Whether you like it or not, voting is a privilege
Confession: though I was eligible to vote in the last two elections both in America and in Israel, this was going to be my first time making it to the polls for either. For the past two American elections I had been too lazy to cast an absentee ballot (and felt that as a Democratic voter in Pennsylvania it didn’t make a huge difference anyway) and during the last Israeli election I felt that I didn’t know enough about any of the parties to vote responsibly.
In light of this sad fact, and the constant jibes I received from my politically conscientious friends and family, I made two important decisions. First and foremost, that this time around I would finally vote. Second, that I would spend every spare minute I had learning about the Israeli political system and the different parties. This time, I wouldn’t shy away from the voter’s booth because I felt I didn’t understand enough about Israeli politics.
I learned very quickly that voting in Israel is no American version of choosing between the lesser of two evils. This was no simple choice between Democrat and Republican. In Israel my options varied far and wide on the political, religious, economic and social spectrums, to the point of which I would have over 30 options to choose from on Election Day. I started to truly understand the task that lay before me.
No sooner did I learn about having over 30 parties to choose from, than I learned that I even needed to have an ‘election strategy.’ Which political parties would actually cross the threshold and take part in the new government? Which would be willing to join a coalition with the right or the left? How much power would a party have serving in the opposition? Who would have the necessary political know-how to navigate the Knesset if they made it in? Did any of the politicians actually mean what they were saying? All of these issues and more would have to factor in to my final choice.
To my chagrin, my decision to vote became a heavy burden on my shoulders; I started to contemplate why I moved here in the first place. My vote literally changed from moment to moment in the build-up to the elections.
First I decided to vote for Yesh Atid because they seemed to be moderate and new, next I decided to vote for Likud because they were tried and true (and because the Netanyahu brothers are boyhood heroes of mine), then I decided to vote for Labor because of their impressive socio-economic policies, finally I wanted to vote for Bayit Hayehudi because Bennett is an infectious speaker and engaging (and because he makes being dati leumi look so darned cool!), then I went around again, and on it went.
The fact that my Aunt (who is often my guru on Israeli culture though this would surely amuse her to know that) and other Israel veterans confessed that they themselves often went into the voter’s booth without being a hundred percent sure who they were going to vote for did little to reassure me.
Though this is, to me anyway, the least important part of the article, I finally made a decision. When I walked into the voter’s booth, I calmly found the ticket for the Labor party, closed the envelope and then placed my ballot in the box. Maybe I am naïve to believe that a ‘revitalized’ labor party can reinvent itself and do positive things, but I have hope and it was the best decision I could make with the knowledge I had.
Sitting here writing this, I am still not 100 percent about my decision. Not that I feel any regret, I think Labor is a great party and will fight for social and economic changes I want to see take place. Rather I wonder if there is really any difference between the parties. I know that in an obvious way there are differences, at least in their names, and the things that they say they will do. But it was Rabin who originally championed the Settlements, it was Begin who signed the peace treaty with Egypt and it was Ariel Sharon of all people who initiated the pull-out from Gaza. So maybe it’s not so obvious what each party stands for, and what they will actually do while serving in the Knesset.
It will be interesting to see how the coalition will be built (a crucial part of the process which I may have left out but I haven’t forgotten), or if it will be built at all. The only thing I think most ‘moderate’ Israelis agree on, is that at least it appears that Bibi has an alternative of building a government without catering to the Ultra-orthodox parties. Whether or not he takes advantage of this option is yet to be seen.
Still whether or not there is a real difference between the parties, and whether or not the politicians follow through on their promises, the most important part of all of this is that the public still cares and still turned up to vote, indecisive though they may be. The very fact that myself and 66% of my fellow countrypeople showed up to vote, is a victory in of itself. Recalling my feeling that to vote was a burden brings to mind a favorite song of mine by rock group Incubus that suddenly seems extremely relevant, “isn’t it strange that a gift could be an enemy…isn’t it weird that a privilege could feel like a chore…I see you in line dragging your feet, you have my sympathy, the day you were born, you were born free, that is your privilege.”