Support for Lieberman in Liberal Tel Aviv? What We Learned From Talking to Voters Across Israel

Haaretz reporters go on the stump to find out how small-town Israel will vote in the election next month – and come back with some surprising answers

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Illustration: Israeli politicians at a water park
Illustration.Credit: Amos Biderman
Haaretz reporters
Haaretz reporters

The tycoons’ new darling / Hilo Glazer

Avigdor Lieberman is attracting interest among the business and financial communities – and among the middle class in north Tel Aviv

Standing out among the retinue of Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman in a Holon hall was Roni Mana, a former confidant of the Netanyahus. “I came to listen,” Mana said with feigned innocence, while Lieberman disappeared in the foyer ahead of his appearance in “Shabbatarbut,” a Saturday morning cultural event. “I’m talking only about the facts,” Mana said. “He could have had five ministers, budgets – they promised him God – but he kept his word and stayed out of the government.”

Besides being a casualty of the prime minister, Mana is a wily and successful entrepreneur, flesh and blood of Israel’s economic elite. “All the major businesspeople support Lieberman – check it out,” he suggests. Indeed, what he says reflects an authentic trend.

Last month, Lieberman held a parlor meeting at the home of Shaul Nawi, CEO of the Nawi Brothers Group, a financial services company, in the yard of Nawi’s home in Tel Aviv’s upscale Tsahala neighborhood. Lieberman and his aides were surprised by the response. “I thought 50 people would come,” says a thrilled Yitzhak Aharonovich, a former minister of public security on behalf of Yisrael Beiteinu, who delivered the opening remarks. Among the many businesspeople and financiers who crowded onto the lawn was Shmuel Frenkel, CEO of Epsilon, an investment managing company. “Just because I went to listen to Lieberman doesn’t mean I support him,” Frenkel said.

In any event, it was with good reason that Lieberman’s people called the meeting an important event. It was another way of getting him positioned him as a legitimate, even preferred, candidate of key figures in the business community.

An article on that subject which appeared in the newspaper Maariv in June mentioned some of his new supporters: Dr. Rony Halman, owner of Halman Aldubi Investment House; real estate entrepreneurs and founders of the Israel Canada Group, Barak Rosen and Assaf Tuchmeir – the latter organized an event with leading business figures to which Lieberman was invited; Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association, who expressed tentative support (“I have no doubt that Lieberman is a leader who has demonstrated determination, who is serious and judicious and constitutes a reasonable option”); and businessman Danny Gillerman, formerly Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, who stated that he hadn’t yet made a final decision. Gillerman told me that he voted for Kahol Lavan last April, but has already been disappointed by the results: “I don’t see the hunger, the fire and the activism that I would have expected from a party that sees itself as an alternative to the government.”

But why Lieberman?

Gillerman: “His agenda is interesting, especially the combination between his vigorous opposition to a state of halakha [traditional Jewish law] and his uncompromising condition of the formation of a national-unity government. There is a yearning for leadership, and this milieu is fed up with the parties and with religious coercion. Lieberman, with his healthy instincts, spotted that niche. Look, I think Lieberman is far from being extreme, and even on the Arab issue he might yet surprise us. Just like Menachem Begin turned out to be a pragmatic politician – even if that comparison is a bit far-fetched.”

Avigdor Lieberman at the cultural event in Holon. “The only one who has succeeded in blocking Bibi,” says Arik. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Another prominent individual who defected from the peace camp to Lieberman’s is Dalia Itzik (Labor, Kadima), and she, too, is a welcome guest among the upper crust. Back in 2017 she organized a parlor meeting for Lieberman, who was then defense minister, at the home of the multimillionaire businessman Itzhak Sagol in Ramat Hasharon. “Lieberman should be prime minister,” Itzik said at the time. “He represents the historic Mapai today.”

In a recent conversation with Haaretz, Itzik remained firm in her support for him, “because of the combination of his experience in the political arena, his decision-making ability and additional talents that have not yet been fully expressed. I am also a great believer in a unity government.”

According to Itzik, “People in the business sector grasped with their sharp antennae that peace and security are intertwined, and Labor has become too self-righteous a party for them. People change, and the situation changes, even though some of my friends on the left haven’t yet internalized that fact. What do you do with the fact that we signed agreements and got terrorism? Lieberman’s new supporters are saying to themselves: ‘Let’s deal first with the problems that are on the agenda here and now,’ and Lieberman is the one who is bringing them to the surface.”

