They say that, in a democracy, even the most humble among us can be elected to public office. Now we know it’s true!

This is a segment from The “Local Yokels” Edition.


So Miriam, what the hell are we talking about now? – Well, what a day it was in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

Giddy crowds flocked to the polls in an intoxicating celebration of democracy, waving the emblems and colors of their favorite political parties. – It was ’cause at the end I was literally intoxicated.

(Miriam laughs) – Yeah, I noticed that.

Schoolchildren were engaged in spirited debate over the relative importance of park benches versus sewage management, and poets stood on city corners reciting ecstatic odes to the principle of one person, one vote.

Okay, that did not happen.

As I said earlier, it was kind of shwach.

It was great to see you, Noah.

When Jonathan and I rode our bikes over to Dzingov to cast our ballots.

You know, at some point we’ll change our address.

But we like coming over to the neighborhood to do that. – I think you should move back to the neighborhood is what you should do. – That’s definitely what we think every time we go.

Well, congratulations.

You are one of 31 members of the Tel Aviv City Council.

Holda E’s party got seven seats.

Yesh Atid got six, and your party got five seats.

It’s a party that promotes the notion of a new contract.

It’s an agglomeration of several factions, including your Green Party, Noah, but also activists from various protests, Brothers in Arms, Building an Alternative, the Women’s Protest, the protesters from higher education, from high-tech students, and the Pink Front and the Meretz people.

Lots of protesters.

In fact, the party’s slogan is, “The whole protest in just one ballot.” (speaking in foreign language) The party has a comprehensive and beautifully presented platform online covering the topics of education, gender equality, LGBTQ, animals, transportation, housing, issues that are specific to Jaffa and South Tel Aviv, culture, business.

It has a really beautiful platform on environment that delineates the impact of the climate crisis on daily life in this city and presents numerous practical solutions, a lot of solar, a lot of gardens, on roofs, in lots of- Trees, trees, trees.

Tons of trees.

I wonder who wrote it.

It was actually Alon Tau.

Oh, okay.

I should say, though, that the topic that’s most visible is it’s on the landing page, comes under the heading of Free City, and it addresses the need for Tel Aviv to remain a comfortable place for secular residents, freedom of religion, and freedom from religion.

The platform talks about defunding Haredi schools that don’t teach the core curriculum, banning proselytizing near schools, forbidding the exclusion of women, running public transportation on Shabbat, and keeping many other businesses open on Shabbat, which kind of begs the question, what gives?

Does the Tel Aviv Merits Coalition, representing many of the people we can truly call national heroes, for their willingness to climb the barricades for the sake of democracy, do they, do you, Noah, know something about the city that I don’t know?

And should I order my soon-to-be-mandated head wrap now or wait ’til they’re on sale on Timu?

So we could talk about this religion issue for all the time we have, but we’ll also wanna think now about what it meant to have this election at this time of horrific war and worry, as well as to consider whether these elections are a dry run for national elections.

But let’s start with just a quick how are you, Noah, and what can you do for me and Allison now that you’re a big shot again? – Well, you wanted to move back to your neighborhood, so you’re going to make the city so affordable that Miriam can now get an apartment in your Tony neighborhood. – Oh, I’m just gonna move into his apartment. (all laughing) Seems the least you could do. – It’s true.

Well, like I said before, I’m well, I’m tired, but well, but you touched on some issues that have been difficult.

First of all, as you said, we are this coalition of three big groups.

Like you said, our Green Party, mostly Meritz is the main one.

And then these protest groups that run together under a banner called Chosei Hadash, a new contract that ran lists in something like 20 cities around the country and seemed to have done pretty well all around the country.

And we did very well here in Tel Aviv, better than anyone thought that was even possible.

And so coming from different places, we believe slightly different things and we come from different backgrounds.

We are the only list that ran in Tel Aviv that is mixed as between religious and secular people among the candidates.

All the other parties are either religious, in which case, by the way, they’re all male, 100% all male, including the religious Zionist Party.

