A bittersweet victory

Miriam Feirberg-Ikar is thrilled to have won a fourth term as Netanya mayor, but she is disappointed with the low voter turnout and the dearth of women elected.

Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg-Ikar 521 (photo credit: Ra’anan Cohen)
Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg-Ikar 521
(photo credit: Ra’anan Cohen)
When a politician gets reelected, it’s usually not long before bottles of champagne are cracked open, a statement expressing the candidate’s pleasure is released to the media and celebratory photos of their win are issued. However, Miriam Feirberg-Ikar of Netanya is not your usual politician. Instead of basking in the glory of victory, Feirberg-Ikar – who won 72 percent of the vote and her fourth term in office – is ambivalent about her win.“I feel a bit conflicted,” she tells Metro in an interview this week. “There are other mayors who would visit the Western Wall and slip in a note praying for such a high figure. But I’m disappointed that 60% of the public didn’t bother to come to the polls. This dampens any joy I should have over my reelection.”
Specifically, in her city of Netanya, 38% came to the polls on October 22.
That is slightly below the national average of 42%, which marked a 9% decrease from the 51% who voted in the last municipal election of 2008.
This ever-growing apathy and public indifference has left Feirberg-Ikar disappointed and disillusioned.
“I expected more from the citizens. I expected them to dedicate 15 minutes of their time to vote. Especially since there are people around the world battling for democracy, and here people are squandering their rights.”
She’s “enraged” by the public’s widespread ignorance about the importance of a single vote. FeirbergIkar recounts a post-election encounter with a young, educated woman who said she was too busy to vote, yet hoped haredi influence in the city would decline: “She told me, ‘Well, I didn’t vote because I was busy, but you will easily win this race anyway. I just hope the haredi influence will decrease in this election,’” “This is a contradictory statement,” Feirberg-Ikar scoffs. “She doesn’t understand what she’s saying – she doesn’t vote and yet she is still hoping for less haredi influence in politics? She doesn’t realize that the people who do go out to vote in high numbers are the haredim. And that indicates the rampant ignorance in the public about the importance of the municipal elections.”
Despite her disappointment in the public, Feirberg-Ikar says government is equally to blame for these dismal numbers. For one, she supports Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s proposal to give citizens a day off for municipal elections – in addition to those for the Knesset. Also, the haphazard voting process – where voting slips stick to each other, and yellow envelopes are mistaken for white ones – is also to blame for public confusion.
But, most disappointing was the poor – almost embarrassing – showing of women, she says. Out of the 191 local races, Feirberg-Ikar was one of only two women who were elected (the other elected local authority head is Lizi Delaricha of Ganei Tikva, a small local council adjacent to Kiryat Ono and home to roughly 13,000 residents).
“Essentially, no woman was elected mayor aside from me,” Feirberg-Ikar laments.
Far from advocating a gender war, the Netanya mayor firmly believes voters should back the most qualified candidate. However, the fact that less than 2% of public officials at the municipal level are women is a sad state of affairs, according to Feirberg-Ikar.
She points to double standards between the sexes as the driving factor behind these lackluster results, rather than a general misogynistic attitude among the voting public. “I don’t think there’s something against women at play here, but there are those who are skeptical of a woman’s ability to fulfill these kinds of roles,” she says.
As an example, she cites her previous experience attending functions as a municipal head over 20 years ago. Her male colleagues were asked only briefly about family before being queried on their experience, skills and capabilities.
“However, with me, the conversation dwelled on what I would do with my kids if I took on this role.”
Flash forward to the present, and not much has changed in the mindset of modern society, she says. As a mother of two and a grandmother to six, Feirberg-Ikar realizes that women are responsible for maintaining the precarious balancing act between motherhood and work.
She credits two influences in her life that allowed her to juggle family and public service. Paraphrasing the cliché “Behind every successful man there is a woman,” FeirbergIkar quips, “Behind every successful woman there is her mother.” Her mother, Feirberg-Ikar said, was a constant source of support when her children were growing up.
She also attributes her observance of Shabbat and setting aside one day a week where work is not allowed, as a way for her to nurture family ties while navigating the turbulent challenges of political life.
Despite her frustrations, FeirbergIkar is proud of her work as mayor and her accomplishments while in office.
For instance, she cites her efforts to integrate Netanya’s booming Ethiopian immigrant population as one of her proudest achievements.
The opening of an Ethiopian community center in her city a few months ago is one example of her efforts to support this community.
As for the gender gap in politics, despite last week’s results, she is still optimistic. “These results should not dissuade women from entering politics in the future,” she said. “We need to continue with this struggle, continue to work toward our goals and not raise our hands in surrender.”
Disappointing results shouldn’t prevent women from continuing to fight, lead by example and possess strong convictions and strive for their voices to be heard, notes Feirberg-Ikar.