Israeli voters go through motions, expect another election in two years.
MATTHEW E. GUTMAN
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
o vote," the ex-general commanded,
looking straight into the cameras. Voter
-apathy apparently was uppermost on
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's
mind when he lumbered into a Jerusalem polling
booth Jan. 28 at 8 a.m. sharp.
Brushing aside a barrage of questions from
reporters, a bleary-eyed Sharon — waking Tuesday
to what many pundits and Israelis called the most
useless election in Israel's history — called "on all
Israelis to exercise their right to vote."
As it turned out, he was echoing the title of the
lead editorial in the mass circulation daily Yediot
Achronot "Go to the Polls."
The lack of excitement among the public was
most evident in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda out-
door market. The market is a perennial Likud bas-
tion, but only a single poster bearing Sharon's
grandfatherly visage was visible among its myriad
stalls. Nor, for that matter, were there posters of any
of the other candidates.
Just the same, Israelis were not short of opinions.
"Only Likud, Likud only," shouted fishmonger
Dudu Ohanyon, who maintained that the market
vendors still love Sharon but are simply a bit
Examining a gasping fish flopping in a bin,
Gabriel Levy, 57, said it was not Sharon or Likud
per se that he wanted, "but security."
That sentiment pervaded the alleys of the once-
bustling market, where pedestrian traffic — and
business — has slowed to a crawl since it became a
preferred target of Palestinian suicide bombers.
Issues such as the intifada (uprising) and the dis-
mal economy are important, but interest is tepid,
Levy said, "because we all know that we'll have to
vote again in two years" — when the next govern-
Sharon's Likud won the elections easily. But, like
many politicians, the average Israeli was already
considering what comes next.
According to a poll in Yediot Achronot Jan. 24, 63
percent of Israelis expect another election within
two years. The prospect of little change in the secu-
rity situation, the economy and on the diplomatic
front will force early elections, according to the
poll. About 70 percent of Israelis believe the situa-
tion will remain stagnant or deteriorate in the next
two years, the poll said.
In the meantime, voters were inclined to stick
Labor Party officials, accused of hurting their
. ET of settlements, nor even the Arab-led,
Communist Hadash Party that earned
the wrath of community leader David
Wilder. In any other country, Shinui
"would be labeled anti-Semitic," said
Wilder, who has spoken out against
what he calls Shinui's hatred and intol-
erance toward the Orthodox.
The appearance of such a party is
disturbing, Wilder said, but "that they
are receiving such widespread support
is even more alarming."
Wilder was not the only one lashing
out at Lapid, who said he will not
serve in a government with the
Orthodox parties. In the city of B'nei
Brak, activists clogged intersections
with banners supporting the
Orthodox Shas and United Torah
However, in Tel Aviv's affluent sub-
urb of Savyon — only a few miles but
a world away from B'nei Brak —
Shinui appeared to be the only game
in town. Enjoying their Election Day
holiday, children whizzed by on roller
blades as their parents strolled past
luxury cars en route to the polls.
Shinui supporters were the only
A man walks past a car with an election flyer on it in Jerusalem on Jan.
activists to be seen at the town's mani-
28. Voting was at its lowest since the establishment of the State of Israel.
cured traffic circles. They handed out
fliers and bumper stickers depicting
Lapid pointing an index finger at the
electoral chances with frequent backbiting, closed
ranks in the final hours to try to stave off what polls camera in a "We Want You" pose.
One middle-aged woman said she had considered
said was inevitable.
casting a blank ballot, but feared "that this would be
On Monday night, just 12 hours before the elec-
a vote for Shas. So I voted Shinui."
tions, Labor legislators gathered at phone banks at
party headquarters in Ramat Gan's Hope
Neighborhood, trying to turn out the vote.
Threat Of Terror
Leaning back in plastic chairs as they tried to con-
The shadow of a terrorist threat hung over Election
vince undecided voters to "come home to Labor,"
Day, as it has over every day since the Palestinian intifa-
many appeared resigned to defeat.
da began more than two years ago. On Sunday, Israel
Yuli Tamir, Labor's election spokeswoman, said a
sealed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip in an effort to
bitter effort to unseat party chairman Amram
ward off attacks. As voting took place Tuesday, some
Mitzna — a move spearheaded by the former chair-
30,000 police, soldiers and security guards were
man, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer — had cost the party
deployed at voting stations and public places.
many votes. "Our goal now is to rebuild and regain
Rami Masawti, an Israeli Arab from eastern
the trust of the voters," she said.
Tuesday's elections apparently had fewer rules infrac- Jerusalem, counted seven checkpoints between his
home in Beit Hanina and his work in Mahane
tions than in previous years. By Tuesday evening,
Yehuda. "Everybody is terrified today of an attack,"
according to Israel Radio, police had received 15
Masawti said, blowing into his hands to ward off the
reports of irregularities, compared with 50 in 1999.
raw Jerusalem cold at his olive stand. "It is even qui-
Well within the rules were efforts to get voters to
eter here than usual."
oppose certain candidates. One such target was the
Masawti is one of about 250,000 Arabs from east-
leader of the secularist Shinui Party, Yosef "Tommy"
ern Jerusalem who are not Israeli citizens and can not
Lapid, who drew voters with his stand against the
vote. Nevertheless, given the choice, he said he would
power of the religious parties.
vote for Sharon. Sharon is the only one "who can
In the Jewish enclaves of Hebron, it was neither the
really fight the terrorist infrastructure," Masawti said.
Meretz Party, which calls for the immediate evacuation