Off to the Races in Israel


Israeli voters are heading to the polls today to determine the outcome of what has become an emotional election.

BEERSHEVA, Israel — A verbal scuffle between Kulanu supporters and their Zionist Union counterparts broke out outside a Beersheva voting station on Tuesday morning, Election Day.

The Kulanu members had arrived much earlier in the morning before the polls had opened to set up posters on the gates leading toward a local elementary school that had been converted into a voting area. Showing up just as the election booth started accepting voters, the Zionist Union supporters wanted their share of real estate to hang banners and signs.

Though the two parties share some common platforms on issues such as the need to repair social equality and instill economic reform, and they could become coalition partners once the elections are over, for today at least, the gloves have come off.

Such is the emotional investment in the 2015 Israel elections.

“It’s really important for me to be out here first thing in the morning to sway voters because I want to replace Netanyahu and change the government,” said Hadas Eliyahu, 22, a Zionist Union supporter who is studying management and biology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheva. “I want to change people’s vote; I’ll stand outside the voting area, speak to people and hope that it will change their opinion.”

While Eliyahu is originally from a small farming community in the north of Israel that is populated mainly by political leftists, she said she understands that it may be an uphill battle to convince locals from Beersheva, a city whose voting constituents typically lean toward the right, to vote for a more liberal party.

People in Beersheva often feel “left out” of Israeli politics, she explained, and may be inclined to vote for Netanyahu because he is seen as a “strong prime minister” that may help them out.

“But I don’t think Netanyahu’s reign has been good for us; I know it wasn’t good,” Eliyahu concluded.

Another concerned voter and on the opposite end of the spectrum is Nisim Vaknin, a 51-year-old security guard protecting the voting station. He has lived in Beersheva his entire life and is sure Likud is the way to go.

“Likud is strong and Netanyahu stands up for his principles, he doesn’t want to return territories; he wants things to go well for Israel,” Vaknin said. “I hope these elections will help correct the problems of the past.”

Meitar Dadosh, 21, recently finished her army service and, along with a friend, was manning a small booth supporting Shas, an ultra-Orthodox party with many Sephardic followers. Shy and soft-spoken, Dadosh couldn’t point to a particular issue that concerned her or explain why she was promoting Shas other than to say it’s her family’s party.

But not all those hanging posters and handing out flyers were completely invested in the party they were promoting. A 17-year-old high school student, Pasha Lichtenov, confessed that he was only handing out Likud flyers because he was getting paid for his time. Though he is a year shy of being able to vote, he intimated that he personally felt Jewish Home was the best option.

At Masha'bei Sadeh, a secular, liberal kibbutz just outside of the city, Guy Zakai, 18, was waiting for his turn to vote — for the first time in his life.

Clearly nervous at the prospect of his inaugural vote, he said he planned to vote for Meretz, the party considered to be far to the left on nearly all relevant issues, though he admitted that he might change his mind when he went in to the voting booth.

“I’m excited but I’m having a last-minute dilemma,” he said. “On the one hand, I want to vote for Meretz so there will be a strong leftist bloc, but on the other hand I might vote for the Zionist Union because there needs to be one large party that can overtake Likud.”

Generally speaking, the party that gains the most votes is offered the first opportunity to form a coalition, unless the president feels that another party has a better chance of gaining enough mandates to create a majority. In this election, the Zionist Union is the only party considered strong enough to challenge the incumbent Likud for the most votes. Whether or not there will be enough groups to form a majority with the centrist-left group has been debated.

Eventually the argument that had started outside the Beersheva polling station ended peacefully when the Kulanu supporters reluctantly agreed to take down a few of their posters and make room for the Zionist Union banners.

Whether or not it was a sign of future cooperation to come remains to be seen.


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