And, or most of the parties are just completely secular, including the Mayor’s Party and the woman from Yesh Atid, Orna Bar-Rivai, the general who ran.

And religion has been a big point of tension and argument.

And for me, it’s been torturesome.

And the last period of the campaign was especially torturesome for me because the Likud joined together with a little local representative group of Itamar Benvir’s Jewish Power, Otzma Yudit Party at the national level.

And the two of them ran together.

And when last I looked, we don’t have final results yet ’cause they haven’t counted the soldiers results, which aren’t gonna make a big difference, but they were right on the border between getting one seat and two seats. – Likud with Otzma Yudit?

‘Cause I thought they had- – They probably wound up with two seats, I think. – Oh, wow. – But I’m not sure.

And the first one is some Likud criminal. (laughs) I mean, literally, some Likud ex-con.

And the second one is some Otzma Yudit person.

So somebody had the idea, not directly in our party, another party, what’s called the Green Secular Party, which is a super activist anti-religious party that has for years been all about drumming up tension between religious and secular people on the platform that we will keep ourselves from being overrun by the religious people whom, as you suggested, Miriam, don’t really exist in Tel Aviv.

There are religious people, but there aren’t ultra-Orthodox people in any real numbers.

There are some thousands among the 550,000 people who live in Tel Aviv.

There are, I don’t know, 10,000 or fewer ultra-Orthodox people.

But this party exists entirely to, like their whole raison d’etre is to keep people from, to keep people angry and worried about the ultra-Orthodox.

And their big success in the last term of office was that they managed to get a neighborhood that had a big collection of religious people to prevent them from sounding a kind of siren five minutes before Shabbat.

So the people in the neighborhood, it’s got a lot of religious people that they would know when Shabbat was coming, like they do in religious cities like the Nabrach.

So anyway, that’s their big election.

Five years, that’s their big success is that they got this siren.

I don’t know if they got the number of decibels to be lowered or they got it to be stopped in general.

So they made a big thing of how Benver was gonna take over Tel Aviv.

And they spent a lot of money.

Their money is old money that comes from Tomi Lapid’s party that’s been sitting around on the shelf.

They have a bank account from the year 2000 with this money that, and it’s like basically earmarked for anti-religious things.

And they made a big thing about how Benver is coming to take over Tel Aviv.

And then all the quote unquote liberal lists of which ours is one is I guess the biggest, though I don’t like the word liberal, like had to face the question, either you’re with us or against us.

And they put out this statement saying– – In other words, with us or against us in the sense that you were gonna band together or with us and against us in the sense that, well, if you’ve got the same platform as they do, it sort of obviates the need to vote for this other.

You sort of say, well, we’ve got it all in there.

Is that basically the strategy? – There was a little bit of a dirty politics campaign of this secular party putting out this statement saying, “We hereby swear that we will not sit “with the Likud/Otma Yudit in a Tel Aviv coalition.”

And so then you had to either sign it or not sign it.

And we were the last ones to sign it because of me, because I didn’t wanna sign it.

Both because it’s not true because– – That’s a good reason not to sign it. – All of the people– – Because what’s not true? – Because everyone who signed it will happily sit in a coalition with the Likud if it comes to that.

Then there was this, then every single person in this city, so I’m sure you got it, Miriam, too, got a text message, an SMS that said that my party, Meretz, Jose Hadash, the Hayarok Ben Markaz, my list is happy to sit with Otma Yudit, with Ben Veer, and so you can’t vote for our party.

And at that point, we signed the damn thing, too, even though I don’t think anyone will, if they have one seat in the city council and the mayor decides to put them in his coalition, I don’t think that anyone is gonna not join the coalition because of it. – It’s actually, in a way, maybe a gift to Hldai to be able to say, “Look, sorry, you guys are not in this ’cause look, I have this groundswell of–” – To his credit, Mayor Hldai has really, really resisted this effort to fan religious tensions in Tel Aviv.

So for him, it’s always been very important to have the religious parties in his coalition.

Of course, it’s never been Ben Veer before. – Right, I was gonna say, Ben Veer does not represent religion in practically any sense of the word. – And it’s also the Likud.