‘I don’t see the hunger, the fire and the activism that I would have expected from a party that sees itself as an alternative to the government,’ says businessman Danny Gillerman about Kahol Lavan.

Itzik’s analysis appears to be dead-on. In Lieberman’s jaunts between north Tel Aviv (after the Tsahala event he was to attend another parlor meeting in the Ramat Hahayal neighborhood) and affluent communities in the Sharon district in the country’s center (from Ramat Hasharon to Ramot Hashavim and down to Sde Warburg), he is not actually reiterating the conciliatory messages he voiced in the past (“I will be ready to vacate my home in Nodkim” – a West Bank settlement – “for a final-status agreement”; “The wholeness of the nation takes precedence over the wholeness of the Land of Israel”). He is not selling the businessmen fantasies about diplomatic moves and about breaking into new markets, but is delineating for them a narrow, concrete vision of staunching the hemorrhaging of the economy.

“We are on the brink of a budgetary collapse,” he explains. “The deficit stands at 50 billion shekels [$14.12 billion], and with the promises that Netanyahu has scattered to the ultra-Orthodox, we could reach 70 billion in the immediate future.” At these parlor meetings Lieberman reasserts his promise to join “only a national-liberal government of unity,” and associates it with a precedent that attests to the urgency of its establishment: the economic stabilization plan of 1985, which was initiated and carried out by the unity government of that time.

“I played a part in establishing that successful unity government,” says Roni Milo, a former Tel Aviv mayor and cabinet minister on behalf of Likud, who now supports Lieberman. “I met with him recently, and he gave me an unequivocal commitment that there will be a national-unity government. I think that is the only way to prevent political extortion and also to bring about a change of government, with an alternative candidate to Netanyahu heading Likud.”

Milo, now an affluent businessman, says that, like Gillerman, he too voted for Kahol Lavan last April. But the impression is that this shift is occurring not only among a small group of owners of capital, but is trickling down to the length and breadth of the middle-class suburbs.

In Modi’in, a city in which Kahol Lavan was the biggest vote getter, while Yisrael Beiteinu drew negligible support, people were surprised by the interest that Lieberman’s road show stirred at a local Shabbatarbut this month. The Modi’in City web portal reported in real time that “the gates of the hall were shut, many returned home disappointed, and dozens continue to crowd around the doors.” The subhead: “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Modi’in, not even in the good days of Yair Lapid.”

Illustration.Credit: Amos Biderman

Back in Holon, half an hour before the panel discussion began, about 15 Yisrael Beiteinu activists took up positions around the hall. The other speakers, Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) and Stav Shaffir, were not backed by a similar representation of supporters. Lieberman tore into parts of the Yesh Atid platform (“We will ensure that every yeshiva student learns core subjects”) and enjoyed the hand-raising questions of the emcee, journalist Nechama Douek (“Who wants to see Lieberman return to the Defense Ministry?”). The Q&A with the audience revealed the depth of the problem faced by Kahol Lavan.

Avner, a veteran musician, came from Ramat Hasharon for the event. In the last election, he voted for Kahol Lavan but this time will cast his ballot for Lieberman without hesitation. “I am not voting for Lieberman, but for unity,” he makes clear. Rachel, a French-born Holonite, also voted Gantz-Lapid and now supports Lieberman. “People are doing everything to be rid of His Excellency,” she explains, referring to the incumbent prime minister. “Enough, we’re fed up, let him step down. I have no doubt that this is Lieberman’s goal.”

Arik, a local insurance man who voted for Yesh Atid in two elections and for Kahol Lavan last time, summed it up like this: “They are worthless. The only one who has succeeded in blocking Bibi is Lieberman.”

Bridge to nowhere / Nir Gontarz

In the last election, Labor got less than 1 percent of the vote here. Can Amir Peretz count on the hometown of Gesher’s Orli Levi-Abekasis?

I arrived in Beit She’an, a town of 18,000 people, at 7 A.M. on the first Wednesday of August. There was a serious presence of mobility scooters – but cars and pedestrians were a lot scarcer. Beit She’an is a distinctly Likud town. The locals will tell you that, and so do the statistics. In the April 2019 election, Likud garnered 55 percent of the vote here, almost twice the average countrywide.

