Israelis cast their votes in municipal elections postponed due to war

In addition to council heads and mayors, Israelis headed to the polls to vote for a council slate at over 200 municipalities.

By Joshua Marks, JNS

Voters in Israel’s two largest cities stuck with the incumbent mayors in Tuesday’s municipal elections, with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion coasting to victory and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai fending off a strong challenge from Orna Barbivai.

The 61-year-old Yesh Atid party member, who served as economy minister under the previous government, conceded the race on Wednesday morning, congratulating Huldai, 79, a member of the left-wing The Israelis Party who has served as the mayor of the Mediterranean coastal cultural hub since 1998.

With most of the votes counted, Huldai secured 51%, followed by 37% for Barbivai and former Kadima Knesset member Yuval Zellner with 12%.

“I congratulate the former minister, Orna Barbivai, for a wonderful fight and a significant achievement. Tel Aviv lost but Israel was blessed with you,” Yesh Atid Party chief and opposition leader Yair Lapid tweeted.

Tel Aviv Mayoral candidate Ron Huldai casts his ballot at a voting station on the morning of the Municipal Elections, in Tel Aviv, on Feb. 27, 2024. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.

Lion, 62, the first Jerusalem mayor of Sephardi descent, easily won a second term on Tuesday, garnering 81.4% of the votes with nearly 100% counted.

Other notable results included the surprising ouster of 77-year-old Holon Mayor Moti Sasson after 30 consecutive years. Israel’s longest-serving mayor, who was seeking a seventh term, will be replaced by Shai Kenan, who got 43% of the votes.

In Haifa’s mayoral race, there will be a second round of voting. The run-off election will see former mayor Yona Yahav, who garnered 36.2% of the vote, face off against David Etzioni, with 21.9% of the vote. The outgoing mayor of the northern Israeli port city, Einat Kalisch-Rotem, received just 4.5% of the vote. In 2018, she became the first woman to be elected mayor of one of Israel’s three largest cities.

Haifa Mayoral candidate Einat Kalisch casts her ballot at a voting station on the morning of the Municipal Elections, in Haifa, on Feb. 27, 2024. Photo by Flash90.

New mayors were also elected in Rehovot, Yeruham, Arad, Beit She’an and Elad.

The mayor of Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat was reelected with 44.80% of the vote.

“Going on together. Thank you Eilat,” Eli Lankri wrote on Instagram celebrating his victory.

In addition to council heads and mayors, Israelis headed to the polls to vote for a council slate at over 200 municipalities and regional councils across the country. These elections comprised 24,910 candidates running on 4,500 party slates, including 801 mayoral candidates.

Election day featured low turnout, with less than half (49.5%) of the more than seven million eligible Israelis having voted as polls closed at 8 p.m. local time. Nearly 100,000 double-envelope ballots have yet to be counted, representing soldiers, diplomats, senior citizens, the disabled, prisoners, hospital staff and others unable to vote at their designated polling stations.

Voting cards at a voting station on the morning of the Municipal Elections, in Jerusalem, on Feb. 27, 2024. Photo by Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90.

The voting took place four months after the originally scheduled Election Day was postponed amid the war with Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

Nine regional municipalities in Israel’s north and south, whose 180,000 residents were evacuated as a result of the war, did not cast their votes on Tuesday but will head to the polls on Nov. 19, 2024, over a year after the originally scheduled election.

Voting in the Israel Defense Forces kicked off on Feb. 20, with the military operating approximately 925 polling stations, including 150 mobile booths, to allow regular and reserve soldiers to elect their local leaders.

IDF voting booths were set up in the Gaza Strip and on the border with Lebanon to serve on-duty combat soldiers stationed in those areas.

The Oct. 31 municipal elections were initially delayed to Jan. 30 in light of Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attacks, in which 1,200 people were massacred in Israel and thousands more were wounded. On Dec. 31, the Israeli Cabinet approved postponing the election four more weeks to Feb. 27.