Election frenzy hits Israeli university campuses

Election frenzy hits Israeli university campuses

Politicians and activists -- from the left, right and center -- look at students as future leaders and potential political power shifters

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Students affiliated with the Labor Party try to recruit supporters at The Hebrew University (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)
Students affiliated with the Labor Party try to recruit supporters at The Hebrew University (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)

Less than one month before the elections, political presence on university campuses throughout the country is more evident than before, with legislators, Knesset hopefuls and young political activists talking to students at almost every possible time and venue.

“I don’t know who I’m going to vote for” is a statement many young Israelis are expressing out loud. And politicians, both seasoned and new, are taking aim at the leaders of the future — Israel’s university students — in the hope of convincing them to join their side when they cast their ballots.

On Sunday, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, MKs Yitzhak Herzog (Labor), Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) and Amir Peretz (Hatnua) publicly debated their diplomatic agendas and proposed solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in front of Tel Aviv University students.

Yair Lapid speaks at Hebrew University, last week (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yair Lapid speaks at The Hebrew University, last week (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Similar gatherings were held at other campuses throughout the country in recent days, with Knesset hopefuls from across the spectrum trying to win over undecided voters, and maybe even sway some of those who had previously made up their minds.

“You, and the rest of the people walking around here, are the future of the country,” MK Nitzan Horowitz from Meretz said Tuesday, as he stood at the entrance to one of TAU’s buildings.

While trying to convince passers-by to vote for his party, Horowitz stressed the need for young people to be involved in the country’s democratic process and expressed his support for a motion allowing students to vote on campus instead of in their hometowns.

The one-on-one meeting with the dovish legislator had different effects on the students.

“He’s nice, but I won’t vote left; I’m Likud,” Avi, a 23-year-old student from Haifa, said after a brief encounter with Horowitz. Dana, a second-year psychology student, said she would “consider it, even though I usually vote Labor.”

Posters on the wall nearby showed scheduled meetings with potential MKs from at least a dozen parties, including not only mainstream parties but also niche parties hoping to get noticed by the public.

TAU undergraduate student Hadas, who said she dreams to be a teacher “in a democratic state, that isn’t ashamed to give people their freedoms,” handed out leaflets promoting the Ale Yarok (Green Leaf) party, whose popular platform on campus is the legalization of marijuana. “There aren’t enough politicians willing to say this needs to be a country where people can do as they wish. Smoking [drugs] and getting married without involving religious institutions is a must,” she said.

Most of the distribution of information and organizing of political sessions is being arranged by those already active in student groups affiliated with one party or another. By bringing politicians to campus, or getting them to talk to students over a pint of beer at the local pub, the young political activists are trying to get their friends on board.

“Each and every one of us lives here, pays taxes and wants to buy an apartment for his future family,” Benny, a computer science student, told The Times of Israel. “That means we can’t just watch the elections; we have to take part in them.”

Amir Peretz (left), Naftali Bennet and Yitzhak Herzog (right) at a Tel Aviv University panel, Sunday (photo credit: screen capture BlueWhiteFuture/Youtube)
Amir Peretz (left), Naftali Bennett and Yitzhak Herzog (right) at a Tel Aviv University panel, Sunday (photo credit: screen capture BlueWhiteFuture/YouTube)

Like many Israelis his age, the 27-year-old from Bar-Ilan University took part in the summer socioeconomic protests of 2011 and called for change. “Shouting in the streets isn’t enough,” Benny said, noting he had decided to vote for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party because it was time for new faces in the Knesset.

Hoping to convince his friends to join him, Benny has hosted members of Yesh Atid in his living room. “If you demanded change and then forgot about it, then you can’t complain that no one listened to you. You have to be persistent,” he said.

Even MK Haim Amsalem — an ultra-Orthodox rabbi heading his own Am Shalem party after breaking off from Shas — has started targeting young, secular voters. In an attempt to shake off the image of a narrow-minded religious politician disconnected from the liberal youth, Amsalem recently chose to go bar-hopping in Tel Aviv and also met students at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Though careful not to take sides, the National Student Union has joined the call to get students to the polls, and joined forces with other groups to raise the percentage of citizens who vote in the elections.

Real change will only happen if those elected are obligated to society, including the younger generation, the union’s chairman Uri Rashtik said in a press release. “I call on the students and young professionals to come to the polling stations on election day and vote according to their worldview.”

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