On Wednesday, politicians will line up to boast of their parties’ achievements in the municipal elections – how many of “their” mayoral candidates got in, how many of “their” people won city council seats, and how all this reflects their parties’ growing strength at the national level. We advise a healthy dose of skepticism.
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In these municipal elections, even more than in previous years, the connection between the parties and the candidates is minimal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wasn’t even involved in his party’s municipal campaigns. Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich wasn't overly involved, either: She’s more concerned with a much more important contest – next month’s Labor leadership primary.
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid was too busy with his job as finance minister and his efforts to halt his own and his party’s precipitous slide in the polls to care much about municipal races; they won’t bring him salvation.
And the same went for most other parties. In these elections - which revolve around issues like sewage, education, parking and transportation - everything is personal.
Nevertheless, there were two exceptions: Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman and Shas chairman Aryeh Deri – especially the former. Both men invested heavily in ousting Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. Why? Because. Their candidate for the job is an accountant from Givatayim, Lieberman’s good friend Moshe Leon. Why? Also because.
But whatever the reason, ever since Leon threw his hat into the ring, Lieberman has known no rest. He has worked day and night to get his pawn elected, devoting more time to courting ultra-Orthodox power brokers than in all the rest of his life put together.
Lieberman is like a gambler who put all his money on one number – and not just his money, but also his car keys, watch and cigarette lighter. To say he’s committing suicide for Leon would be an understatement.
The principle motivating him is that in Jerusalem you don’t elect a mayor, you appoint one. This is a campaign to restore the old politics to their pristine purity – a politics in which you ignore the residents’ desires, values and complaints, and simply tell your subjects how to vote. It’s a politics of blocs and rabbinic courts, usually conducted in Yiddish. And for this game, Lieberman couldn’t have found a better partner than Deri.
On Tuesday, we will learn whether this politics – which gives off a whiff of shady dealings, possibly up to and including dismantling the government – still has a role to play, or whether its time has passed. As of Monday night, however, it seemed that Lieberman’s game plan had run into a problem - the Haredim weren’t rushing to line up behind his candidate. The divisions and quarrels among the various Haredi rabbis, parties and sects got in the way.
But regardless of whether Barkat is re-elected or ousted, there’s one thing for which he can thank the dynamic duo of Lieberman and Deri, two politicians not greatly beloved by most Israelis. Over the last few months, they have turned him into a national figure. Their battle against him has made his face well-known throughout the country. They, and no one else, have raised his public and media profile beyond the bounds of the capital. That will doubtless help him in the next stage of his public career, when he runs for Knesset.
Voter turnout in municipal elections is usually low in comparison to general elections. That’s a pity, because the apathetic citizen often finds himself stuck for the next five years with a mayor who is ineffective, corrupt, or both – and then he spends the next five years bellyaching. So anyone who doesn’t feel like voting on Tuesday should remember: You won’t get another chance until 2018.