Voting from afar

The election place where I voted in Rishon Lezion, the Haviv school, must have opened early. When I arrived at 8:15 in the morning there was already a good-sized line waiting to vote. YISRAEL HAYOM had already been published and I was among the many carrying a copy under my arm.

Behind me in line was a French Jew married to an Australian Jew. They had arrived on a flight from Paris the day prior to elections.

Their only complaint was the lack of voting from afar. As the Frenchman explained, he could be able to vote in all French elections even if he was not in France. It would be a simple matter to go to the nearest French consulate or embassy in whatever country he happened to be, and there he was permitted to cast his ballot.

His Australian wife chimed in, supporting her husband’s complaint. “In every country in Europe, citizens who are away from their country at election time are entitled to vote in their diplomatic mission wherever they may be”.

Israel appears to be the only country which requires its citizens living or working abroad to return to Israel, the only place where they could vote.

There are almost one million Israelis living in far distant lands. In order to vote in Israeli elections if they so choose to do requires expensive flights and living accomadations. It seems that Israel is punishing its overseas citizens by requiring them to spend enormous sums of money simply to place a small ballot in a sealed envelope into the blue ballot box.

Nevertheless, I and a few others in the line who overheard our conversation gave a yasher koach or a chazak baruch to the man and his wife for being loyal and devoted citizens of our Israel.

One of the difficulties that overseas Israelis often face is an inability to understand the policy of many of the twenty-nine parties on the ballot. But it is not only them. I too, although I knew in advance that I would vote for Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid of the Kachol v’Lavan party (Blue and White), nevertheless I did not know the policies and principles of many of the Jewish parties and certainly none in the Joint List Arab parties.

I suppose because an a priori decision for whom to vote disregards interest in other parties and candidates.

Pre-election campaigns in Israel, unlike most civilized and democratic nations in the world, are enveloped in filth, degradation, name-calling and humiliation of “enemy” opposing candidates.

Israel also suffers from a “blabbermouth” disease. During televised news programs, a commentator will address a question to one individual and four or five others join in the response, each one shouting at the same time over the voice of others with disagreements and outlandish criticisms.

Perhaps it is due to the fact that we are a Middle East country where “blabbermouthing” is common. Unlike European and North and South American countries, Israel sadly lacks courtesy. It is not in our vocabulary !

I remember an incident in 1957 when I accompanied a neighbor in Rishon Lezion to the British embassy in Tel-Aviv. He was the manager of a glass-blowing factory and had been invited to England by a British glass company. He was required to appear at the British embassy in order to apply for a visa. Since his English was poor he requested me to accompany him and translate when and if necessary.

We arrived half-hour before the assigned time. A member of the consulate department invited us to be seated. And he offered both of us a cup of tea. Surprisingly, the tea was not British. It was our own national Wissotsky tea and we drank it with relish.

When we were invited into the main consulate office, once again we were invited to be seated by the consul-general who stood up, shook our hands, and told us his name.

And again, before discussing the reason for the visa, we were invited to another cup of tea ! The consul-general was familiar with the British glass company, one that he said was quite well-known in Britain, and he inquired how long my friend expected to remain in Manchester.

After some further talk, he suggested that we go out for lunch nearby and we should return to the embassy in two hours.

As we ate our falafel with humus and tehina, I jokingly told my neighbor that he would not find such exotic food in England. Between bites, he constantly repeated “aizeh nimusim, aizeh adivut”.. what good manners, what courtesy, what etiquette the consul general has, adding “you cannot find such courtesy in any Israeli office”. Of course, from personal experiences, I had to agree with him.

When later we returned to the embassy, the consul who originally greeted us handed my neighbor his Israeli passport with the British visa stamped on the second page.

Stunned by British efficiency, he remarked over and over again on the way home, “aizeh nimusim, aizeh adivut”.

Living in a country with few good manners and certainly very little courtesies, we were both happily astounded by our experience at the British embassy.

That was in 1957. Israeli manners have not improved much since then.

Waiting for us now are the challenging words of Netanyahu and Gantz as they propose sharing a united policy, probably a rotation of the prime minister’s office after the first two years.

As for voting from afar I am pleased to be able to cast my ballot in the embassy in Tel-Aviv or now possibly in Jerusalem for another country whose passport I carry also.

Oh, if only Israel would learn “nimusim” and “adivut” without the shouting and name-calling, how happy we would be. We could be almost…almost… as polite as the British!

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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