Israel elects new mayors


Israelis went to the polls today to elect mayors and city councils around the country.

One of the most closely watched races is in Jerusalem, where a fervently Orthodox rabbi and politician, Meir Porush, is running neck-and-neck with a secular businessman and city councilman, Nir Barkat. The election is considered crucial for the city, which suffers from deep religious, political and economic divisions. The city’s expensive real estate market is pushing out young families and secular people, many of whom cite the city’s increasingly haredi and Arab character — one-third of the city is Arab and one-third is fervently Orthodox, or haredi — as reasons for relocating elsewhere. Israel’s capital is also the country’s poorest big city. Dina Kraft explored the challenges Jerusalem faces in her election preview story.

The vote Tuesday was marred by some irregularities. Barkat ballots apparently disappeared from some polling stations and the candidate’s Web site was the victim of hackers who redirected web surfers to the Web site of candidate Porush. At one polling station, a group of Orthodox men reportedly hurled a stone at a police officer, lightly injuring him, in a bid to bar people from voting. The group was dispersed by police.

But more than anything else, it appeared that the story of the day was low voter turnout: By 8 P.M. in Israel, the highest big-city turnout appeared to be in Jerusalem, where some 32 percent of voters had cast their ballots, Israel’s Channel 2 reported.

Here’s what some in Israel are saying about the elections:

  • Naomi Tsur in The Jerusalem Post: "When someone leaps from one of the top floors of a skyscraper, during the descent he is assailed both by images of meaningful moments in his life and by a desperate longing for a possible safety net to halt his fall. This is a useful analogy for Jerusalem and its public, as we realize that today is our last chance to prevent the social, cultural and economic collapse of our capital city and the spiritual capital of billions around the world."
  • Ha’aretz editorial: "In recent years voter participation has declined to a worrying degree, mainly in localities where there is no viable alternative to the disappointing incumbent government. The weakening of the major parties finds its unfortunate expression here, too; none of them have supplied a new generation of local leaders. This is precisely why it is important to do the right political thing, to vote and support good, new candidates, but also reward mayors who have kept their promises."



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