Nothing Left but a Protest Vote

"It's going to get worse": Jerusalem's non-religious residents would probably be willing to sign off on that declaration of existential despair on the morning of the local elections. Last night, hours before the polls were scheduled to open, there was a sense among large swathes of the capital's non-observant population that they cannot vote for either of the leading candidates - Nir Barkat, because of his right-wing views, and Meir Porush, because he is ultra-Orthodox. Thus the idea of abstaining, of putting a white, empty ballot into the box, or of voting for Dan Biron, appeals to many.

Journalist Haim Baram recommends the white-ballot route to all "liberal, enlightened, leftists," adding, "It's inconceivable that we would go like lambs to the slaughter and vote for Barkat just because he's secular, out of hatred for the Haredim." But he says Porush is not an option because he, too, is an extremist.

"The center-right must be taught the lesson that they cannot put up as extreme a candidate as Barkat, and that they won't get the left's votes just because he's a secular candidate," Baram said.

Historian, Haaretz columnist and former deputy mayor Meron Benvenisti does not plan on voting at all. "Jerusalem has been a scattered city since 1967, a collection of neighborhoods connected by a dysfunctional road. These are existential and national problems, and Jerusalem's mayor doesn't have the tools to fix this sad situation."

He does not see this election as a choice between a secular or a Haredi mayor. Benvenisti, who had supported the candidacy of Aryeh Deri, says Barkat "behaves like a political chameleon," while Porush "doesn't scare me, compared to the alternative, but he's undeserving, too."

Outgoing city council member Sa'ar Netanel is leaning toward a protest vote for Biron, who has no chance of winning. "Above this spectrum between a Haredi, sectorial, right-wing Jerusalem and an extreme right-wing and nationalist city, there is also another Jerusalem and other Jerusalemites, and it's important to me to express that in a protest vote," Netanel said. He said that as mayor, Porush's proven ability to get things done is liable to further worsen the prevailing situation with regard to allocating land to Haredi communities.

Baram and Benvenisti are very pessimistic about the city's future but neither plans to leave. "I will die here, although all my children and all my friends have left," Benvenisti said. Netanel said he is considering leaving Jerusalem after the elections, but clarified, "I'm a Jerusalemite, wherever I am."