Finally, the day has arrived. A beautiful sunny day with a cloudless sky, blue and bright and one would never ever suspect that this gorgeous morning marked the termination of weeks of mud-slinging, backbiting, virulently angry speech and intolerable noise and debates about election day-and that only came from my neighbor’s apartment!
If anything Israeli political campaigns demonstrate it is the complete inculcation of the Jewish ethic of never being totally satisfied with anything. Like the old saying “Off the only possible two solutions, I always choose the third.” Depending on the number of political parties that are vying for the 120 seats in our Knesset (Parliament) the choice can end up not the third, but the fourth or even the fifth.
Sometimes it seems that every Israeli has his (or her) own party with issues jumping from national security to the price of cottage cheese. There are so many different points of view about every topic that it makes one’s hair stand on end provided you have any left after ripping the roots out of your head trying to understand the crazy quilt that makes up this tiny, Jewish country’s political scenery.
It isn’t just right vs. left, but far right vs, moderate right, far left vs. moderate left, a center that has two parts and even the Arab parties managed to join together to form a single list for the election and might even end up the third largest bloc in the government. Oy.
And I haven’t even started on the personal attacks ranging from a scandal involving Ms Netanyahu’s deposit bottles and the way she treats the help in the prime minister’s residence to the cartoons portraying the Zionist Union’s candidate as a wimpy infant with the nickname “Buji” which is a Hebrew appellation for a pretty baby face.
One would think that a nation of only eight million people would be more united but the only thing that brings Israelis together is not a national election that will determine our future, but endless discussion on what we can either agree or disagree on. Democracy in Israel flows from the coffee shops to the Knesset, from the parks to the parliament and from senior citizens to seasoned politicians-and I love every bit of it.
Dissension and democracy are two sides of the same coin. A people that remains doctrinaire will decline. Sure, we have the overriding threats from our dangerous neighborhood, but there are also domestic issues, like the skyrocketing price of housing and the increasing cost of living that also flavor ones’ political palate. But you can’t build a house and keep it safe when there is no security and there is no security when your elderly neighbor who might be a Holocaust survivor, has to choose between paying their rent or paying their light bill. Security has to cover the inside as well as the outside.
Am I painting a bleak picture, absolutely not. Israel is a vibrant democracy with much to be proud of. Despite four major wars and thousands of terrorist attacks, we have remained true to the Zionist ethos of self defense and self help. Perhaps our very splintering into a myriad of political factions is the source of our strength-that we refuse to be dictated too or dictated over.Problems, sure, but look at this tiny country and its achievements despite the wars and the terror-what other country on Earth has faced similar challenges and there is no other nation that is daily threatened with extinction.
Our politics are loud and intemperate as are our people and although it might seem crazy to outsiders, it is befitting the Jewish people-a people that has never accepted that things cannot change for the better, even in the face of the worst that mankind has brought upon them. A people bereft of sovereignty and self government for 2000 years is a society in the making anew. We are an ancient people in a young republic and might I say, we’ve done rather well. Consider that it took the United States two centuries and a Civil War to end slavery and another one hundred years to eradicate the inequities of that barbaric system with friendly neighbors to its north and south.
Yes, I am rambling a bit but that is because I am so proud of my tiny Jewish country and so blessed to be living here and yes, I am boastful. In fact, I’ll tell you the best event of this day for me. My wife and I, like all Israelis eligible to vote, received a postcard in the mail a couple of weeks ago, telling us where our polling place is located. We lucked out that we could vote at the elementary school about two blocks from our apartment.
The fences around the school were covered with posters with the names of the major candidates and their pictures all over them. At the entrance to the school there was the usual policeman (only this time it was a police woman) . Even though the postcard said where to vote, the school rooms were divided among certain streets and house numbers as to where to go to check in. I showed the guard the postcard and she said, in Hebrew, “Cheder 43” (Room 43).
So my wife and I go into the room, show the person at the desk our ID booklets, she checks our names off the list and hands us each a blue envelope in which to place the paper with the symbol of the party we want to vote for inside.You see, in Israel, we vote for a party not a person and each party is represented by a Hebrew letter or letters, and you put the paper with that symbol in the envelope. seal it, and drop it into a blue box by the table where the person to whom you gave your ID booklet sits and she hands you back the booklet. No hanging chads, no switches to flip down, just drop the envelope in the box through the slot on the top.
Well, we started to leave and my wife asked me in English, “Did you leave the coffee pot on?” I said no and the policewoman asked us, in English, “Where are you from?” Well, it turns out that she lived a few streets from us when we lived in Brooklyn. Go figure! Now you know why I call this a tiny Jewish country.