Poor turnout

A disappointingly small minority of Israelis made significant news on Tuesday when they bothered to cast their ballots in local elections.

Israeli-Arab woman votes 370 (photo credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters)
Israeli-Arab woman votes 370
(photo credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters)
A disappointingly small minority of Israelis made significant news on Tuesday when they bothered to cast their ballots in local elections.
It is repeatedly disheartening that these municipal bouts fail to excite greater participation – the low turnout is hardly a new phenomenon – especially as the results may greatly affect our daily lives.
This latest round, moreover, left us with plenty of food for thought.
Residents of the three big cities made sound choices when they opted in each case for veteran and relatively successful mayors. In each of these very different settings – Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa – the electorates returned to power reliable mainstream incumbents, as distinct from more flamboyant or politically controversial challengers.
This might not impart a specific message regarding the national political configuration – indeed the returning mayors are hardly made of the same political cloth – but the results do indicate maturity and levelheadedness on the part of those who took the trouble to vote. They rejected dubious platforms and/or more mesmerizing candidates. In our age of the sound bite and flashy headlines, this is nothing to scoff at.
Incumbency, it needs to be noted, did not guarantee success everywhere. In Ra’anana, for example, two-time incumbent Nahum Hofree was all but booted out by a whopping majority in favor of his predecessor Ze’ev Bielsky, indicating that where considerable dissatisfaction exists, it cannot be papered over.
That is the positive side of the coin.
On the flip side, however, voters handily returned to office three mayors the Supreme Court had sacked, without barring them from reelection – the mayors of Bat Yam, Ramat Hasharon and Upper Nazareth.
These communities are fundamentally different from one another in all socioeconomic markers. Yet in all three, voters dismissed the fact that the mayors in question each face weighty criminal indictments for corruption.
It could be argued that none of the three had been convicted and each was deservedly given the benefit of the doubt. All three cases involve popular mayors whom the public considers to have done a good job.
Conversely, it could be said that the public expressed no-confidence in our judicial system, along with indifference toward the basic ethical prerequisites for public servants.
The fact that three dissimilar populations thumbed their noses at the top judicial authority is sure to result in legal snarls. As soon as the new city councils take office they will be tasked with keeping or kicking out the reelected mayors. Mayors who are confirmed in office will then set off another cycle of legal hijinks.
There is no doubt that the voters were well aware of these likely scenarios and hence their choices cannot but be seen as openly defiant. This is nothing that Israeli society can blithely overlook. Like it or not, the voters dispatched a loaded message and it must not be written off.
But perhaps the weightiest cause for concern is that so many among us failed to consider our local government important enough to spend a few minutes at the polling booth. This has nothing to do with the fact that Election Day was a regular work day.
Much of the apathy arose because “only” mayors and city councils were elected rather than a premier and parliament, and that the issues ranged from garbage collection to construction blueprints rather than defense, foreign relations and the national economy.
Those who will demonstrate and moan tomorrow neglect the reality that ostensibly lesser issues determine the quality of our lives with greater immediacy than the central government’s grander existential decisions. They affect our environment, education and the value of our real estate even more than the ministries in Jerusalem.
Homegrown problems will not be resolved unless the locals tackle them by becoming involved locally.