Another party that did impressively well in Beit She’an was Gesher, headed by native daughter Orli Levi-Abekasis. Her father, David Levy, is a Likud icon; her brother Jackie Levy is the town’s mayor. More than 7 percent of local voters cast their ballot for Gesher, which nationwide failed to cross the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent.

The residents don’t really feel a connection with Labor. In fact, no one here even calls it by that name. In Beit She’an it’s still known as “the Alignment” – the party’s name for more than two decades, beginning in 1969, when Labor ran on a joint slate with the left-wing Mapam party; this past spring it garnered the support of just 88 of the town’s voters.

The interesting question in Beit She’an is whether the hookup between the abhorred Alignment and the beloved local scion will induce those who voted for her in April to switch to Labor. The assumption is that if her fans in Beit She’an won’t cross party lines, voters elsewhere will be even more loath to do so. Which is what I’m here to find out.

Rafi Ravimi, 60, a Beit She’an-born former civilian employee of the Israel Defense Forces.Credit: Moti Milrod

Rafi Ravimi, 60, a Beit She’an-born former civilian employee of the Israel Defense Forces, claims to be Levi-Abekasis’ No. 1 fan in town. “No. My hand won’t tremble and I will put ‘EMET’ [the acronym that designates the Labor Party] into the ballot box,” he says confidently, predicting that in contrast to the 733 people who voted for Gesher in April, its union with Labor will get 1,500 votes.

In light of his confidence, I suggest that Ravimi convene 10 local supporters of Levi-Abekasis in the city hall square for a conversation. Ravimi declares that this is too easy and that he will bring a lot more than 10 supporters. We arrange that he will me as soon as the square is full.

In another part of the town, a civil servant in her 50s begs to differ with Ravimi’s assessment. A member of the Likud Central Committee, she refuses to give her name and threatens to sue Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken if it appears in the newspaper. “All the votes that Orli got will go back to Likud,” she asserts. “Likud will only grow stronger in this election. Those who voted for her out of personal love wanted her to succeed in her new path. Those people will never vote Alignment.”

I ask a local medical professional how he accounts for the fact that even though the town looks for the most part badly undeveloped and little changed since the 1970s, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nonetheless enjoys such broad support here. “The townsfolk are to blame,” he says. “The town is neglected because of them. When my wife and I moved here a few years ago, I took my dog out for a walk. The neighbors saw me picking up its poop with a bag and laughed at me. They were disgusted by it and said that no one does that here. After that, I stopped picking it up.”

He’s not the only one who voiced similar criticism. Another local man, in his 60s, said that, “In Beit She’an we need a school for parents, not children. One time at the pool I saw a mother give her teenage children vodka. People here buy the kids a hookah for their birthday.” What’s his take on the local political situation? “Orli and Amir is like acid and base. The union is the end of both of them,” he says. “Even if the world turns upside down, people will not vote Alignment.”

Even though Beit She’an is a politically active place, there are few election campaign posters and billboards to be seen. With the exception of torn posters on abandoned stores that served as the headquarters of Kahol Lavan and Kulanu in the last election (5 percent and 3 percent, respectively, this past April) – I barely encounter any outward signs of support.

Suddenly the phone rings. “Rafi did it. The square is filled with Orli supporters. Come over.” In the square, I find Ravimi sitting on a bench alone, in despair. A few phone calls later, a young man and two women show up. Ravimi still promises that everyone will vote EMET. Miriam Abekasis, 56, who has voted Likud all her life, declares allegiance to Levi-Abekasis, or maybe to Ravimi, and claims she will indeed cast an EMET ballot. Ilanit Levi, 47, concurs, and adds, “No one is better suited to be health minister than Orli. We’re a family of 100 people and we’ll all vote for her.” The third voter is Matan Malka, 23, “a security guard for a very, very important rabbi.” But Malka confounds Ravimi: He will vote Likud, he says. Even after Ravimi whispers something in his ear, the young security guard stands firm: “She made a mistake by going with the Alignment. She chose the left, and I am a professional rightist.”

Over the course of the day, I spoke with dozens of local residents, and got the impression that only a few will vote for the union between Levi-Abekasis and Labor (sorry – the Alignment). Among supporters of Likud and other parties, I didn’t encounter even a single person who said they would cross party lines out of sympathy for the leader of Gesher. In fact, most of the interviewees were convinced that her previous supporters would return home to Likud.

