Election Season Brings Racist Rhetoric and Wins for Women in Israel

15 November 2018

One week before the U.S. midterm elections, Israelis went to the polls to elect new leadership for local governments. There were significant wins for women candidates. However, the period leading up to the elections also saw a less welcome trend: a number of ugly instances of racism and incitement.

There was notable public outcry when the ‘Jewish Home’ in Ramle posted racist posters warning about intermarriage between Jews and Arabs. The posters featured a picture of a young woman in a hijab against a background of the candles and wine cup used on Shabbat. It read, “Tomorrow it could be your daughter. Only a strong Jewish Home will maintain a Jewish Ramle.”

Beyond the racism, there was a concerted effort to smear municipal candidates over fabricated connections to the New Israel Fund. These efforts were kick-started by a campaign by the Public Forum organization, which created a video and website which falsely claimed that NIF had a list of endorsed candidates around Israel.

There was also an attempt to specifically connect Jerusalem mayoral candidate Ofer Berkovitch with NIF. The office of one of Berkovitch’s opponents, Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud), admitted that they were behind this effort.

Elkin was eliminated from the race in the first round of voting. Ultimately, Moshe Lion defeated Berkovitch in a run-off election.

Mickey Gitzin, NIF’s Executive Director in Israel, responded to the smear campaigns and the use of dog whistles. He pointed out that these tactics were ultimately rejected by the voters.

“Against the agenda of hate presented by the fake news creators, the public chose otherwise. Against the ‘us or them’ campaign in Tel Aviv and the racist posters in Ramle, the public came out in droves and chose equality and freedom,” he said.

Despite the campaigning being marred by such ugly tactics, the results showed significant gains for women’s leadership.

Most notable among these were the victories by women in two closely-watched contests: In Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, Dr. Einat Kalisch Rotem made history by becoming the city’s first female mayor as well as the first-ever Israeli woman to lead a major metropolitan area. And in Beit Shemesh, a city near Jerusalem with a large ultra-Orthodox population, the religious-Zionist candidate Dr. Aliza Bloch beat the incumbent ultra-Orthodox mayor by just a few hundred votes.

Photo via Flash90