Outside the elementary school-turned-polling station, where all of Naftali Bennett’s children studied, and blocks away from his Ra’anana home, many of the young people handing out campaign literature – as well as the voters – know the Yamina leader and his family personally.
Still, they say the enthusiasm in the neighborhood is directed toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies in the Religious Zionism party.
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In the early afternoon of Election Day, the sidewalk beside Ariel Elementary was lined with booths and people handing out leaflets exclusively for right-wing and religious candidates. Booths for center and center-left parties were nowhere to be found.
Their absence at polling places across the city was striking, considering that in the previous election round, centrist Kahol Lavan won a decisive victory in the central Israeli suburb, with 46 percent of Ra’anana voters giving their vote to Benny Gantz, compared to the 27 percent who supported Netanyahu.
“It’s kind of boring here,” complained Elia Gadish, 20, manning the booth for Religious Zionism, headed by Bezalel Smotrich. “There’s no one here from the left to argue with. The closest I got was when someone passing by pointed at me and said to his son, ‘look at the homophobe.’”
Beside him, at the Yamina booth plastered with Bennett’s image, stood Netanel Silverman, 17, a yeshiva high school student who was handing out flyers and stickers. He confessed that if he was old enough to vote, he would be supporting Religious Zionism.
“All of my friends like Smotrich. He has real values: Shabbat, normal and appropriate family life. I think he’s the best candidate. What’s important is that people vote right-wing and religious. And around here, it looks like that is what they are doing. People understand that the right-wing religious camp knows the truth. Bibi is the only one who knows how to do the job of prime minister, and he will do it even better with religious ministers at his side,” he said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.
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Silverman said he thought Bennett had made a strategic error by presenting himself as an alternative to Netanyahu instead of clearly declaring his support.
The Bennett-Netanyahu battle played out four days earlier in the neighborhood: Friday morning activity ground to a halt and streets were blocked off as police and security teams prepared for a surprise visit Netanyahu reportedly intended to make to Bennett’s home.
The plan was for the prime minister to pressure Bennett into officially endorsing him, a move that the latter described as “trolling.” Netanyahu ultimately didn’t show up after he said it was clear that Bennett “wasn’t interested.”
The disruption caused by the drama didn’t seem to bother the volunteers at the Likud booth at Ariel Elementary, who were handing out chocolates printed with pro-Netanyahu slogans and bags declaring that “only Likud can bring a full-fledged right-wing government.”
One volunteer, Gidon Yadai, 62, admitted that even the most dedicated Netanyahu supporters had become tired of repeat elections as they tried for the fourth time to provide the decisive victory their leader wanted.
“Enough, already,” he said. “I really hope this is the last one, that people realize that Bibi is the king of Israel.”
A few blocks away, at a different neighborhood school, there was still no sign of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid or Merav Michaeli’s Labor, but the stretch of campaign booths included one from the left-wing Meretz party.
Merav Meir, 48, the head of Meretz in Ra’anana, said that she and two young volunteers had only arrived at noon. “Nobody from our camp was here until we showed up,” she said.
It was a sign, she said, that Ra’anana had changed in recent years: “Our city still has a secular majority, but a lot of religious people have moved here, including a lot of immigrants from France. That is really influencing things and it’s the reason we need to keep fighting.”