Naomi Chazan
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What if you don’t vote?

Planning to skip voting? Don't. Planning to vote strategically rather than your conscience? Don't do that either
Illustrative. Sheets of newly printed ballots, at the Palphot printing house in Karnei Shomron, in preparation for Israel's upcoming general elections, August 28, 2019. (Flash90)
Illustrative. Sheets of newly printed ballots, at the Palphot printing house in Karnei Shomron, in preparation for Israel's upcoming general elections, August 28, 2019. (Flash90)

Tomorrow, Israelis will go to the polls for the second time this year. These are, by all accounts, critical elections in the deepest sense of the term. They will determine whether Israel continues on its present trajectory under the aegis of Binyamin Netanyahu, makes a dramatic turnaround under a center-left coalition, or opts for some form of a national unity alternative built on the two major parties. The consequences of each of these options for Israel’s future is, without a doubt, earth-shaking.

Yet many citizens remain cynical, disgusted, fatalistic or indifferent. Inundated by promises, distortions, conflicting pleas and fake news, they are still at a loss about what to do. Some have fled the country for the duration, others intend to stay away from the polling stations, and a full 33 percent of those who plan to vote still have not made up their minds. The only thing that appears to unite everyone is the deep-felt desire to end what has turned into a seemingly interminable, unusually divisive, and incredibly destructive set of elections as quickly as possible and move forward without fear of yet another round at the polls within a year.

The quest for some closure, however, is now only in the hands of each and every citizen. Only you can decide what kind of Israel you want to live in. You alone can determine whether the induced chaos of the past few months will continue unabated or whether the time has come to begin — if possible — to stitch together the fragments of Israel’s polity, rehabilitate its flailing institutions and deal with a host of ongoing issues. And it is up to you to provide direction. But to do so, you might want to consider adopting these three guiding tips.

1. Decide to vote

The overwhelming reluctance to turn out at the polls is widespread under present circumstances. Too many people feel that whatever ballot they cast really will not make a difference. Others are hesitating because they believe that the parties present no real choices. Some have lost faith in the system in its entirety. And too large a number are fed up with the electoral process as a whole. These widespread sentiments indicate a loss of trust in the system in its entirety. It is all so tempting to just succumb to this trend. Over 32.1% did so in April. Pundits are forecasting even lower participation rates this round.

Absenting oneself from the polls does not, however, protect any citizen from living with their consequences. It also does not absolve you of responsibility for the outcome. Non-participation in elections is itself a political act. By not voting, you may be giving a clear advantage to parties that represent ideas you reject, worldviews you find abhorrent and policies you cannot countenance.

Your absence is particularly counterproductive in these elections because all predictions indicate yet another political stalemate. The “Get Out the Vote” (GOTV) campaigns on all sides of the political spectrum have reached a crescendo, as a higher turnout rate can tilt the balance in an especially close race. That is all the more reason to decide to make a difference.

If you still have doubts, think about this: there are certain groups that consistently exhibit high turnout rates (the ultra-Orthodox, settlers), others that have abysmally low rates (most notably Arab society in Israel, with barely 48% in the last elections five months ago) and still others with mediocre participation (most notably residents of Tel Aviv, with just over 60%). By staying away from the polls, you cannot influence those with whom you disagree (you might actually be giving them a boost), when you can cast a ballot for what is closest to your beliefs. At the same time, you give a lifeline to the very essence of democratic life: exercising the right to select your representatives and the policies they promote.

2. This is your choice alone

With the amount of hype surrounding elections in general — and these elections in particular — it is difficult to remember that on election day, it is only you in the ballot box. This means that it is necessary to filter out the background noises and decide for yourself how you want to cast your ballot. This, admittedly, is no easy chore.

From the outset, despite their early slumber in the heat of the summer, these have been especially ugly elections. The amount of abusive rhetoric, recriminations, mud-slinging, and sheer animosity has reached new lows. Almost every boundary — legal, normative, moral — has been breached. Yet the sheer and utter repugnance many are experiencing is, of its own, a very poor guide to action.

This is especially so, given the unusual amount of misinformation and even outright lies being bandied around with abandon. Indeed, this electoral season has been characterized not only by exceptionally high doses of unachievable promises and purposeful misinformation, but also by systematic lies designed to shake your confidence in your ability to decide on your own.

Matters have been made even worse by repeated attempts to question the integrity of the voting process. The (failed) last-minute effort to legislate the introduction of cameras into the voting station and — far more significantly — to cast doubts on the outcome of the vote compromise the basic democratic principle of the secrecy of the ballot. Charges of potential fraud are neither innocent nor neutral; they are meant to debunk opponents and push the undecided into a particular fold. If you succumb to these voices, if you bow to the fears they seek to instill, then you also accept their underlying premise: that even your vote is suspect. Don’t be fooled. Make up your own mind.

3. Let your conscience speak

Israelis are noted for their tendency to engage in what they have honed into a veritable craft: strategic voting. By engaging in multiple calculations not only about party preferences, but also about coalition construction, all too many are still debating whom to vote for and how to explain their choice to themselves — let alone to anybody else.

This penchant has two fatal flaws. In the first instance, strategic considerations remain pure guesswork until the results are known. To gamble on them during the voting process often means serving the interests of those views and interests most antithetical to your own convictions. This has left too many voters with a bad taste in the past as they watched their preferred choice slide beneath the electoral threshold. It has also often hindered the cause they wished to promote. It is best not to be swayed in this way again.

Second, when you ignore your own preferences for some supposedly greater good, you are essentially belittling your own judgment. Thus, according to a weekend survey in Yedioth Ahronoth, only 33% of Israelis like Netanyahu (as opposed to 40% of Israelis who like Trump), but close to 50% intend to give him their backing on Tuesday. Some 36.5% of Israeli Jews and 9% of Israeli Arabs oppose any attempt to curtail the right of the High Court to strike down legislation passed in the Knesset; nevertheless, a much larger percentage are going to cast their ballot in favor of parties who intend to do precisely that. In the same vein, according to the latest Israel Democracy Institute poll, only 48% of Israelis are optimistic about the security situation, and only 43% feel the same about the future of Israel’s democracy, yet many will continue to prop up the parties that have led to their growing unease.

Elections are your chance to have a say on the economy, the social situation, health, defense, relations between Israel and its neighbors, the kind of country you want to live in and the values you hold dear. It is also your opportunity to clearly voice who you don’t want to lead you — and who you do. Don’t throw away this precious trust by bowing to ephemeral — and probably misconstrued — considerations. Take advantage of the moment: put in your two cents. You’ll feel better about yourself and you might contribute to making this a better a place.

In a few hours Israelis will face a different, in all likelihood extremely complex, political reality. At least you should feel confident that you have done everything in your power to help guide the ship of state and carve out its course in the period ahead. Good luck to you — and to all of us.

About the Author
Naomi Chazan is professor (emerita) of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A former Member of the Knesset and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, she currently serves as a senior research fellow at the Truman Research Institute at the Hebrew University and the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.
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