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by Judy Lash Balint
Israel Insider
October 29, 2003

It's a sound we haven't heard in Jerusalem for six months�the splattering of rain on the pavement. Last night, after more than a week of intense summer-like temperatures, a cool wind suddenly began to wend its way through the Jerusalem hills after nightfall bringing with it the first rain of the season.

The downpour was brief but intense. Anyone out on the street had no chance to escape being drenched by the sheets of water descending from the heavens. In its wake, the shower left air cleansed of the heat, and soil struggling to absorb the unfamiliar substance attempting to penetrate its hardened surface.

The change in weather accompanied political change on the municipal level. Local elections were held in most Israeli cities yesterday, and several incumbent mayors were turfed out. But the real story wasn't the results�it was the record low turnout.

No lower turnout had ever been recorded in the history of Israeli politics. Fewer than 42 percent of registered voters bothered to show up at the polls. In the US, that would be considered an average turnout, but here in Israel where everyone loves to voice an opinion, it's an unusually low number. Last time Israelis elected local officials in 1998, more than 57 percent participated.

One friend who worked the polls in Herzliya, reported that out of the 400 registered voters in her precinct, only 80 exercised their right to vote. This even as a TV Public Service Announcement bombarded citizens with the slogan: The person who votes has influence. (It sounds better in Hebrew!)

This morning the talk show pundits came up with all kinds of explanations for the lack of participation�the cold, rainy weather: the fact that it wasn't declared an official holiday like national elections etc etc, but ultimately it seems that like voters everywhere, Israelis are sick and tired of politics and politicians.

One would think that with national politics at an impasse and the Arab war raging on with no resolution in sight, that Israelis would at least want to exert some control over urban problems that might actually be solved with good leadership.

In some places, those voters who cared created what the morning papers called "a revolution." Dimona's long-time Likud mayor Gaby Lelouche was ousted in favor of the handsome Meir Cohen, representing Am Echad and the right-wing Yisrael Beiteynu parties. Similarly, Beit Shean voters decided to revert to the dynasty of former Foreign Minister David Levy, arguably the town's best-known citizen, when they elected his son Jackie to succeed Labor �s Pini Kabalo.

In the predominantly upper middle class Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion, former Israeli Secret Service head Carmi Gillon got himself elected as head of the city council.

Both Labor and Likud declared victory the morning after the elections�but overall it seems that Likud lost more races. Exit interviews revealed that many voters upset with the Likud government's economic cutbacks took the opportunity to exert punishment.

In the wake of the elections, the country is preparing for the general strike that the all-powerful Histadrut labor union has threatened for next week. Ports, the railway, the electric company, airports, banks, government offices, municipal services all will grind to a halt if union boss Amir Peretz has his way. While he tries to convince the public that he represents "the workers," in fact, the only worker's Peretz is trying to protect are the grossly overpaid public works employees whose inflated salaries Finance Minister Netanyahu is trying to cut.

In other political developments, next week marks the 8th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. The main commemorative event will be a "Return to the Square" rally in Tel Aviv, where the slogan is "Preserving Hope." Last Saturday night an anti-Sharon rally sponsored by Peace Now, massively publicized (courtesy of funds from the European Union) with huge newspaper ads and ubiquitous street posters brought only 1,000 people out on the streets.

If rallies and voting don't do it any more, where will change come from? Where's the force that like the sudden burst of energy that accompanied the onset of the winter rain, will propel us to action? I don't see anything or anyone like it on the horizon.