Kahol Lavan campaign posters.Credit: Moti Milrod

A matter of influence / Dani Bar On

How a moshav near Gedera became Benny Gantz’s great bastion, and why Kahol Lavan can’t expect a repeat achievement on September 17

My visit to Moshav Kidron began with a mistake. I turned off the highway at a wooden sign that says “Moshav Kidron-1949,” shut off the GPS and started to cruise the streets. Gradually it dawned on me that there was no way I had reached Kahol Lavan’s greatest stronghold. There was too much neglect here, too little money. I tried to chase an elderly woman wearing a head covering, but she eluded me as she sped to a medical clinic on her mobility scooter. A man in a white undershirt rolled down the window of his van reluctantly. “It’s strange that you’re asking about Kahol Lavan,” he said in a puzzled tone. “Here it’s only Bibi, Bibi.”

It soon turned out that I had mistakenly arrived at one of the less glamorous neighborhoods of the central Israeli city of Gedera. As I continued along the road into Kidron, which abuts Gedera, it was as though I’d entered a different dimension. Emerging from a densely populated neighborhood, where buildings are squeezed up against each other, I suddenly found myself in an open landscape. The first thing I saw was a large cluster of recycling containers. The spacious homes looked small compared to the large plots of land on which they stood. Huge bougainvillea bushes in stunning shades of purple blossomed on the roadside. Now there could be no mistake: I’d arrived in a big, affluent moshav, a veritable vein of gold for Kahol Lavan campaigners.

Doron Shidlov, a Kahol Lavan supporter and head of the Brenner Regional Council.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

According to the Adva Center, a social policy analysis institute, the higher you go on the socioeconomic scale, the higher the percentage of Kahol Lavan voters. The gaps are wide: from 21 percent of the votes in communities in the sixth decile, to 60 percent in communities ranked in decile 10, the top. Kidron is in the ninth decile, in which Kahol Lavan garnered 55 percent of the overall vote. It would have been a surprise if the party had received less than half the votes here – but 69 percent? Even many of the residents didn’t know they were living in Israel’s Benny Gantz capital. “I’m surprised, too,” says Doron Shidlov, a Kahol Lavan supporter and head of the Brenner Regional Council, to which Kidron – where he lives – belongs.

Conversations with local residents, whom I cornered mostly next to the general store, revealed that Kidron, which was founded by new immigrants from Yugoslavia, was a longtime stronghold of Mapai (an earlier incarnation of Labor). But alongside the historic center-left tendency, there is also a powerful attraction to whoever seems to have a chance of wielding influence. Some will say that the moshav, many of whose inhabitants are career army people, some of them air force pilots from the nearby Tel Nof airbase, is a place of ingrained winners.

“We thought that the only ones who could be an alternative [to Likud] are Kahol Lavan,” Helena, a local resident with bright blue eyes, explained. “There’s no point voting for a party that won’t give Bibi a serious fight. If today you come and tell me that Amir Peretz is the only one who can do it, I’ll vote Alignment.”

The majority in Kidron vote for the center or the soft left, and about half of them appear to be floating voters. Not floaters on the vast ocean of parties – this time the Pensioners Party; next time the Joint Arab List – but in the center-left bathtub. In the 2009 Knesset election, almost half the voters here opted for Kadima, led by Tzipi Livni, while Labor took another quarter. Four years later, when Yair Lapid was the new kid on the block, he walked off with 34 percent of the votes, Labor got 24 percent and Livni (who was then leading Hatnuah) got 11 percent. In 2015, when Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog was borne on the waves of hope, Zionist Union, which he co-headed with Livni, won 55 percent of the votes in Kidron and Lapid’s Yesh Atid party dropped by half to 18 percent.

Last April, the prevailing assumption in certain circles was that if all the chips were placed on Kahol Lavan, it might be possible to replace the government. In Kidron, where there are 1,142 eligible voters, that kind of thinking would seem to hold sway. Gantz and Lapid swept over Labor, headed by Avi Gabbay (9 percent of the votes), rolled over Meretz (with just 6 percent, down from 9 percent in 2015 and 10 percent two years before that), and reached their peak of success in Kidron.

Will that achievement be reprised next month? My impression is that it ain’t necessarily so. “I’m not sure we’ll vote Kahol Lavan this time,” one woman told me, speaking for herself, her husband and their three children, all of whom tend to vote for the same party. Another woman, named Sagit, pointed to her dark skin – “By my color, you can see that I’m not originally from here” – and said she has not been pleased with Gantz’s performance under media fire. “His reactions are off, when he’s taken by surprise, he trips up,” she said. “That’s a pity, because he brings virtue with him.”

