In Metula, Founding Families Face Off Against 'New Arrivals'

Hod, the descendant of one of Metula's founders, was at the polls at 7 A.M. yesterday to vote for incumbent mayor Kobi Katz, even though he had to take a break from working at his orchard to do so.

Like Hod, who spoke while hanging photographs from the northern town's early days on the century-old stone walls of his family's restaurant, many of the founders' descendants supported Katz. They see the incumbent - who is married to the great-granddaughter of the Winkler-Neinstein family, one of the founding families of the moshava, or farming community - as one of them, as someone who will keep with tradition.

But Katz was by no means a shoo-in yesterday. He ran against Amir Melzer, an attorney; Herzl Boker, a lieutenant colonel in the reserves; and Kfir Maoz. In Metula, all three are considered recent arrivals, a category that includes residents who have lived in the 112-year-old town for a mere 60 years.

All four candidates stood at the entrance to Metula's only polling station to shake hands with at least some of the town's 1,257 eligible voters.

"There has never been such a close struggle here," said Noa Mizrahi, who is considered a new resident. "This time there's action here. The farmers are like one big commune unto themselves and they run the moshava. In this election, they're afraid they'll lose that control."

Nonetheless, the Young Turks acknowledged that splitting their vote into three ended up increasing the likelihood that farmers like Hod will have their way.

Lior Baz, another descendant of a founding family, crossed party lines and joined Melzer's ticket as the No. 2 candidate on his list.

"The farmers are worried about losing their hegemony, and some of them exerted pressure on me and my family so I wouldn't go with Melzer," said Baz. "The farmers are under pressure. They feel that it's slipping between their fingers."

Some in Metula said Barack Obama's victory in the U.S. presidential elections was an omen of change in local Israeli elections as well.

"This is the year of the blacks, and this is our Obama," one of Boker's supporters said. Boker, who was born in Tunisia and grew up in the low-income Israeli town of Ofakim, smiled in response.

As for Hod, he says the farmers' support for Katz stems from the collapse of moshavot south of Metula, like Yesod Hama'ala, Migdal and Kinneret.

"The fact that Koby Katz managed to preserve our independence is his major achievement," said Hod. "The fact that I voted this morning is a major privilege that they've already lost in the other moshavot. That must not happen in Metula."