Politicians seem to be putting a special effort into wooing older high-school students during this election season. The 18-year-olds among them will be eligible to vote for the first time on March 17, and thousands more will cast their votes in mock elections that are being taken quite seriously by the parties.
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Dozens of schools have held panel discussions featuring party representatives, while a smaller number held larger events with party workers handing out campaign materials. In addition, party leaders, including Naftali Bennett, Yair Lapid, Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog, have each made personal appearances at a number of high schools.
As usual, much of the spotlight has been on Ramat Gan’s Blich High School. The heads of nearly all the parties paid a visit ahead of its mock election on Sunday, a campaign ritual since 1973.
The event had a carnival atmosphere, with a crowd including not only staff and students but also Knesset members, candidates and party workers from across the political spectrum.
Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party made the biggest splash, building a giant outdoor stage in the schoolyard on which dancers performed. Livni and Herzog’s Zionist Union brought in two deejays. The other parties settled for putting up dozens of posters and staffing booths.
Zionist Union won Sunday’s mock vote at the school – which in the past has foreshadowed national electoral trends – with 32 percent of the vote, equivalent to 38 Knesset seats. Some 1,000 (or 84 percent) of “eligible” 11th- and 12th-graders took part.
Yesh Atid placed second with 28 percent of the vote (34 seats), while Likud was third with 14 percent (17 seats). Habayit Hayehudi won 10 percent (12 seats), followed by Meretz (9 percent, 11 seats), Kulanu (5 percent, 6 seats) and Yisrael Beiteinu (2 percent, 2 seats).
In 2013, Yesh Atid won 27 percent of the Blich vote – much more than the 10 to 12 Knesset seats that opinion polls gave it at the time (Yesh Atid ended up with 19 Knesset seats). The joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu ticket won 25 percent of the vote, followed by the Labor Party (23 percent), Habayit Hayehudi (11 percent), Meretz (4 percent) and Shas (3 percent).
“It’s persuasive and caused a lot of people to be persuaded and to vote" for Yesh Atid, one 10th-grade girl said about the party’s efforts ahead of the vote.
“They unite us, bringing in young people to dance and make people happy, it does the trick,” said another. A third predicted that Zionist Union would win, “because they brought in two rappers.”
A 12th-grader who voted for Zionist Union said he thought Lapid “spent too much money on nonsense and his party isn’t promoting anything here.” He conceded, however, that he did learn about the parties’ platforms, as well as “how elections are conducted.” A classmate said, “Yesh Atid knows how to play the game, and they realize that most of the students here don’t vote according to ideology but instead go for whoever parties the most.”
Some Knesset members and candidates from other parties did not look kindly on Yesh Atid’s efforts to attract votes. Michael Oren, the former ambassador to the United States who joined Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, who later attended a panel discussion with students at Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts in nearby Givatayim, told fellow panelist Yael German (Yesh Atid) that her party’s “performance with the dancers was inappropriate.
“You are a party that presumes to represent the disadvantaged, it really made me sick," he said. "It’s not appropriate for a party to pour millions into a campaign and break-dancing dancers.”
Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) has attended a few high school events a week of late, becoming her party’s unofficial school envoy. She agreed that the festivities at Blich were over the top. But she thinks the panel discussions being held at schools made a positive contribution.
“I was on panels of all types and from all parts of the population. One can see that in the places where the school and the staff made an effort, the students underwent a process," Zandberg said. "It’s one of the central arenas during the campaign season that offers an opportunity to relay messages to a large group of people who are very attentive. At high schools, I was asked the toughest, most relevant and sharpest questions. There was informed and practical debate, alongside growing populism.