Politicians Fight for ultra-Orthodox, Ethiopian Votes in Southern Cities

Dirty tricks rife in heated Sderot campaign; Ultra-Orthodox expected to tip scales in Ofakim and Netivot.

Shirly Seidler
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Shirly Seidler

The hot weather in the south didn’t stop political activists throughout the region from working the streets on Monday to convince undecided voters to back their candidates.

After a decade of being run by an Interior Ministry-appointed committee, Ofakim is going to the polls with four candidates contending for mayor. Judging by the number of signs hanging from homes throughout the city, it seems residents are primed to vote with an eye to shoring up the city’s reputation.

The leading mayoral candidates are Yitzhak Danino, chairman of the local Likud branch, and Yair Hazan, who had previously served two terms as mayor.

The ultra-Orthodox vote is likely to tip the scales in Ofakim and also Netivot, where Mayor Yehiel Zohar is seeking another term. Zohar is facing Eyal Mesika, who was opposition head on the city council for 10 years, and is promising to invest in education and in bringing high-tech companies to the city.

Vying to embarrass in Sderot

In Sderot, the race between Mayor David Buskila and challenger Alon Davidi looks to be neck-and-neck. Activists on both sides were using the last hours before polls opened to spread more embarrassing stories. On Monday, a video was distributed in which a Sderot resident claimed Davidi had hit him with his car, left him injured on the street, and later paid him thousands of shekels to keep mum about the incident. Davidi is threatening to file a libel suit against Buskila’s campaign staff. Number two on Buskila’s list is Ahlama Peretz, wife of Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz. In 2008, Mrs. Peretz had challenged Buskila for the mayoralty, but decided this time to join forces with him.

Some 120 kilometers to the south, Amir Peretz’s sister, Flora Shoshan, is seeking a third term as head of the Mitzpeh Ramon Regional Council. She is being challenged by Col. (res.) Roni Merom and Danny Sheetrit, who has battled Shoshan in the past.

In Ashkelon, Benny Vaknin is seeking reelection, facing down opposition chairman Itamar Shimoni and another three candidates. Vaknin is confident of victory, but local observers say the results could surprise. Among the lists running for city council is one called Ohr, comprising Ethiopian immigrants.

Ashkelon is not the only city graced with Ethiopian candidates. In Kiryat Malakhi - which has a significant Ethiopian population - Owaka Mengistu is running for mayor, hoping to win non-Ethiopian votes as well. He is facing several veteran politicians, however, including the current mayor, Yossi Hadad, who filled in for deposed mayor Motti Malka after the latter was convicted of sex offenses. Other candidates include David Galam, Eliyahu Zohar, Ron Weizman and Yossi Solimani.

Compared to other southern cities, the election campaign in Be’er Sheva was relatively quiet, with a second term for activist Mayor Ruvik Danilovich looking assured. But the apathy made Danilovich slightly nervous, and he produced and disseminated a video in which he explained the importance of voting. Another video was made especially for soldiers who are city residents, to assure them that they, too, can vote at their bases.

On Thursday, the city’s new NIS 40 million amphitheater will be dedicated. According to forecasts, it seems the event will also be an opportunity for Danilovich to celebrate his reelection.

Preparing for the municipal elections in Netivot. October 15, 2013.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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