After some bitter campaigning and a low voter turnout, the Israeli electorate returned the mayors of its three largest cities, along with a parade of other incumbents, to office in nationwide municipal elections Tuesday. Initial results did not yet include ballots cast by IDF soldiers.
The most nail-biting major contest was in Jerusalem, where Mayor Nir Barkat’s camp seemed deeply worried that low voter turnout (35.9 percent compared to 43% in 2008) would play into the hands of his rival, Moshe Lion; but as the votes were tallied through the night, Barkat took the lead and held it.
Lion, who had been endorsed by former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman and Shas’s Aryeh Deri, did poorly as head of the Likud-Beytenu’s party list for the city council, garnering just one seat in the near-final results as of Wednesday morning. The Jerusalem race was seen by many as a fight for the character of the city, with Barkat representing its dwindling secular and Modern Orthodox community. When the counting was done, the incumbent mayor won with some 51% of the vote to the challenger’s unexpectedly high 45%. A third candidate, ultra-Orthodox maverick Chaim Epstein, won 3.5% of the vote.
Earning four seats on the 31-member council were Mayor Barkat’s Yerushalayim Tatzliah party, while Meretz-Labor, Rachel Azaria’s Jerusalemites party and right-wing activist Aryeh King’s Jerusalem United party garnered two seats apiece, according to unofficial results released by the Jerusalem municipality. Shas added a seat at the council, winning five total on Tuesday. The Ashkenazi Haredi party Agudat Yisrael garnered eight seats.
Jerusalem’s Arab population largely boycotted the vote, as they have done consistently in the past, in protest of Israel’s annexation of the city’s eastern neighborhoods.
Lion conceded the election at 2:30 a.m., thanking activists and Liberman, in particular, “who made a genuine and real effort to do good for the people of Jerusalem.”
Barkat, speaking an hour later, said it was a very tough campaign, “but tonight the residents of Jerusalem gave us a mandate to lead the city with the same vision, the same path, for another five years.”
In Tel Aviv, another incumbent, Ron Huldai, came through after a tough challenge from Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz. The openly gay Horowitz ran largely on a platform of helping young Tel Avivians realize some of the aspirations of the social justice movement of 2011. The challenger criticized Huldai for encouraging an environment in Tel Aviv that catered only to the rich, effectively shutting young and average-income Israelis out of the White City.
The final count left Huldai with 53.1% of the vote and Horowitz with 38.2%. Voter turnout in Tel Aviv stood at 31.5% compared to 35% in 2008.
Huldai told supporters he’d be everyone’s mayor, even those who didn’t vote for him. “Everyone in Tel Aviv-Jaffa is a resident of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, it doesn’t matter if he’s rich or poor, yellow or red, it doesn’t matter what his religion is, or what he does. We are everyone’s city and we will continue to be that same free city that respects everyone who lives here.”
At his campaign headquarters near Rabin Square, Horowitz praised the results, noting he had taken nearly 40% of the votes for mayor and that Meretz had doubled its representation on the city council. He said Huldai “cannot ignore the results; this is a wake-up call for reasonably priced housing, quality public education and taking care of our neighborhoods.”
In Beit Shemesh, a city that’s become a flashpoint for fighting between ultra-Orthodox residents and their Modern Orthodox and secular neighbors, sitting mayor Moshe Abutbul sailed to a relatively easy victory over pluralist candidate Eli Cohen, 52% to 46%.
In Israel’s third-largest city, Haifa, Yona Yahav cruised to a solid victory over Yaakov Borovsky (whom he also faced in 2008), winning a third straight term as mayor. Also winning a third term in office were Eilat’s Meir Yitzhak Halevi and Bat Yam’s Shlomo Lahiani — despite his involvement in a 2009 scandal over campaign funding.
Ramle’s mayor Yoel Lavi won a fifth term with 65% of votes cast, and Miriam Feirberg won a fourth term in Netanya, garnering 72%.
Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich was reelected for a second term in a landslide, with over 92% of the vote. Ashdod’s Yehiel Lasri was also reelected for a second term, as was Rishon Lezion’s Dov Zur. Holon’s Moti Sasson won a fifth successive term.
Herzliya residents will have to vote in a runoff election after no one was able to garner the 25% necessary to win. Zvika Hadar and Moshe Padlon will contend for the city’s top job, with incumbent Yonatan Yasour coming up short on Tuesday. Petah Tikva will also hold a runoff election between Mayor Uri Ahad and challenger Yitzhak Braverman. Runoffs will be held in Kiryat Shmona and Migdal, as well.
In Nazareth, Israel’s biggest Arab-Israeli city, longtime mayor Ramiz Jaraisy won reelection with 43.4% of the vote. MK Hanin Zoabi came in third, with just under 4,000 votes.
Providing one of the rare victories over a sitting city head was retired Brig. Gen. Zvika Gendelman, who bested Haim Avitan in Hadera with 40.4% of the vote. In the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim, challenger Ron Konik unseated mayor Reuven Ben Shahar with a final result of 50.6% to 39.8%.
One of the most notable victories over an incumbent came in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, which for years has suffered greatly from rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. Mayor David Buskila lost a close race to national religious candidate Alon Davidi.
In another victory over an incumbent in the south, Itamar Shimoni beat Benny Vaknin in Ashkelon, taking 52.61% of the votes.
In Ra’anana, former mayor Zeev Bielski recaptured the city after a term as a Kadima MK. He had lost his Knesset seat in January’s national elections.