Breaking election barriers

Aliza Bloch, Beit Shemesh religious-Zionist mayoral-candidate, October 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Aliza Bloch, Beit Shemesh religious-Zionist mayoral-candidate, October 2018
Three trends were evident after the recent municipal elections held last week across the country.
The first is that it is beneficial for the country and its citizens to make the Election Day a day of vacation. More Israelis this year voted than last year and just as important, they were able to enjoy a weekday off with their families, a rare commodity in Israel where school meets six days a week and people don’t have Sunday off.
The second trend is the election of a record number of female mayors. Dr. Einat Kalisch Rotem made history, when she defeated Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav and became the first woman elected to head one of Israel’s largest cities.
Besides Kalisch Rotem, new women mayors include Beit Shemesh’s Aliza Bloch, Yeroham’s Tal Ohana, Gezer Regional Council’s Rotem Yadlin, Emek Hefer Regional Council’s Galit Shaul and Oshrat Ronen of the Drom Hasharon Regional Council.
They will join current female mayors who were reelected: Miriam Feierberg of Netanya, Liat Shohat of Or Yehuda, Lizi Delarice of Ganei Tikva and Mati Tzarfati of Yoav Regional Council. Another six women are still in the running when the runoff elections are held in mid-November.
The number of female mayors and council heads – almost 20 – is still a fraction of the entire number of 257 local authorities in Israel, but the glass ceiling is slowly shattering and that is good news for the entire country.
The third trend, and possibly the most significant, is the apparent breakdown in the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) vote throughout the country. If the haredim were once viewed as a single unified and disciplined voting bloc, these past elections have showed that not to be the case.
Take Kalisch Rotem’s victory in Haifa as an example. She worked together with United Torah Judaism leader Moshe Gafni and received support from the local haredi community, which helped her defeat longtime Mayor Yahav.
In Beit Shemesh, what happened was no less than a rebellion. Haredim were told by their rabbis to vote for the haredi Shas incumbent Moshe Abutbol. But many haredim ignored the rabbinic decree and voted instead for the other candidate, who is not only from the National Religious camp, but is also a woman.
In Jerusalem, United Torah Judaism ran divided and split its support between two different candidates. In Elad, UTJ’s parties Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael sued each other and Degel seemed after the election to have more in common with Sephardi Shas than with its longtime Ashkenazi political partner.
What all this means is difficult to predict ahead of the national elections. But it does connect to an ongoing trend of haredim looking to break out of a cycle of poverty, unemployment and forced thinking.
More haredi men are serving in the IDF than ever before, in combat units, in the air force and in military intelligence. More than 50% of haredi men are now working, looking for ways to improve their families’ quality of life. They don’t want to live in poverty, and understand that the way to change that is through jobs and not kollels. By 2020, the number of employed haredi men is expected to reach more than 60%, double what it was less than 20 years ago.
All of the trends that the municipal elections exposed are good for Israel, but the haredi move to independent and free thinking is possibly the most important. This is a result of a breakdown in leadership, the slow erosion of power long held by aging rabbis, the fear from poverty, as well as digital accessibility, which while still hidden in the community, is growing at a rapid pace.
The haredi community has for 70 years mostly remained an untapped resource for the country in terms of productivity, employment and contribution to the national GDP. That has been a missed opportunity.
These elections showed once again how that is changing. What we saw last week play out at the polls is translating into an economic revolution. The government needs to work to help expedite the process and ensure its success.