Last month, as the approaching elections began to black-hole virtually all other aspects of political discourse, I wondered out loud (well, out loud on line) whether it might not be correct for me to boycott the January 2013 elections for the 19th Knesset of Israel. My reasoning was as follows:
(1) The far-right wing is going to win. But that’s defeatist! Why put your all into trying to help the Mainstream Left win? Because (2) on the Question of Palestine -which is far and away the most important question in these elections, no matter what Shelly Yehimovich wants you to believe- there is no substantive difference between the far-right and the Mainstream “Left” (for an excellent take on why Tzipi Livni is worse than Bibi, see Idan Landau’s recent piece. For an explanation of why Shelly Yehimovich just as right as the rest of ’em, google search ”Shelly on Settlements“). Fine, don’t vote False-Left then. Vote Real-Left! (3) The question then is does the existence of a small, ineffectual Real-Left in the Knesset serve to maintain a false front of democracy to the world, as if there is a vibrant and kicking opposition here, a robust democracy, when in truth, there is not?
The third point was by far the most tenuous, and the one I myself was least convinced of its rightness. As such, I presented it with a major caveat: Not voting is only worthwhile if it is done as part of a campaign or movement. Otherwise, not voting as an individual is basically an act of disengagement and disconnection, and that is something that I, as one who believes with all of my little heart in the moral imperative of political engagement, do not advocate.
After writing the aforementioned blob and discussing the issue with friends and activists, in person and on Facebook, I was quickly convinced to vote, from the perspectives of half a loaf (or even 1/100th of a loaf) is better than none, of small change that will come from Left-Jewish and Arab MKs mattering, and of individual disengagement being dangerous and futile. Once re-deciding to vote, it was clear to me that I would vote for a Jewish-Arab party or an Arab party. As decent as Meretz may be, the option of voting for a party that speaks in the language of Jewish Nationalism and Jewish Statism strikes me as morally and symbolically untenable, especially in light of the horrifying and glamorous rise of the blood-and-soil hyper-nationalist Jewish Home Party. Jewish-Arab cooperation and shared living, regardless of whether Israel-Palestine breaks into two states or remains one entity, is the only way to move towards a just future for all people living in this place.
Soon after this process, I was sitting by my computer, sipping some beverage and starting into nowhere, pondering whether to vote for Da’am or Hada”sh, or perhaps even for Balad, despite my preference for jointness, when a friend who had read my deliberations posted a link on my Facebook wall: “Have you seen this?” The link was to a Facebook initiative called “Real Democracy.” The concept behind the initiative, started by a number of far-Left Israeli activists, was that as Israelis who recognize that our democratic elections will likely have a far more devastating impact on the lives of millions of Palestinians living in undemocratic conditions, to say the least, under our government’s brutal and horrific military Occupation, we might consider “giving our vote,” via a Facebook post, to a Palestinian living under Occupation. My initial reaction was one of hesitation: I wanted to choose the party most closely aligned with every nuance my personal ideology, part of the democratic ideal. Would I really be willing to forfeit my own agency in this process?
And then I thought again: If the main guiding star of my rumination on how to vote has been a belief in Jewish-Arab partnership, could I ask for a more direct partnership than this– to vote with a Palestinian, to share my unearned privilege, to question the separation, the normalized-non-democracy, the constant and insane injustice that is meant to remain unquestioned? And so, I decided to join the Real Democracy initiative, and am offering my vote to a Palestinian, and plan to vote as instructed. Will other Israelis join this initiative? I hope so, not least those of us who chose to move here, who have been granted citizenship or have voting rights along with our dual-citizenship abroad. These elections will likely go horridly for those of us concerned with human rights and true equality, let alone for Palestinians whose human rights and human equality will be even further trampled and disregarded, but at least we can use them as a platform for an initiative that calls into question our privileges and the inequality that has become a basic and accepted fact of existence in Israel of 2013.