, six out of 11 council members are women.
But the most startling, and promising, result was in Beit Shemesh. There, a robotic vote of Shas and other ultra-Orthodox voters had kept an incompetent in office for two terms. Bam! The blocs shattered, and a woman (!), Dr. Aliza Bloch, was elected by voters across the spectrum, including ultra-Orthodox men and women, who put competence before rabbinic fiats. Thus two ceilings were smashed: the solid bloc vote of the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and the ultra-Orthodox rabbinic taboo on women in politics.
This cannot be underestimated. In the confines of my family, I had been predicting such an eventual shift, but thought it would take decades. But even in ultra-Orthodoxy, “the old order changeth, yielding place to new.” And it is happening now.
Amazing as well was the change in Jerusalem. True, the pluralist Ofer Bercovitch lost; it was a heroic loss by 3,765 out of a total of about 200,000 votes cast. Though most of the ultra-Orthodox voted by rabbinic decree for Moshe Lion, now mayor of the city, some 18,000 (!) ultra-Orthodox voters cast their ballot for Berkovitch. His party, Hitorerut, won seven of the 31 council seats. Berkovitch is indeed himself secular, but his council members include Orthodox men and women.
Rabbi Dov Lipman, in a Jerusalem Post opinion piece, gave a full picture of the Hitorerut headquarters on election night. “A quick glance at the many different populations represented in that room explains the cause for celebration – young, old; men, women; secular, Haredi, religious Zionist, and traditional; Sephardi, Ashkenazi; native Israeli, immigrants from Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union, English-speaking countries.
“They believed that the traditional political machines – with all their wheeling and dealing and backroom deals – could be defeated, and they worked tirelessly to bring down the walls and barriers that separate Israel’s many population groups.”
More cynical pundits will add that some ultra-Orthodox votes came from the Hasidic sector (Agudath Israel), which opposed the election pact between Shas and the Degel Torah “Lithuanian” groups. But even that proves that the ultra-Orthodox are not a unified bloc, and some will vote, for whatever reason, for a non-Orthodox candidate.
Lion may yet prove to be a good mayor, but he was elected by an unholy alliance: the anti-religious head of the Russian-immigrant-based Yisrael Beytenu combined forces with the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party, Shas.
Liberman’s base includes many whose Jewishness is questioned, or not recognized by the official rabbinate. That he could make common cause with an ultra-Orthodox and Sefardi-based party would be a joke of it weren’t so serious.
Why did they run Moshe Lion together, or as Levi Eshkol would have said, quoting Deuteronomy (22:10), “Why are this ox and this ass plowing together?” and for what benefit?
On the one hand, to show Netanyahu and the Likud that Jerusalem is not theirs. And second, or maybe it should be first, money, budgets.
 The unholy alliance ran a campaign that impugns Shas leader Aryeh Deri and his minions (pun intended) even more than Deri’s criminal past and potential future. Deri is a convicted felon, and after his release from prison, he had to wait seven years till the period of moral turpitude ended and he could reenter politics. Deri, again Minister of the Interior, has again been recommended by the Israel Police top investigative unit 633 to be indicted for fraud,breach of trust, tampering with witnesses and other crimes. Yes, though he is innocent until indicted and convicted, one cannot forget his past felonies.
All that means that Moshe Lion’s handlers are headed by a former felon who broke – and may still have been shattering – the laws of man. But they – including ultra-Orthodox Aryeh Deri – broke one of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
A series of lies, exactly fitting the “false witness” category, was waged against the challenger Ofer Bercovitch. I was astounded at the unholy alliance as it unleashed a steady stream of lying SMS messages. Now, there are two filthy terms the
liars love to use: “leftist” and “New Israel Fund.” You, the reader, and I may not see these together or singly as dirty words. But the potential Shas and other right-wing voters see them as a red cape to a bull.
Pounding the messages home again and again, piling lie on lie in the name of Heaven, they stole a leaf from the racist call of Netanyahu in the last general elections. On my telephone screen, the stark message, as the runoff Jerusalem polling ran on into evening, came: “The Arabs are turning out to vote for Ofer Berkovitch.” And went him one better! To cap it all, a van plastered with a photo and “Vote Berkovitch” posters in Arabic! So much money and thought to create fake effects.
One of the big losers in this election was former mayor Nir Barkat, In striving to earn a top place on the Likud Knesset list in the next general elections, he came across as a lightweight and rather desperate opportunist. First he supported Ze’ev Elkin, a Likud cabinet minister whom Netanyahu kept on tenterhooks until he finally issued a statement of support. When Elkin lost the first round of the Jerusalem elections, and dropped out, Barkat backed Lion, while gritting his teeth. Barkat would never support Berkovitch because if Berkovitch would have become mayor, many of Barkat’s flip-flops and broken promises would come to further light.
But let us return to the good news with which we started. The role of women winners is a major ceiling-breaker. The bloc votes are not immutable, and the fear and trembling in the ultra-Orthodox camp is evident as they resort to slander and curses.
These were aimed particularly at the brave daughter of the late chief rabbi Ovadiah Yosef. Adina Bar-Shalom is a woman of principle. She founded a college for Haredi women. She has expressed her wish that Shas should disappear. Bar-Shalom had the courage to call on Beit Shemesh voters to support Aliza Bloch, who is neither ultra, nor – uhh – male.
One Rabbi David Benizri called her a “cursed evildoer” and the ultimate libel in his community, “Reform.” Panic has driven the rabbi to that extreme.
How will this influence the national elections? One must give the Israeli prime minister credit. Not only did he make fools of Liberman, Bennett and Shaked, who thought they would be sure winners from the former defense minister’s resignation, he also trumped them in patriotism. His desire to prevent war speaks to the hearts of many. And like a magician, he pulls presidents out of his hat. And not just any leaders, but those of the Czech Republic and of Chad, with which Israel doesn’t even have relations.
Netanyahu – even if under threat of future indictments – has shown that he has no equal who is convincing to the public, as of today. In politics, in general, and in Israel, in particular, no one knows what comes next.
Meanwhile, there is change in the air. A different electorate is emerging. That is as far as my crystal ball can foresee at this moment. And with Iran and Russia on our borders or near them, foreign affairs, and war and peace will outweigh all other considerations.
Avraham Avi-hai has been an observer of Israel’s political processes for many decades. He is the author of two political analyses, ‘Ben-Gurion State Builder’ and ‘Danger: Three Jewish Peoples,’ as well as of a novel, ‘A Tale of Two Avrahams.’ He can be reached at