In Kahlon’s hometown, possible kingmaker is feted as royalty
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In Kahlon’s hometown, possible kingmaker is feted as royalty

Kulanu leader accompanies his mother to her Givat Olga polling station surrounded by raucous, cheering rowds

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Moshe Kahlon, head of the Kulanu party, returns to his hometown of Givat Olga Tuesday Mar. 17, 2015 to accompany his mother to the voting booth. (Photo credit: Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
Moshe Kahlon, head of the Kulanu party, returns to his hometown of Givat Olga Tuesday Mar. 17, 2015 to accompany his mother to the voting booth. (Photo credit: Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Givat Olga used to be known for two things: Shipudei Olga, a grill restaurant that often appears on national top 10 lists, and the town’s constant struggle to combat poverty, crime and sub-par infrastructure.

But now the tiny beachfront community will also be known as Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon’s hometown.

Kahlon came to Givat Olga Tuesday to accompany his mother Missa to the voting booth at a community center. He was on his way from his home in Haifa heading down the coast toward Tel Aviv, where his party will gather to wait for the election results.

Because of Israel’s fractured political system, the popular former Likud minister is thought likely to play the role of kingmaker once results roll in, with his support being a linchpin of any possible governing coalition, even though his party is projected to come in at only fifth place.

In working-class Givat Olga, though, the man known for revolutionizing the telecom market is more king than kingmaker.

In the last election Givat Olga’s residents — the vast majority of whom are immigrants from North Africa, the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia — voted overwhelmingly for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and the religious, Sephardi Shas party, by a factor of 10 at some polling stations.

But it’s hard to believe that will be the same after this election. The streets of Olga are lined with Kulanu party posters and while Shas activists clapped and sang to voters outside of every polling place, only a handful of Likud supporters campaigned in Givat Olga.

Kulanu supporters rally outside the polling station in Givat Olga where mother of party head Moshe Kahlon went to vote on Mar. 17, 2015. (Photo credit: Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
Kulanu supporters rally outside the polling station in Givat Olga where mother of party head Moshe Kahlon went to vote on Mar. 17, 2015. (Photo credit: Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

When Kahlon and his mother arrived, both local and national activists for his Kulanu party cheered, waved flags, blasted the party’s anthem from a portable speaker and practically blocked one of the main roads in town, trying to get closer to their party leader.

Kahlon worried the experience would be overwhelming for his nonagenarian mother, according to his sister Leah Abutbul. And indeed Missa, an immigrant from Libya, got teary-eyed as her son led her through the crowd.

“But I told him, ‘Let her get emotional. It’s a good emotional,'” Leah said.

Abutbul no longer lives in town, but works as a director for the education department of the Hadera municipality, which also manages the adjacent Givat Olga.

Kahlon could not stay long, but he spoke briefly to reporters about the Likud party’s recent use of old recordings of him, in which he is heard praising Likud candidates.

Though Kahlon is often lauded for his authenticity as a candidate, his response to the Likud tactic was a forceless and politic, “I’m not angry, just disappointed.”

After Kahlon left, many of the activists did too. Penina Sheetrit, however, remained.

“I believe that he will do what he is promising to do,” she said.

Sheetrit, who grew up in Olga, admitted that while she agrees with Kahlon’s politics, “the volunteering is because he is family.”

Sheetrit, Kahlon’s first cousin once removed, described him as “trustworthy, straightforward and humble.”

Arnon Tiram, a 35-year-old taxi driver from Olga, agreed: “Moshe has always been a humble man,” he said.

Tiram explained he is voting for Kahlon for his positives, but also for his lack of negatives, which he says other candidates don’t have. People always complain about politicians and parties, Tiram said, “And as a cab driver I drive all kinds of people around, but no one has a bad word to say against Kahlon.”

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