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After 2 delays, Israel is about to hold first municipal elections since the war began

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's talk now about the politics of Israel, which holds its first municipal elections since the October 7 Hamas attacks and the counteroffensive in Gaza. The Israeli electorate includes many people who identify as Arab Israeli or Israeli Arab, or as Palestinian citizens of Israel. They make up 20% of Israel's population, and in the city of Tel Aviv, many are supporting a party that includes Jewish allies. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

AMIR BADRAN: (Non-English language spoken).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Amir Badran campaigns on the streets of central Tel Aviv in fluent Hebrew and Arabic. He's one of only two Palestinian members of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipal council, and he's seeking a second term. He's also running for mayor. While he's unlikely to win the top job, he says it's symbolically important to run because he's the first ever Arab candidate. Badran says campaigning during this war is tough.

BADRAN: In difficult times, you know, people do not want to see changes. We usually regroup ourselves. We close ourselves into our communities and we are not open to others.

BEARDSLEY: Badran is a member of a coalition called Kulanu Ha'ir, which translates roughly as we are the city. He says Arab-Jewish unity is more important than ever.

BADRAN: Creating this bonds between Jewish and Arabs, saying that there is hope for us; there is a different future for us, which is not only war, but it's peace and together; and to understand each other's narrative and to accept each other.

BEARDSLEY: Badran has proof it can work. The day after last October's Hamas attacks, his mixed neighborhood in Jaffa came together on WhatsApp and in volunteer groups, Jews and Palestinians helping to protect each other and their homes and places of worship. Riots and revenge attacks were averted. He's building on that success.

LIOR FOGEL: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: No.

BEARDSLEY: Campaign volunteer Lior Fogel has just been turned away by a voter she's approached. She says people are hurting, but if anyone can reach them, it's Amir Badran.

FOGEL: The thing he said about peace, about equality, about partnership, people can hear it right now. But he makes it that more people can hear it. And he's - I think he could do it.

BEARDSLEY: Many voters in Tel Aviv, a traditionally leftist city, say they feel powerless as Israel's right-wing government wages war in Gaza. Yael Betterpocker says being able to express her voice on local issues at least makes her feel she has some control.

YAEL BETTERPOCKER: I think rent control is one of the biggest issues for everyone, not just, like, students or young people like me. Also, families can't afford to live here anymore.

(CROSSTALK)

BEARDSLEY: The next campaign event is a bar crawl on a hip Tel Aviv pedestrian street lined with restaurants. Thirty-eight-year-old Itamar Avneri is Jewish and number two on the party list. He says a joint Jewish-Arab party gives some people hope, but not everyone.

ITAMAR AVNERI: But I must admit, some people, of course, are, you know, reluctant when they hear that we are Jewish and Arab and that Amir, who's a Palestinian, he's the head of our list. So...

BEARDSLEY: Well-known former Knesset member Dov Khenin is lending his star power to the campaign. He says this party is building a coalition a whole new way by bringing young progressives together with economically depressed Jews and Arabs who would normally not unite.

DOV KHENIN: I think it is essential, actually. You know, we should overcome this terrifying division between Jews and Arabs inside Israel.

BEARDSLEY: Khenin says this party is swimming against the tide of extreme nationalism and racism. But he says Jewish-Arab partnership is the only way for Israel's future.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.