Israelis Flock to Beaches, Parks as They Once Again Cast Ballots

A young boy walks past Likud party election campaign banners depicting its leader Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, near a polling station as Israelis vote in a general election, in Tel Aviv, Israel March 23, 2021. REUTERS/Corinna Kern

Tuesday is general election day in Tel Aviv — a day off from work and school — and an opportunity for Israelis to find a good spot along the country’s coastal plain, for children to build sand castles and for many to take a refreshing swim in the sea.

This year’s March election day is unusually hot, humid, and overcast, so it has been unsurprising to see so many Israelis flocking to the country’s beaches playing volleyball or matkot (wooden paddle tennis), surfing, and jogging along the seafront.

The country’s electoral contest might for some even go unnoticed, were it not for the campaigners driving up and down the Tel Aviv beach promenade, shouting slogans through megaphones and urging Israelis to make time to vote.

“Today is election day. You can make a change. Your vote counts. Bibi has served long enough. He is a great marketing guy but now we need a real leader,” one blared from his bicycle.

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March 23, 2021 5:17 pm

Some families ventured out and visited natural reserves, setting up a barbecue in grassy parks, while others took advantage of promotional deals in shopping centers and car showrooms. Election day in Israel is designated a national holiday, in a bid to boost voter turnout. For many Israelis, it is also a rare day off during which shops are open all day.

Israelis are casting their votes Tuesday for the fourth time in less than two years, in another attempt to solve a cycle of political deadlock. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in office since 2009, has served for the longest period as head of government in the country’s history.

“There is a lot of mistrust and loss of belief in the system and many are tired and fed up and don’t go to vote as they believe that their vote doesn’t count,” Dror Shalev, a Tel Aviv-based lawyer told The Algemeiner. “Netanyahu is not releasing the wheel and the chance that there will be a big change is very low as Israelis have a very short memory and have a herd mentality.”

“I see it as my duty to vote. I hesitated between [the] Meretz party and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. I decided to support Meretz as they are fighting for survival to be in the Knesset,” Shalev added. Lapid’s centrist party is running second to Netanyahu’s Likud in the latest opinion polls, while the left-wing Meretz is fighting to cross the parliamentary electoral threshold.

Voting for the first time since they arrived in Israel about a year ago, a small group of new olim from Los Angeles posed proudly in front of a Tel Aviv polling station and took pictures to memorize the event, while wrapped in the Israeli flag.

Not all Israelis want a change of leadership. “I am with Bibi. I have always been. We have gone through a very difficult corona year and we have come out of it,” said Asher, who cleans the streets of central Tel Aviv.

Asher’s comments echoed Netanyahu’s own message to voters today: “We have had a year of sacrifice, unity, and now we are leaving this coronavirus in the past together.”

More than 6.5 million eligible voters can cast their ballots today at 13,685 polling stations around the country, which will be mostly open between 7 a.m. and will close at 10 p.m. The most recent figures for the 2021 election showed that turnout stood at 42.3%​ of eligible voters as of 4 p.m. in Israel, according to Israel’s Central Elections Committee.

How is this election different from most other elections? Each polling station has been equipped with hand sanitizers which voters are asked to make use of before entering, while wearing a face mask. There will be 409 polling stations for the exclusive use of COVID-19 patients, and 342 stations for citizens who are in quarantine because of contact with a confirmed virus patient signs of symptoms. With some Israelis flying home as late as Tuesday due to the pandemic travel restrictions, the country has for the first time set up four polling stations for incoming citizens.

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