While national attention following countrywide municipal elections was focused on the bigger cities, residents of Israel’s smaller towns and communities were more interested in results deciding who would lead their regional and local councils over the next five years.
On of the tightest and most tense races, with votes too close to call even with 99 percent of the ballots counted, was in Beit Shemesh, where ultra-Orthodox mayor Moshe Abutbul could lose his position to rival Dr. Aliza Bloch despite being considered a clear favorite.
Only 251 votes separated the two candidates, with Abutbul narrowly ahead after the lead switched sides several times throughout the night.
The entire city will now follow the count — expected later on Wednesday — of ballots cast by soldiers, handicapped and prisoners in designated polling stations throughout the country. Most of the 500 to 800 votes are expected to be for Bloch, but that still might not be enough for her to overtake Abutbul.
Another extremely close race was in Katzrin in the Golan Heights, where incumbent council chairman Dmitry Apartsev (Yisrael Beytenu) was ahead by just 46 votes over rival Vicki Badrian, a woman of Ethiopian origin who previously was the council spokeperson and who had to battle many racist comments directed at her during the race.
There are still some 250 ballots cast by soldiers that haven’t been counted, and they will determine who chairs the council.
Dov Litvinoff, chairman of Tamar Local Council, won a fourth term with 56% of the votes, despite being convicted this month of breach of trust in the Yisrael Beytenu corruption investigation under a plea deal.
Many council chairmen were reelected for new terms, including Oved Nur in Gilboa, Eyal Betzer in Jezreel Valley, David Azoulay in Metula and Yoram Karin in Emek HaMaayanot.
In the Upper Galilee, incumbent Giora Salz won a whopping 85% of the vote. In the Lower Galilee, leader Shlomo Nitzan Peleg missed an outright win by one hundredth of a percent, winning 39.99% of the votes (40% is required to be declared winner), and will face Asher Cohen (22.6%) in the second round on November 13.
In councils near the Gaza Strip, an area that has seen several escalations of violence between Israel and the Palestinians in recent months, the race in Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council was won by Ofir Libstein, while Gadi Yarkoni won in Eshkol. Hof Ashkelon will see a second round between Itamar Revivo and Dudi Sa’ada.
A small portion of the council races was won by women. In Gezer, Rotem Yadlin unseated incumbent council head Peter Weiss by winning 42% of the votes.
In the Yeruham Local Council, an all-female battle between Tal Ohana and Nili Aharon was won by the former. Ohana had been deputy council head under the incumbent Michael Biton, who decided to leave his post to weigh a Knesset run. While Biton supported Ohana, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had thrown his support behind Aharon.
In the Arab-Israeli municipalities, Sakhnin Mayor Mazen Ghanaim lost his post after ten years to Dr. Safwat Abu Raya, while Ali Salam was reelected in Nazareth, beating rival Walid Afifi. In Rahat, former mayor Faiz Abu Sahiban of the outlawed Islamic Movement beat Talal al-Krenawi, who had lead the municipality in the last decade.
Umm al-Fahm will see a second round between Khaled Hamdan and Samir Mahamid, while Adel Badir in Kafr Kassem and Mamoun Abd El Hai in Tira were reelected.
In the West Bank settlement councils, deputy chairman of Mateh Binyamin Israel Gantz (52%) narrowly defeated Shilo Adler (47%), Yossi Dagan will continue in Shomron after garnering 81%, Shai Alon won in Beit El, incumbent Oded Revivi won in Efrat, and Yochai Damari won in Har Hebron.
Eliyahu Libman unseated Malachi Levinger in Kiryat Arba, while the race in Gush Etzion heads to a second round between Moshe Saville and current chairman Shlomo Ne’eman.