HATIKVA MARKET, TEL AVIV – Barely 24 hours before the polling stations open, the atmosphere at this key Likud stronghold is uncharacteristically sedate, even downcast.
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A few elderly customers are filling their carts with the last strawberries of the season, sometimes haggling over prices. But hardly anyone is talking politics.
If anything, a sense of resignation prevails. No matter how the vote eventually breaks down, many here are convinced that what was will be and possibly worse. Even the optimists among them, convinced though they may be that the Likud will eventually cobble together a coalition, do not see any big win in the forecast.
Only one Likud banner is visible on the main drag of this covered market. All the rest – and there aren’t many – belong to Shas, the religious Sephardi party. Itzig Mizrahi, a diehard Likudnik whose family owns and operates a bread bakery in the market, doesn’t make much of this. “These Shas banners were put up just a few days ago when Arye Dery popped in for a visit,” notes the 55 year old, referring to the leader of ultra-Orthodox party.
Hatikvah is less touristy than Tel Aviv’s other major fruit and vegetable market, Shuk Hacarmel. It’s also more out of the way, located in the southeastern part of the city, and for that reason, tends to attract mainly working-class folks from the adjoining neighborhood, rather than the more hipster types that frequent Hacarmel.
Hatikvah market has been known to be downright hostile to politicians of a certain mold, which may explain why the Zionist Union preferred to send a high-profile delegation last week to Hacarmel. In 1999, when the late Amnon Lipkin-Shahak paid a visit here as leader of a new centrist party, the former IDF chief of staff was pelted with produce.
Few, if any, of the vendors here bothered going to Rabin Square on Sunday night to participate in the big pre-election right-wing show of force. Although they vote for the same camp, they have little else in common with the largely Ashkenazi settler crowd that descended on Tel Aviv’s main city square.
Some are even showing the first signs of straying from Likud.
Opting for Kahlon
Take Mizrahi’s younger brother, Yaron. “I’ve always voted Likud, but last election I voted for Lapid,” he says, referring to Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party. “He really disappointed me though. Lots of talk and no action. For me, if someone doesn’t deliver, I don’t vote for them again.”
This time around, he’s voting for Kulanu, the centrist party headed by former Likudnik Moshe Kahlon. “What I care about most is the cost of living, so I’m going to try Kahlon now.” Does it concern him that Kulanu might join forces with the leftist Zionist Union ticket? “Not at all,” he says.
Across from the Mizrahi family bakery, Daniel Yaakobov, a fruit and vegetable vendor, is also breaking ranks with Likud. “I’m voting for Kahlon,” he says. “I’ve heard good things about him. He’s not a thief like all the rest of them.” Yaakobov, 26, says he was convinced to vote for Kulanu by a female taxi driver he recently took a ride with. “She told me that he’s a great guy and he’s gonna do great things here, so I figured what the heck,” he recalls.
Still undecided but leaning toward Kahlon is Shlomi Atta. “I’ve always voted for Likud, but I’m a little disappointed with Netanyahu because of the economy,” he says, standing behind his olive and pickle stand. “I’ve got two kids who are both getting married, but how are they supposed to afford an apartment in this country?” Still, old habits die hard, he acknowledges, and that’s why he may yet vote Likud.
Shlomi Atta in Tikvah Market.
Shas in the background
Others here, like Avi Levy, figure they can have it both ways. Levy, who operates a fruit stand smack in the center of the market, promised his rabbi that he would vote for Shas. “A promise is a promise,” he says, “but my wife, my two daughters and my two sons-in-law, I’m taking them to the polling station tomorrow morning, and you can be sure they’re gonna vote Likud.”
This will be his second election voting for Shas, after having been a lifelong Likud supporter. “For me it doesn’t make a difference as long as I stay away from the contaminated left,” says Levy.
The same rabbi who elicited a promise from Levy also somehow convinced Noam Mizrahi, a nearby vendor, to cast his vote for Shas. “My whole life I’ve either voted Likud or Shas,” he says.
Jokingly, he adds: “I guess you could say I’ll vote for whoever agrees to pay my electricity bill at the ballot box.”
Yair Elkayam, 54, runs a little houseware shop at the entrance to the market. He’ll be voting Likud as usual but with a heavy heart, as he acknowledges. “I’m not the type to flip flop and vote for a different part every Monday and Thursday,” he explains. “I vote for the party because of its ideology, not because of its leaders. Even when Arik Sharon left the Likud and set up Kadima – and he was the biggest Likudnik there ever was – I stayed with the party and didn’t vote for him.”
The Likud, says Elkayam, could use what he describes as “a major renovation.” Referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he notes: “The party is in need of someone who can lead. Bibi may be great at giving speeches in America, but his word can’t be trusted.”
Itzig Mizrahi, on the other hand, says he’ll be voting Likud whole-heartedly. “My big fear is that the left will come to power, and there will be major chaos in the country,” he says. “The truth is that since Menachem Begin brought the Likud to power in 1977, things have been much better for us Mizrahi Jews. “
Once and only once did he cast his ballot for Shas. Asked why he wouldn’t again, Mizrahi replies: “It’s hard for me to say, but they’re not really a political party. They’re more like an apparatus that juices the system for money.”