For These Settlers, Legalizing Marijuana Trumps Greater Land of Israel

Ballot breakdown shows Green Leaf party did especially well among voters in the West Bank and young soldiers.

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Marijuana.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Guess which parties were popular among Jewish settlers in the West Bank this election? Likud, obviously. The religious nationalist Habayit Hayehudi, even more so. Not to mention the new even further-to-the-right Yahad party, which swept up many votes in the settlements even though it didn’t receive enough support nationally to make it into the Knesset.

This one might not be as obvious, though: According to the Knesset Election Committee’s breakdown of votes by location, another ticket that did quite well in the settlements – relatively speaking, of course – was Green Leaf (“Ale Yarok”), a single-issue party fighting for the legalization of marijuana.

Green Leaf, which has been running in every election since 1999, has never received enough votes to make it into the Knesset, and its chances this time around were even slimmer than usual, considering that the threshold for representation was raised from 2 percent to 3.5 percent. Nonetheless, a record number of 47,156 Israelis voted for Green Leaf in the 2015 election (1.1 percent of the total).

Not only was the percentage of voters casting ballots for Green Leaf higher than the national average at many settlements, including those where the majority of the population is Orthodox, but in quite a few instances, the pro-cannabis party did a lot better than many mainstream parties. That it came ahead of parties associated with the center and left, like Zionist Union and Yesh Atid, may not come as a surprise. But in numerous cases, it also fared better than parties on the right, among them Yisrael Beiteinu and the new Kulanu party.

Oren Lebovich, the chairman of Green Leaf, notes that before the election, the party held a parlor meeting with potential supporters in Efrata, a settlement in the Gush Etzion bloc. “That was the first time we’ve ever done any outreach like that in the settlements,” he said.

The following are some of the larger settlements where Green Leaf performed better than it did nationwide: In Givat Ze’ev, just north of Jerusalem, it captured 3.2 percent of the vote; in Ma’aleh Efraim, 2.5 percent; in both Ariel and Barkan, 2.3 percent of the vote; in Sha’arey Tikvah, 2.1 percent; in Alfei Menashe, 1.8 percent; in both Karnei Shomron and Tekoa, 1.5 percent; and in Ma’aleh Adumim, 1.2 percent.

At some smaller and largely secular settlements, the percentages were even higher in some cases. For example, at Migdalim, 8.6 percent of the voters cast their ballot for Green Leaf; at Reichan, 8.1 percent; at Beit Ha’arava, 7.8 percent; at Bekaot, 4.4 percent; at Vered Yericho, 3.7 percent; at Rimonim, 3.5 percent; at Kedar, 3.2 percent; at Kalia, 3.1 percent, and at Mitzpeh Shalem, 2.7 percent.

At both Beit El and Ofra, two major Orthodox settlements, Green Leaf took slightly less than 1 percent of the vote, but it came out ahead of other parties like Yisrael Beiteinu, Zionist Union and Yesh Atid.

It wasn’t only in the settlements that the party attracted a disproportionate share of votes, notes Lebovich. “Even though these are completely different populations, we also did well in the kibbutzim and moshavim,” he said. “It just goes to show that ours is a cause that cuts across many other divides.”

Another segment of society where Green Leaf has traditionally done well is the military. This morning, the Knesset Elections Committee published the final tally of what are known as “double envelope” votes – those ballots cast by soldiers, diplomats stationed abroad, hospital patients and prisoners, which typically come in late. Although the committee does not publish the breakdown among these different groups, the overwhelming majority of the “double envelope” votes are known to come from soldiers.

According to these figures, 8,472 “double envelope” votes went to Green Leaf, about 3.6 percent of the total. Hypothetically, then, had the party been vying for votes among soldiers alone, it would have crossed the threshold to get into the Knesset. Last year, it captured a similar number of votes in the military.

Why is the pro-cannabis party so popular in the Israeli military? Here’s how one young combat soldier tried to explain the phenomenon: “When we’re at our bases, we’re very cut off from what’s happening in the rest of the country. We don’t have TVs, and we don’t get newspapers. All we really think about is completing our service and getting high.”

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