An unlikely candidate has emerged as a viable contender in the race to be the next Tel Aviv mayor - and turned a sleepy campaign into an ideological struggle over the city's future.
Dov Khenin, an MK for the non-Zionist Hadash [Communist party], is predicted to win nearly a quarter of the votes when the city goes to the polls on November 11, and may face a run-off against the incumbent Ron Huldai.
Mr Khenin, 50, is running a low-budget, volunteer-based campaign as the head of the non-factional Ir Lekulanu [A City for Everyone] local-election party, which, he claimed this week, combines Likud members, ecological activists and those concerned about the lack of mid-range housing in the city. Indeed, their candidate for city council is Aharon Maduel, a Likud member.
Against all odds, the Ir Lekulanu campaign has created a buzz throughout the city. The party's banners are visible on balconies and hanging from windows, and their T-shirts have become highly fashionable. A massive bloggers' campaign has attacked Mr Huldai's policies and backs Ir Lekulanu's plans on issues such as transportation, education and rising rent rates.
The only Jewish MK out of three Hadash representatives in the Knesset, Mr Khenin has been at pains to distance himself from more radical Hadash policies. Speaking at a packed gathering in a yoga centre in the gentrified Neveh Zedek neighbourhood, Mr Khenin stressed that the issues the party addresses are local rather than "the permanent borders with Syria".
"It seems that the national politics are behind the needs of the Israeli society," he said. "This is a municipal move which, I hope, will have implications on the way in which national politics is organised. I intend to win the mayoral elections."
But many in the left-wing establishment are reluctant to support him. Yael Dayan of Tel Aviv 1, Mr Huldai's Kadima and Labour-backed party, said: "Tel Aviv won't go for Communism. It's legitimate for anyone to run for the mayoral post, but the Zionist issue is not a question of standing or not when Hatikva is played, but rather of who is managing educational systems. I don't think that being a Hadash person plays in his favour."
Nevertheless, according to a recent poll, Mr Khenin is tipped to win 24 per cent of the votes, while Mr Huldai would get 41 per cent. Should Mr Huldai receive less than 40 per cent, a second round will be held. Ir Lechulanu spokeswoman Sharon Shahaf hopes they will win this second round, if not the first one, pointing out that the gap shown in the poll in favour of Mr Huldai may diminish on election day due to low turn-out, "while our supporters are highly motivated to vote".