It’s a sound we haven’t
heard in Jerusalem for six months -- the splattering of rain on the pavement.
Last night, after more than a week of intense summer-like temperatures, a
cool wind suddenly began to wend its way through the Jerusalem hills after
nightfall bringing with it the first rain of the season.
The downpour was brief but intense. Anyone out on the street had no chance
to escape being drenched by the sheets of water descending from the heavens.
In its wake, the shower left air cleansed of the heat, and soil struggling
to absorb the unfamiliar substance attempting to penetrate its hardened surface.
The change in weather accompanied political change on the municipal level.
Local elections were held in most Israeli cities yesterday, and several incumbent
mayors were turfed out. But the real story wasn’t the results -- it was the
record low turnout.
No lower turnout had ever been recorded in the history of Israeli politics.
Fewer than 42 percent of registered voters bothered to show up at the polls.
In the US, that would be considered an average turnout, but here in Israel
where everyone loves to voice an opinion, it’s an unusually low number.
Last time Israelis elected local officials in 1998, more than 57 percent
One friend who worked the polls in Herzliya, reported that out of the 400
registered voters in her precinct, only 80 exercised their right to vote.
This even as a TV Public Service Announcement bombarded citizens with the
slogan: The person who votes has influence. (It sounds better in Hebrew!)
This morning the talk show pundits came up with all kinds of explanations
for the lack of participation -- the cold, rainy weather: the fact that it
wasn’t declared an official holiday like national elections etc etc, but
ultimately it seems that like voters everywhere, Israelis are sick and tired
of politics and politicians.
One would think that with national politics at an impasse and the Arab war
raging on with no resolution in sight, that Israelis would at least want
to exert some control over urban problems that might actually be solved with
In some places, those voters who cared created what the morning papers called
“a revolution.” Dimona’s long-time Likud mayor Gaby Lelouche was ousted in
favor of the handsome Meir Cohen, representing Am Echad and the right-wing
Yisrael Beiteynu parties. Similarly, Beit Shean voters decided to revert
to the dynasty of former Foreign Minister David Levy, arguably the town’s
best-known citizen, when they elected his son Jackie to succeed Labor's Pini
In the predominantly upper middle class Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion,
former Israeli Secret Service head Carmi Gillon got himself elected as head
of the city council.
Both Labor and Likud declared victory the morning after the elections --
but overall it seems that Likud lost more races. Exit interviews revealed
that many voters upset with the Likud government’s economic cutbacks took
the opportunity to exert punishment.
In the wake of the elections, the country is preparing for the general strike
that the all-powerful Histadrut labor union has threatened for next week.
Ports, the railway, the electric company, airports, banks, government offices,
municipal services all will grind to a halt if union boss Amir Peretz has
his way. While he tries to convince the public that he represents “the
workers,” in fact, the only workers Peretz is trying to protect are the grossly
overpaid public works employees whose inflated salaries Finance Minister
Netanyahu is trying to cut.
In other political developments, next week marks the 8th anniversary of the
assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. The main commemorative event will be
a “Return to the Square” rally in Tel Aviv, where the slogan is “Preserving
Hope.” Last Saturday night an anti-Sharon rally sponsored by Peace
Now, massively publicized (courtesy of funds from the European Union) with
huge newspaper ads and ubiquitous street posters brought only 1,000 people
out on the streets.
If rallies and voting don’t do it any more, where will change come from?
Where’s the force that like the sudden burst of energy that accompanied the
onset of the winter rain, will propel us to action? I don’t see anything
or anyone like it on the horizon.
Judy Lash Balint is a Jerusalem based writer and author of Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times (Gefen). Reprinted by permission of the author.