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Vote for Anything, for Anyone – Just Vote!

Illustration: Denis Shifrin

General election 2015 . . . a nation goes to the polls 

We are about to have a general election and we are being given another opportunity to decide who is going to lead Israel for the foreseeable future. Once again we are being overloaded with information from the extreme right to the extreme left, aimed at convincing us to support a particular candidate or political party. Some of the information is true, some of it is misleading, and anything that reflects less than positively on a particular policy platform is omitted or glossed over.

The issues, which from election to election never seem to change much, are numerous and extremely complex. Questions of national security, macro-economics, education, social welfare, health, inter-community relations, religion and foreign affairs are not open to simple "black or white" answers but are made up of elements that are shaded and sometimes contradictory. Few of us are capable of comprehending all the elements of all the questions.

We are not given the opportunity to vote on individual issues. We have only one single vote that must be given to one political party, somehow expecting that this or that party will fulfill our aspirations on all of the issues. This is unrealistic. Not only is it unlikely that we can find a party that could satisfy us on every subject, we know that in the end many pre-election promises will have to be sacrificed to the exigencies of coalition compromises.

Since our would-be leaders understand this all only too well, they aim to simplify. They search for the one core subject, the one gut-wrenching issue, the subject of the voter's greatest hope or greatest fear. This is then translated into an eye-catching slogan or headline, and hammered home day after day in the run-up to the election, hoping that this and only this will guide the citizen when he/she selects which slip of paper to insert into the voting envelope.

Anybody who feels strongly about more than one issue may well be faced with a dilemma; how to find a party or leader with a satisfactory position and credibility on more than one subject. However, the more common problem is what to do when no single party leader is able to convince us as to his/her credibility, capability, political acumen, honesty, steadfastness, and experience in crisis management. The voter is tired of having been misled, disappointed and frustrated by the performance of candidates when faced with post-election day realities. So the question arises whether to vote at all.

It is not difficult to understand how some remain unconvinced as to the importance of their one single vote, especially when pre-election opinion polls seem to predict the outcome. The usual explanation is: "Why bother to vote when it is certain who is going to win, and whoever wins, nothing is going to change anyway, so let's enjoy the day off work and then continue to grouse about the government we get stuck with."

The syndrome of not voting at all is especially prevalent in the political center. Here is where the complications seem most apparent and where the decisions are less clear-cut. Those susceptible to the 'one-issue' manifesto, whether on the far right or the far left, are those who are most likely to be politically active and who will most probably go out and cast their ballot. And here lies the problem, whatever one's political persuasion. If much of the center effectively opts out of the system, the field is left open for the ideologically more extreme.

Voter apathy is the greatest possible danger to a stable and fair society. Unless there is a genuine consensus, the majority are liable to be led in a direction acceptable only to a minority. That consensus can only be reached if all eligible voters exercise their right to make their opinions known.

For the past 67 years, it has seemed axiomatic that Israel is or strives to be a democratic society. It has seemed entirely possible that this democratic society can at the same time fulfill the Zionist dream of a national home for the Jewish people. This despite a continuing debate about 'Who is a Jew' and about how our Jewishness and Israeli-ness should be defined.

In recent months, questions which may always have existed just below the level of everyday consciousness, have finally surfaced: Can a 'Jewish state' also be a 'democratic state' or is there a latent contradiction between the two? Can or should the concept of equal rights for all coexist with the special rights of being Jewish in the State of Israel?

Recently proposed legislation has suddenly turned 'democratic' into a loaded word. It calls into question what we mean by it, and if suits us to be associated with it. This issue of self-definition is perhaps the gravest that we as a society have ever faced. More significant than any other, whether it be the Iranian threat, suicide bombers or the price of a milk pudding, this is the fundamental premise on which our future in this country is going to be built.

I therefore propose that this is the one core issue that should bring us to the polling station, the one issue that should be forefront in our minds when we cast our ballots. What kind of Israel do we want for ourselves and our children? Which political party and/or party leader best articulates what each individual one of us would like Israel to be?

Do I want a Jewish state, where Jewish religious law, the Hebrew language and Jewish customs take precedence over anything else, with some modest consideration being given to the rights of non-Jewish minorities?

Or do I want a genuinely democratic state, with equal rights and opportunities for all existing citizens, and yet with an immigration policy that still reflects the aspirations of being a national home for the Jewish people?

Most parties will try to position themselves somewhere in between; they will try to appear as being either center-right or center-left. So you the voter have four options; right, center-right, center-left or left. Decide where you belong, and choose your candidate accordingly.

Whatever you do, choose – don't stay away. Don't cast a useless, blank ballot as a sort of futile protest. Vote for anything, anyone, but VOTE. 

 

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Saturday, 29 January 2022

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