But if they only end up with one seat, it will just be a Likud member, and the issue becomes Mu, as Joey Tribbiani says. – Didn’t he have to ramp up his anti-religious rhetoric, though, at a certain point because of how he was doing in the polls? – He did not really ramp up his anti-religious rhetoric, but everyone else did.

His biggest opponent, Orna Barbivai, and Yeh Shatid did, and ultimately, we did, too.

And this is, I guess, what I’m long-windedly getting to.

The last 10 days of this campaign were about one issue, Itamar Ben Veer, who lives out somewhere in the West Bank.

He definitely doesn’t live in Tel Aviv, and maybe is going to have a single representative of the 31 representatives in the city council, but maybe won’t.

And that was the only issue.

So housing, no longer important.

Education, no longer important.

All those trees I was talking about, no longer important.

None of it was an issue.

There was only one issue that mattered for the people who were likely to vote for us, and our entire campaign went in that direction.

All the social media, everything went in that direction.

Every time I went to a meeting in someone’s living room to talk about our issues, the only question that people cared, not the only question, but the main question that people cared about, and the question they cared about most was, how are you going to keep us from being overrun by far right-wing, ultra-Orthodox politicians who say that, who we understand, are about to take over the city? – It sounds like a fantastic way to empower Ben-Gvir.

And I think- – Oh, well, definitely that. – If nothing else, I mean, you know, what a gift. – Well, it’s like Trump.

Everything becomes about him. – It is a lot like that.

And what a gift it is for- – No, but I mean, why is everybody participating in this?

By the way, when President Joe Biden mentioned Ben-Gvir by name, I called out to Donald and said, “Okay, just doubled his mandates.” – Absolutely. – The most powerful man in the world, you know, is putting this person up as a force to reckon with. – It was horrible.

For me, it was really, really horrible because, like, also just to look at people’s faces when I say, “You know, look around you.

Do you really think that the biggest problem that we here in Tel Aviv face is that we’re going to be overrun by ultra-Orthodox people?

Who is overrunning us?”

And when you say that to someone and you look in their faces, I mean, I guess not everyone, but most of the people I spoke to, they’re like, “This guy doesn’t get it.”

And me wearing a kippah, it’s like, “Oh my God, this guy must be one of them.”

And so then I felt like, first of all, I always had to wear a hat.

I went completely Murano.

I could no longer, in the last 10 days of the election, I could no longer, like, in meetings where I didn’t know people, I could no longer be religious.

And we were told that we were supposed to, by some people in the campaign, we didn’t do this, that we were supposed to pretend that we hadn’t been, that Meritz hadn’t been in the last coalition along with the Likud.

There was no Ben-Gurion party in the last coalition or in Tel Aviv back then, but because it was going to make us look bad that we had sat in a coalition with religious people.

And we, like all the people saying, “If I come here, will you promise me that there will be no money for any religious things in Tel Aviv?”

And like, “No, of course not.

I mean, religious people are citizens too.

They have a right to have their things.”

And they’re like, “Okay, you lost our vote.”

One person after another person after another person.

And among, within our party, the people who come from the protest are mostly deep, true believers.

Like they really, truly believe that Tel Aviv is about to be overrun by ultra-Orthodox. – So I have two questions.

One is that sometimes these coalitions that run together, once they’re in, they split up and break up.

Do you predict that yours will stay together and split up and break up?

And the other is that question is that, do you think about, fantasize, imagine the parallel world election where there wasn’t October 7th and there wasn’t the war and it would have been all about the judicial overhaul and the protests.

I mean, I see a world maybe where your party would have done even better and been much stronger because that’s what people would have thought about.

And that’s what your party would have symbolized. – Absolutely.

That, absolutely.

I mean, we were looking at maybe getting seven or eight seats back then.

And when the war came, I mean, one of the weird things about this is that the war came and it came on the 7th.

The elections were supposed to be on the 31st.

So you can do the math. – 24. – 24 days, yes.

