Peta Jones Pellach
Teacher and activist in Jerusalem
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A dangerous phone call

A pro-Netanyahu drive posing as a voter survey and designed solely to elicit praise for the PM's 'achievements' should be illegal

I was caught yesterday.

I had just finished a task and was ready to take a break when the phone rang. I answered and when asked if I would agree to participate in a survey, I said yes.

The first few questions were innocuous enough. Then, the intention became clear: “Who is the preferred prime minister?” A list of men. I said none of them.

“Which of [the same list of men] would you vote for?” None of them.

“Which of the following statements are true?”

The statements spoke of Netanyahu’s “achievements” as Prime Minister.

Of course, they could not apply to anyone else – no one else has been Prime Minister, so no one else could have been involved in secret international negotiations or in directing the government. Isn’t that obvious? Apparently not.

“What things are important to you in a prime minister?”

My first answer, “ethical behavior,” and my second, “selfless dedication to the country” were absent from the list.

There was a list of things that might be important to me when I cast my vote. Everything is important – the economy, foreign relations and a lot more. Israel has done well in many of those arenas. I was frustrated as I acknowledged that. What is even more important to me, as an Israeli? To be proud of the values that we exemplify as a nation, to know that our government works for the good of all its citizens and to see the synergy of compassion, energy and creativity at every level of society, from the Knesset to the streets.

Instead of being able to express my priorities, I found myself reluctantly expressing appreciation for secondary achievements – and acknowledging that Netanyahu had been Prime Minister when they had taken place.

It is reminiscent of the worst dictatorships in history to equate the achievements of the country with the achievements of its leader, to imagine that only one person is capable of leadership and to discredit any opposition. In vigorous democracies, leadership changes as a result of the population’s criticism of the incumbent – and that is a good thing.  Inexperienced candidates replace experienced ones because that is how you have leadership change – that is a positive thing.

We need change but we are subject to fear-mongering that suggests that change is a dangerous thing.

We are being told that our vote should be either an expression of gratitude for what has been achieved or a rejection of those achievements. I suggest that our vote should be aspirational, towards a vision of society and government that has not yet been. This “survey” left no room for that sort of thinking.

Push-polling – a practice by which a marketing campaign is disguised as a survey – has been banned in most places in Australia. Here, it flourishes – and the Likud Party has refined the method.

I explained to the very nice woman conducting the “survey” that nothing would make me vote for Netanyahu. I told her that I was offended by the absence of any female names in the long list of potential candidates to lead the country.  She responded, predictably, by saying that she was not allowed to digress from the questions in front of her. I was sympathetic to her and to all the other women whose voices I could hear in the background, just trying to make a living and possibly experiencing a degree of discomfort with how they were doing it.

As most of us are at home under lockdown, the opportunities are ripe to reach people by phone, and chances high that they will agree to participate in a survey. I wonder what the impact will be on voting behavior. By constantly hearing a list of men who might run the country, are we being conditioned to think that our only options are men? On hearing what Netanyahu has done, are we being brainwashed into thinking of these things as his personal achievements?

These phone calls are dangerous.

Australia is right to ban push-polling. If Likud wants an opportunity to read a list of the wonderful things that Netanyahu has done to me over the phone, they should have the decency to introduce themselves and their intention honestly.

About the Author
A fifth generation Australian, Peta made Aliyah in 2010. She is Senior Fellow of the Kiverstein Institute, Director of Educational Activities for the Elijah Interfaith Institute, secretary of the Jerusalem Rainbow Group for Jewish-Christian Encounter and Dialogue, a co-founder of Praying Together in Jerusalem and a teacher of Torah and Jewish History. She has visited places as exotic as Indonesia and Iceland to participate in and teach inter-religious dialogue. She also broadcasts weekly on SBS radio (Australia) with the latest news from Israel. Her other passions are Scrabble and Israeli folk-dancing.
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