Council head Shidlov, who wears a luminous Lance Armstrong-style bracelet that says “Brenner Regional Council” on one side and “Community is us” on the other, is certain that “there will be a high percentage of Kahol Lavan voters this time, too, but a lot less.” Helena says she’ll vote Kahol Lavan again and asks Tel Avivans not to be lazy and to fulfill their civic duty, at least on the same scale as the residents of Kidron (a very high 80 percent turnout).

According to resident Gadi Shenkman, in the last election, “six of us voted Kahol Lavan, one Bibi and one Labor. This time it’s two for Kahol Lavan and six for Yisrael Beiteinu,” Avigdor Lieberman’s party. Six months ago, only half a percent of Kidron voters cast their ballot for Lieberman. This time it looks like he’ll do better here.

Home at last / Shany Littman

Conventional wisdom says that Kulanu voters won’t go back to Likud with their party leader, Moshe Kahlon. But that’s not the impression you get in the community where Kulanu scored its biggest success

In the last election, Kulanu won only four Knesset seats, down from 10 in 2015. But in Moshav Dalton, in Upper Galilee, Moshe Kahlon scored a surprising success. About 1,000 people live in this farming community, which was founded in 1950 and populated by Jews from Libya, known as Tripolitanians. Most of the residents are religiously observant or traditionalist, and half of them earn their living from the egg and poultry industry. Almost a quarter of the voters here cast their ballot for Kulanu, making Dalton the party’s major stronghold.

David Shemka and his son, Motti.Credit: Gil Eliahu

An effort to learn how this happened led to one person: Motti Shemka, 42, head of the moshav’s governing committee and usually a Likud supporter. Shemka took it upon himself to spread the word about Kulanu in the area. Around midday, I’m welcomed at Shemka’s meat plant in Dalton. He himself had to attend a meeting of the regional council, but three others are on hand: His father, David Shemka, 69; Yaniv Garidish, 41; and Haim Tal, 45, who lives in Nahariya but spends his days here. All three are longtime Likud voters – and all three voted for Kulanu in April. What brought about the change? “We wanted a genuine social-welfare party,” Tal says. And, they admit, it’s what Shemka requested of them.

“Kahlon as finance minister and Eli Cohen as economy and industry minister did a great deal for the moshavim,” Garidish explains, “be it quotas on eggs or water and subsidies for agriculture. Kahlon is also responsible for the reform in cell phones,” he recalls.

Adds Tal: “We were disappointed in Likud, because they were less concerned about the communities in this area.”

What will you do now that Kahlon has returned to Likud?

'We want someone to look after us, it doesn’t matter whether it’s an Arab or a Jew,' says Rauf Darwish of Fureidis.

“I’ll vote Likud,” Tal says. “We believe that in the same way that Kahlon put the emphasis on day-care centers and cell phones, they will also put an emphasis on agriculture.”

David Shemka is retired, but in the past ran a butcher shop, raised cattle and bred chickens. According to him, nearly 90 percent of the moshav’s residents vote Likud traditionally. In fact, that’s not quite the case. In 2013, for example, before Kulanu appeared on the scene, Likud garnered 44 percent of the votes in Dalton, with Shas and Habayit Hayehudi accounting for most of the others.

Are there any left-wingers here? During our conversation in the butcher shop, a local resident came by and said, “Our whole moshav is right-wing. We had one left-winger, but he’s no longer with us. Since he died, there have been no left-wing voters here.” That’s almost true. Last April, Meretz received two whole votes here and Labor one. “The majority here are Likud,” my interlocutors sum up. “In the northern communities, Likud is home.”

The butcher shop’s employees adjourn for lunch in the adjacent house, where Motti’s parents, David and Rachel, live. In addition to the employees, there are also children, grandchildren, sons-in-laws, daughters-in-law and other guests. The hosts relate that Kahlon and Eli Cohen have been guests in their home at least 10 times. Representatives of the left-wing parties, those present say, have never visited the moshav.

Rachel was born in Dalton in 1958. She admits shyly that even though she, too, is dyed-in-the-wool Likud, she went with her son and voted Kulanu in April. “May they forgive me,” she smiles.