And at the beginning, we didn’t, for two weeks, we still thought the election was gonna happen.

We didn’t know what that was, but we stopped the campaign because who could possibly have the heart to campaign or to listen to someone campaign.

Then it was supposed to be at the end of January.

So at the beginning of January, we were like, should we start the campaign again?

I don’t know.

What would that be like?

And we had tons of meetings and then they pushed it off to February.

But even in February, it’s like, it was so weird to talk about this because who cared?

And in Tel Aviv, you said that 50% of the country of eligible voters in the country came to vote.

And that’s true.

In Tel Aviv, 40% came because it just sort of felt like, oh my God.

And so then it was hard to talk to people about things, but you could.

And then this issue sort of reignited.

It felt a little bit like the protests were starting again.

Everyone was suddenly very, very concerned.

But what they were concerned about was this non-existent threat of the ultra-Orthodox.

And it was really hard to talk to, like what’s so wonderful about local politics is everyone has a vision for how they want their city to look and it’s beautiful.

Like people, but it’s always very local.

Like it’s like, I think there could be a park here.

You see that empty lot?

Why isn’t it a park?

And I love that.

And people have a lot to say about composting and people have a lot to say about buses and also about Shabbat, by the way, about buses on Shabbat, which I think is crucial that there be buses on Shabbat.

In Tel Aviv, we have them, but to a limited degree.

And it’s because of the head of my party, Maytala Havi from Meritz, whom I adore.

So in answer to your question, by the way, Allison, about whether we’ll split up, in local politics, it’s very hard actually to split up as opposed to national politics.

But then you basically aren’t allowed to.

I can just stop voting with my people.

But then also I love the, and agree with almost everything that the head of my party, Maytala from Meritz says.

She comes from Meritz, so she knows the language of being anti-religious, but she’s not at all anti-religious.

Her brother is ultra-Orthodox, and she’s just a gentle person who’s one of her parents comes from Europe and one of her parents comes from Iraq.

And she just is all about accepting everybody and having everyone be able to live their lives, helping people live their lives the way they want to.

But the protest people so far, I have to say, who are part of our list, they’re great people, and they’ve managed to translate the agenda of the protest into local politics only about the issue of religion, as far as I can tell. – But even you say, I mean, you talk about the buses on Shabbat, and in order to try to expand public transportation on Shabbat, you have to be fixated on taking power away from the ultra-Orthodox who are going to oppose it, right?

I mean, it’s not so clear. – Yeah, well, I mean, the reason why I’m in this party is because at the level of kind of the basic values, I agree, I definitely think that, it’s been a real education for me to sit in the room at these meetings and fight over these issues, every fight of which I lost entirely, completely, totally within the room. – At least you’re consistent. – Yes, but I came to understand with greater depth, like the sincerity and the justification for the fears that people have, even in Tel Aviv, about being worried that somebody on the street is going to yell at them because they’re obviously gay, and who knows, maybe that could be happening, or worrying that their kid is gonna meet up with the wrong Chabad rabbi and end up being unwilling to, growing up and being unwilling to eat in the house. – I think that’s gonna be so interesting, what happens to the country religiously.

I do think there’s going to be a wave of far more religiosity happening, and in some ways, some very in-your-face religion, and I think it’ll be super interesting.

I think Chabad will have increased its visibility, it already has, and just these emotional times, I think, are a place for religious ideologies to come in, some of which are nice, and some of which are, to my taste, not particularly. – And also a redoubling of commitment to old Zionist ideology as well, in a beautiful way that you see at the protests, and that’s deeply secular, and trying to protect those values, but the thing about it is, if there’s one place in the world where you can solve that problem, it’s Tel Aviv.

