10 Takeaways From Israel's Local Elections

From the results of ultra-Orthodox disunity to a frightening display of apathy in the 'Tel Aviv bubble,' Haaretz breaks down Israel's new map of regional control.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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The re-election team of incumbent Haifa mayor Yona Yahav celebrates his victory.
The re-election team of incumbent Haifa mayor Yona Yahav celebrates his victory.Credit: Rami Chelouche
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

1. Night of the Incumbents – The mayors of Israel's three largest cities, Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and Haifa were all re-elected, albeit with reduced majorities - and the story repeated itself in over 90 percent of the races where a serving mayor or local council head was running (with a handful of exceptions, most notably in the rapidly growing city of Ashkelon). It didn’t matter that in some cases these mayors were tainted by corruption allegations, and that in many places, the incumbents were challenged by inspiring young candidates with bright ideas. Israelis seem to prefer the devil they know when it comes to providing them basic services such as education and garbage-removal. This is the opposite to the volatile shifting of voting loyalties in national elections and proves how out of touch the Knesset is with ordinary people's lives. Voters above all want someone who can deliver their basic needs.

2. Barkat wins thanks to Haredi disunity – In the most hotly contested race, Nir Barkat won a second term in Jerusalem, seeing off a concerted campaign by Avigdor Lieberman and Aryeh Deri who fielded the out-of-town accountant Moshe Leon. Barkat's majority from 2008 however was halved and he lost a third of his seats. This is in part a reflection of his failure to deliver any major achievements during his first term. Above all, he won thanks to unprecedented disunity within the ultra-Orthodox community and the refusal of a number of senior rabbis to rally around the Leon candidacy. The growing fissures among the Haredim will have major implications on Israeli politics and society in the years to come which will reach far beyond Jerusalem.

3. Big parties lost – This was a very bad night for nearly all the large parties. Likud is down to just one council member in both Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, Labor was wiped out in Tel-Aviv and its joint list with Meretz in Jerusalem was mauled by independent parties. Candidates who were endorsed by Yesh Atid, currently suffering in the national polls, tried to hide their affiliation with the party (though Yesh Atid's representative in Hadera was one of the few challengers to beat an incumbent). The big Haredi parties, clung to their strongholds. Habayit Hayehudi's Naftali Bennett claimed this morning that his party (which also won two mayoral races) now has more council members than any other party, this is unverifiable because many party members ran as independents. Habayit Hayehudi is also down to just one council member in Jerusalem. Meretz can also claim to have had a good night, despite its candidate losing the race in Tel-Aviv, it is now the largest party on Tel-Aviv city council.

4. In Tel-Aviv apathy is the winner – Despite a huge amount of media interest in the race between Mayor Ron Huldai and Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz, Tel-Aviv once again proved that it leads national trends and on an election day which was characterized around the country by low turnouts (national average was 32.7%), Tel-Aviv had the lowest with only 21%. It is too early to analyze whether a higher turnout would have changed the race, either way, Huldai still won by a healthy 15 percent margin, but in the eyes of outsiders, the big city's dwellers have reinforced their image of hedonistic and disconnected citizens of the "Tel-Aviv bubble."

5. Lieberman the big loser – Of all the national political players, Avigdor Lieberman is the night's biggest loser. He put all his political capital on the Jerusalem race, drafting in Leon, forcing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who quietly supported Barkat) to sit out the campaign, and failed. Meanwhile, in other cities, his Yisrael Beiteinu lost council seats. Now Lieberman awaits the verdict in his trial in two weeks, his political stature already greatly diminished.

6. Deri another big loser – Lieberman's partner in Jerusalem not only failed to deliver the goods in the shape of an overwhelming Haredi vote for Leon, his candidate lost in the small Haredi town of Elad, despite Deri putting all his weight behind him and claiming that it was Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's last wish. He may have consolidated his hold over Shas in the immediate post-Ovadia era but he is no longer the wizard of Haredi politics. His internal rivals will be much emboldened come the next national elections.

7. More Haredi and religious – While the Haredi bloc failed to get their candidate elected in Jerusalem, their seats on the council increased slightly and their biggest gain of the night was reelection of the Shas candidate in Bet Shemesh, a once secular working-class city, a stronghold of Likud, which from today is firmly ruled by the ultra-Orthodox. To this can be added gains in other "mixed" cities and local councils along with the success of Habayit Hayehudi. While Shas and United Torah Judaism remain banished from the coalition on the national level, we can look forward to a great deal of local religious conflict in the next few years.

8. Corrupt and racist mayors hang on – The saddest outcome of the local elections was the survival of mayors with allegations of corruption hanging over their heads including in Bat Yam, Ramat Hasharon and Upper Nazareth where the outspoken racist Shimon Gapso (who was even turfed out a few weeks ago by the Supreme Court) won re-election. One notable exception was Hadera where Yesh Atid scored a rare victory, its candidate narrowly beating Mayor Haim Avitan who is accused of taking bribes. Racism scored another victory in Jerusalem where the United Jerusalem which campaigned on promises of keeping Arab children out of public parks won two seats.

9. Not a night for young guns – The two serving Knesset members who ran for mayor, Nitzan Horowitz in Tel-Aviv and Haneen Zoabi in Nazareth, both failed, despite their national recognition and charisma. Another relatively young and well-known parliamentarian, former Likud MK Carmel Shama, a rare and lost voice of sanity in the ruling party, also lost his race in Ramat Gan. Yet more proof that Israelis prefer, at least on the local level, politicians who have proved themselves as capable of delivering practical solutions. Even if they are corrupt and racist.

10. At least Raanana got Bielsky back – In an interview with Haaretz a few months ago, Zeev Bielski angrily denied my suggestion that he was going back to Raanana, the city where he was four-term mayor, after failing in his short term as Jewish Agency chairman and single term as Knesset member. Whatever he says, he will always remain the much beloved leader of this Anglo-heavy upper-middle-class town which last night turfed out Nahum Hofri and welcomed Bielsky back with a whopping 71 percent of the vote, the biggest loss of any incumbent.

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