Rachel: “Yes. Who would leave Likud? My conscience won’t allow me. I love Likud. The left is against religious people and they don’t care about giving away Judea and Samaria. Look, when I was growing up, the Alignment was in power, and I didn’t even have a coat. No one said, ‘These children don’t have anything to wear.’ As soon as Likud got in, the country prospered.”

Galia, their daughter, has remained loyal to Likud. The cost of housing upsets her – because of it she can’t afford to buy a home and moves from one rental to another with her children. But there’s no chance of her voting for someone like Stav Shaffir (Democratic Union), for example. “A girl who grew up where she did, I don’t see her being connected to the protest [referring to Shaffir’s role in the 2011 social-justice demonstrations]. The protest was just, but she’s not the real thing,” says Galia.

Finally, Motti, the chairman of the local committee, joins us. That morning, there were reports that Kahlon had promised representatives of the egg and poultry industry that he would allocate 340 million shekels (about $96 million) for the reform involving transfer of their coops elsewhere, if he serves as finance minister in the next government. According to Motti, Kahlon did not really make any concrete promises, but he does note that Kulanu took the side of the industry when the government wanted to annul the subsidies.

As chairman of the community, Motti is working to get the amount of land made available to each family in the next generation doubled, to 18 dunams (4.5 acres). It’s generally said that agriculture is no longer profitable, but according to him, his neighbors will know what to do with the land. “It’s possible to plant joint crops with vineyards, organic agriculture; cannabis does well today. There are possibilities.”

The number of Kulanu voters in Dalton doubled this year, and that success is attributed to you. How did you do it?

Motti: “First of all, because we are from the same community, Tripolitanians. We are very zealous about our community. In parallel, there was a wish to show them gratitude for their activity in our area. Eli Cohen developed the industrial zone here, provided budgets, infrastructures and benefits. It was a personal debt to him, because he’s an attentive minister, not someone who leads you on.”

What did you feel when you heard that Kulanu was returning to Likud?

“I was happy. Now we won’t be divided.”

Overall, my impression from visiting Dalton is that Kulanu voters here will now vote for Likud. That is not consistent with the conventional wisdom. In the polls, Likud is hovering around 30 seats (with Kahlon), even though in the last election the two parties together had 40 seats. According to the prevailing analysis, that means that Kulanu voters won’t be sticking with Kahlon as he returns to Likud. But that’s not what I heard in Dalton.

“I am in no way disappointed by Likud’s last term,” Motti says. “It was a very social-oriented government that gave a lot to [communities in] the periphery, in all the ministries. [Culture and Sports Minister] Miri Regev invested in sports fields, Yisrael Katz fomented a revolution in our area as minister of transportation.”

If a left-wing politician were to promise to see to the things that are bothering you, might you vote for him instead of Likud?

“I don’t come from a place of whining, of ‘it’s tough for me.’ I come from a place of, what are the possibilities? Why would I not stay in my ‘home,’ where I have a good connection, where I can go to the Knesset tomorrow and persuade a minister that we deserve this or that? With other parties I don’t have that bond.”

Fureidis. Kamal Sheikh Mar’i (blue shirt). “Life here is at a level of 110 (percent), and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying."Credit: Rami Shllush

A vote too far / Roni Bar

In the last election, Meretz did better than the Arab parties in Fureidis. But the party’s union with Ehud Barak, along with disgust at the Joint Arab List, might keep locals away from the polling stations this time

It didn’t take long for the conversation in the Shalom convenience store in Fureidis, an Arab town located down the coast from Haifa, to lurch into despair. Samir declared that he didn’t vote in the April election and won’t vote this time, either (“We’re stuck in the middle and everyone hates us – the Jews on the one side, the Arabs of the West Bank on the other – why should I vote?”). Hasdiya, who was sitting next to him, made it clear that he, too, would not set foot in a polling station (“The police hand out parking tickets, but they don’t deal with drugs and violence”). In fact, most of the people I spoke to in Fureidis don’t intend to vote on September 17. “I don’t get involved in that,” was the most frequent answer people offered, accompanied by pointing to various hazards in the street.

In April, there was actually a relatively high turnout here: 64 percent, well above the average of 49 percent among the Arab population overall. The party that received the most votes was Meretz (29 percent), more than either of the two principally Arab slates of Ra’am-Balad (21 percent) and Hadash-Ta’al (16 percent). Likud was in fourth place, with 12 percent.

