When the going gets tough the tough go shopping

Election day in Jerusalem was marred by sporadic protests and isolated clashes between party activists.

Right wing clash 88 (photo credit: )
Right wing clash 88
(photo credit: )
A quick stop at the local grocery store in search of milk and cookies provided me with the opportunity to listen to a typical Israeli panel of four men, one of them the shop owner. "There's no way I'm gonna vote for him. No way," said the first, apparently referring to both Ehud Olmert and Kadima. The grocery owner tried to convince them. "Is there anyone else you trust?!" The third man's answer provided a glimpse of the general mood. "I'm not voting at all," he declared. "Let them all go to hell." "They" probably didn't go to hell, but the voters definitely didn't go to the polling booths, either. At the polling station in the community center on Rehov Stern, in one of the city's poorest areas, by 1:30 p.m., fewer than 30 people had voted. A lone voter was heralded by the members of the polling booth committee, who seemed to feel the need to justify their title and presence. An elderly lady, who walked with a stick, said, "I always come early, when the polls open, but this time I thought I wouldn't come. My granddaughter convinced me. She is a soldier, she is very intelligent, she said I had to vote, so I came." When asked for whom she had decided to vote, she smiled enigmatically, "Democratia, democratia. I don't have to tell anybody, I'll only tell my granddaughter." Outside, in the area surrounding the community center, activists had set up two stands - one for the Likud and one for Israel Beiteinu. Taken together, they provided a fairly accurate picture of the community, now primarily made up of old-time Likudnikim and newcomers from the former Soviet Union. Clearly embarrassed, the retired former Russian immigrants who were working the Israel Beiteinu stand admitted that they had been paid to stand there from the morning until late in the afternoon. "What can we do? We need money!" they said, then added immediately, "But we vote for [Avigdor] Lieberman. He understands us. He speaks to us in our language. He knows our life and customs. We don't understand the other parties, it's too hard for us." Two teens, aged 16 and 17, stood closely, holding up Likud posters and signs. "No, we cannot vote yet, but we support Likud. We have always supported Likud, it's our home," they declared. And no, they didn't get paid, they said. A lone young man stood at a safe distance. He lives in Pisgat Ze'ev, but he had accepted the challenge and agreed to put up posters and hand out flyers for the Labor party right here in this well-known bastion of the right. "I wouldn't vote for Labor," he announced. "Like all my family, I vote for Kadima. I'm just doing this for the money." At the nearby commercial center in Kiryat Hayovel, two female volunteers organized transportation for disabled persons, hoping they'd vote for Labor. "The government refused to pay for the disabled," she said, "so we take them to the polling booth and bring them back. It's very important." Some 100 people were in the square - and all of them held full-to-the-brim shopping bags. The polling booth at the Himmelfarb School was calm and serene. It was the same in Baka and Talpiot. By 6 p.m., there was a small line at the Geulim School in the German Colony. Not anything like a real Israeli line - calm, orderly and dissipating quickly. The real scene was elsewhere. At the nearby Hadar Mall, the citizens of Jerusalem were voting for shopping, entire families hidden by overstuffed shopping bags or sitting at cafes and restaurants. At least in their own minds, they were miles away from the polls and light-years away from Olmert, Binyamin Netanyahu and Amir Peretz. After all, I thought, Jerusalemites are tough, and when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. But on the way home I remembered that only a few years ago, we woke the kids up early on voting day, dressed them up in their Shabbat clothes and took them to watch us vote. They had no idea what it was really about, but they knew that it was an important day, a celebration. That was not long ago, but regarding voter turnout, Israel now seems like another country.