So let’s not import, as an axiom, the tension saying we can never get along, we have to fight each other until we beat each other, and let’s try to actually roll up our sleeves and try to figure out how to live together, and that, basically, de facto, that is what happens every day in Tel Aviv, but we can do it at the level of politics, but we’re going in the opposite direction. – So I don’t want, sorry for cutting you off, Allison, I wanted to just widen before we end this segment to just a sense about what do we learn from what you went through just now, what you are looking forward at, what do we learn about the country, specifically about elections and what that could mean to the next time elections come up, but maybe also in a broader sense, we would have gone in and had one experience, if it had been held October 5th, and this was very– – 31st. – Oh, October 5th, I get it, okay, I get your point, sorry, I was being too literal. – ‘Cause I knew it couldn’t be on a Friday, so I moved it back to– (all laughing) – They wouldn’t have had it in the middle of a game, yeah. – Right, and just kind of a sense, do we see this as a general rehearsal for national elections? – Well, definitely, definitely in a good way and a bad way, I mean, people really feel as though this is a moment of inflection and change deeply, though the fact that only 40% of the people who could vote came out to vote maybe, belies what I just said, but the people that I spoke to– – Definitely belies it, Noah, sorry, but I– – I just wanna put that in context to you, Tel Aviv was, I think, 49% in the 2018 elections, it was much lower than that in the 2013 elections. – Really? – It didn’t hit 40. – That’s very strange, but people, I think that people feel as though something is changing around them, I don’t know if they feel as though Tel Aviv politics is necessarily an important part of that, and people are really, really trying to figure out where the country should go and how it should get there, but I think one of the things that I learned from this is we do not have the language that we need to solve these problems, like we have this old set of political categories of those religious fuckers are trying to force us to do what they want, or those secular hedonists don’t have any values, and both of those sets of categories are so completely wrong, and somebody needs to create a new language, or else we just will not be able to talk about these things in a way that’s productive, and so that’s one of the things that I hope to be able, that we can do in Tel Aviv, that we can create some kind of dialogue, because Tel Aviv is the place, if anywhere, is the place, I mean, Ranaana maybe is actually the best place. – Yeah, we have much better coexistence than in Tel Aviv. – You have more religious people than Tel Aviv, and you have more, I think you have more coexistence, don’t you? – I don’t know if, you know, more or less coexistence, how do you manage it, but definitely, less conflict over it, but what you say sounds really pretty, Noah, but I don’t think that you can disengage the local and the national the way that you do, because the ways that are, that the laws are set up, the national laws, if you remember some of the fights over the past few years, are trying to like, to respect the character of a city, and the character of a neighborhood, and that’s why you can’t impose these sweeping national laws, so that’s why these individual cities are fighting so hard to maintain, no, we’re secular, no, we’re secular, because they don’t want something imposed on them from above, they’re kicking and screaming, and I think, you know, they’re fighting for their existence. – Totally, totally, I just, yes, and I think that, and I love these people when I hear them talk about their vision, which unfortunately, they don’t talk about very much, ’cause mostly they talk about religious people, the secular people, but absolutely, the only thing is, in Tel Aviv, which is a place where there’s not really that much danger of anyone imposing their lifestyle on anyone else, then it seems like there’s an opportunity to do something different. – But they see a danger nationally of that lifestyle being imposed on them, despite the way that secular people outnumber religious people. – It is being imposed on them, they can’t get married the way that they want, and they can’t get drived on buses to other cities on Shabbat very much, even if they can drive a little on buses in Tel Aviv, and yeah, absolutely. – Yeah, to totally disagree with Noah, though, ’cause it’s just always fun, like I really don’t think that this had any bearing on what national elections are gonna be like, I think that people, forgive me, Noah, please, didn’t give a shit about the local elections. – You think they’ll be far more engaged in the national elections when they haven’t. – Oh my God, it’s gonna be, the next national elections are gonna be so engaged, they’re gonna be so charged, there’s gonna be such a high percentage of voters, I really think it’s gonna be day and night. – Well, I’m sure we’ll be discussing that very soon, because the opening shot was clearly fired this week. – This morning. – Yes, so we’re gonna be going to that, and we’re gonna be watching Noah and hearing the stories of you trying to– – Change the world. – No, trying to, yeah, trying to change the small world in a way, and it’s really inspiring, and we just wish you all the luck in the world, the election topic is not going away.

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