Kamal Sheikh Mar’i is one of the people responsible for Likud’s surprising showing here. “I’ve been Likud since the [Menachem] Begin period,” he says. The despairing dialogue in town makes his blood boil, he declares, getting angry. “Life here is at a level of 110 (percent), and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. This litter in the street – where does it come from? Who put it there? Who throws cigarette packs onto the street? Is it the council head? Here, even someone who divorces his wife blames the council head.”

I ask him whether he’s not bothered by the language the prime minister uses about the Arab population. “So he talks,” he replies dismissively. “So what? Raful [the late Rafael Eitan, a former chief of staff and minister] didn’t talk? And [Ariel] Sharon didn’t talk? Likud did a lot here. [Former Education Minister] Gideon Sa’ar opened 28 preschools here, at a level you don’t see even in Tel Aviv.”

Mussa the fisherman.Credit: Rami Shllush

At the table of Mussa the fisherman, a conversation springs up among residents who revile politicians. “They’re all talking crap about us, and in the end, they all take care of themselves,” he snaps. Young Mohammed says he has never voted and has no intention of starting now. Nimr is angry at the prices of things and at the leadership – “They don’t care about the people, they’re all liars” – and adds that he, too, is not even thinking about voting.

“Do you believe anything will change? I don’t,” Mussa says. “We’ve had enough of their lying. We don’t have anything to do with the election here. It’s not part of the conversation, not like it used to be. Every few years the same story – promises, promises, and in the end everything stays the way it was.”

“Even if Bibi is replaced, I don’t expect a change in the coming years,” Samir says, reinforcing the pessimistic mood. “I’d rather have things stay the way they are. Any change will only be for the worse.”

Ostensibly, the reuniting of the Joint Arab List should have re-energized Arab society. In 2015, the party received 77 percent of the votes cast by Israel’s Arab population. The turnout declined sharply in April, when two separate parties ran. Now it looks as though more than political union – prompted by the fear of the high electoral threshold – will be needed to dissipate the mistrust and enmity toward the Arab leadership.

“They just feed you a line,” Mussa says. “They prattle and make promises, but in the end the only thing they’re interested in is themselves.” Over and over, I hear how they are angry that the leaders of the Joint List don’t meet with the public – the only time they’re seen, locals say, is just before the election.

In nearby Al-Asmar Café, Walid Mar’i explains why many chose not to vote for the Arab parties in April, and why they’ll fare poorly again in September in Fureidis. “They abandoned us, as if we don’t exist, they don’t deal with the things that are important to us,” he says. “What are we asking for? To get the basics of a democracy: schooling, security, employment. Even in the West Bank, personal security is better than it is here.”

‘Everyone here is a pothead,’ says Haim Telker, in Tekoa. As far as he's concerned, anyone is fine – except Bibi. '[The Prophet] Mohammed, too, as far as I’m concerned,' he adds.

Yusuf, who’s sitting nearby, waxes nostalgic about the period of Yitzhak Rabin, and also vents his fury about the lack of safety. “Sometimes I go to Tul Karm [in the West Bank] to shop or for a visit. When I’m there, I never hear gunshots – not like here, where it’s Kalashnikovs every evening.” Sitting at the corner of the table is Rauf Darwish, who says in a weak voice, “We want someone to look after us, it doesn’t matter whether it’s an Arab or a Jew.”

Meretz’s success in Fureidis last April confirms that people here have no hesitation about voting for a party headed by Jews. Hamudi relates that in the past eight elections he has voted “only Meretz – me and my whole family. It’s a party that’s concerned about the weak, the students. Put politics aside – the people feel that party for four years, not only during the election campaign.”

Another reason for the left-wing party’s high rate of support, he adds, is the dominance of Mohammed Abu Dahash, the head of the local Meretz branch. “He’s a guy who could also be the council head,” Hamudi says. “He always answers, always helps. And you see the results in the election.”

Some people here now expect a debacle for Democratic Union, because of Ehud Barak and his role in the events of October 2000, when 13 Israeli and Palestinian Arabs were shot dead by police in disturbances during Barak’s tenure as prime minister. The very mention of Barak’s name makes people shake their head. According to Darwish, he’s the equivalent of a red flag: “In my life I will never vote for him. He is worse than Bibi.” Were it not for Barak, he would vote Meretz (Democratic Union). Instead, he’s thinking of voting for Kahol Lavan.

Anis remains silent throughout the conversation. After everyone leaves, he says he didn’t vote in April but afterward regretted it, “because of Kahol Lavan.”

Meaning the possibility of replacing Bibi?

Anis: “Yes. This time maybe I’ll vote.”

Tekoa.Credit: Emil Salman

Searching for a new identity / Roy Arad

If the settlement of Tekoa were the State of Israel, Moshe Feiglin would have 18 Knesset seats. How will his failure to cross the electoral threshold in April affect voters here?

Update: Feiglin has agreed to drop out of election race in exchange for a ministerial portfolio in a future Netanyahu government

“All Tekoa is Feiglin,” the young vendor in the pizzeria in this settlement south of Jerusalem told me, referring to Moshe Feiglin and his libertarian Zehut (Identity) party, whose platform included a call for the legalization of cannabis consumption. The party won more than 15 percent of the vote here last April. Among the general public, Feiglin garnered less than 3 percent of the vote – but, if the State of Israel voted like Tekoa, Zehut would today have 18 Knesset seats, instead of zero.

“It’s because everyone here is a pothead,” says the cashier in the grocery store, Haim Telker, who voted for Kahol Lavan (which barely crossed the threshold here, with 3.6 percent of the votes). As far as Telker is concerned, everyone is fine – anyone but Bibi. “[The Prophet] Mohammed, too, as far as I’m concerned,” he adds.

Overall, in the wake of Zehut’s failure to enter the Knesset in April, a considerable proportion of its supporters here weren't planning to vote for the party again next month. At the same time, I also encountered people who have not despaired.

As photographer Emil Salman and I move up the street, Emil whispers to me that he’s spotted a potential Zehut voter. Indeed, Michael Liebman, 60, a sociable television producer whose open floral shirt reveals a fine gold chain, turns out to be a Feiglinist. “I don’t believe in right-left politics, they’re all the same thing,” says Liebman, who immigrated from France in 1992. “For me fun is the most important thing. I’m extreme. I’m a Zionist. It bothers me when I hear that Bibi is going to build 700 homes for Palestinians in our land.”

So you’re right-wing.

Michael Liebman.Credit: Emil Salman

Liebman: “It makes no difference to me whether Bibi or Gantz is prime minister. They’re the same thing. And I’m in favor of legalization [of cannibis]. Better the money should come to the state and not to the Arabs or the mafia.”

A colorful sign showing the opening hours hangs at the entrance to Tekoa’s swimming pool. The weeks and the days are divided into men-only, women-only, families and also times for mixed swimming. We got there at a family-designated time, but at 6 P.M., it’s women-only, and we’re told that we’ll soon have to leave. At the pool I find a lone female Feiglin supporter, who doesn’t volunteer her name. “Of course a lot of people here vote for Feiglin,” she says. “It’s a tripped-out place.” She herself voted Zehut for what she calls a pretty weird reason. She terms herself a feminist, but thinks that the state’s family laws are biased in favor of women. “The law goes too far to benefit women, so much so that it actually harms them,” she avers. She was disappointed that Feiglin didn’t make it into the Knesset and doesn’t intend to vote for him this time. In fact, she might not vote at all next month.

One person who was planning to vote for Feiglin again is Moshe Hendel (Moish) Feiglin, 35, a social worker and musician, who immigrated four years ago from Australia. Feiglin is a second cousin of the former Likud MK. “Twelve years ago, I passed through England and was stopped at the border, because they thought I was Feiglin. Something he wrote was considered racist. It took me a few hours to figure out what the mistake was, and I explained to them that I have a relative with the same name. By chance, he and I met a week after I was detained, and I told him not to visit England. He looked at me like I was crazy, but afterward he received an official letter from the British. That was the only time we met.”

Moish Feiglin thinks it’s possible to draw up a profile of Zehut voters. “There are a lot of open, alternative-style people in Tekoa. His supporters come mainly from the English-speaking community – almost all of them voted for him. They’re a bit anarchistic, with an approach of trying to smash the system.”

Why did you vote for him?

“Whenever I say my name, people mention him, some of them in favor, others against. That made me read what he’s proposing and respect him. As a new immigrant, it’s hard for me to earn a living and to get ahead. Whatever you do, you need more and more deals, but I don’t have anything to make deals with. There are a lot of cool things in Israel, but people here have a slave mentality. They are afraid of change, and suddenly, there’s someone who is offering other ideas, even though I don’t agree with him 100 percent.”



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