Laura Wharton
Jerusalem City Councilor, adjunct lecturer in political science

What Israelis Can Learn from the U.S. Elections

A lot of eyes are on the elections in the US, anxiously awaiting Tuesday’s outcome. Yet whatever the results, there are already lessons to be learned.

One lesson is that despite the massive changes in communications, many elected officals and aspiring politicians are woefully out of touch with their constituents. A lot of Democrats are still in shock that the upstart Republican opponent is neck-and neck with theirs. A lot of Republicans can’t believe that Democrats believe Clinton is an excellent candidate. It brings to mind the surprise vote by Great Britain to leave the European Union and the rejection of the FARC peace treaty by Colombians. Technology is a great thing and social media bring people together, but appparently they mostly bring together like-minded people. Worse, politicians seem to make good use of them for spreading their own ideas but not for developing their own understanding. Whoever is concerned with democracy should start thinking about how to reach out and listen, interact, and not just spew out self-serving propaganda.

Another lesson to be learned is that there are real threats to democracy in the making. The idea of enabling and encouraging people to vote was meant to be a new and better alternative to might making right and a method to minimalize violence. Thinking was that if everyone could agree on voting as method for settling who would rule, and if everyone were given the chance to participate, there would be fewer disputes, upsets, and violence. The terms would be set out in advance and the results would be considered legitimate. Sadly, in more and more places, the rules are no longer accepted. Trump refused to confirm he would accept defeat. Russia has apparently been attempting to disrupt the elections. The “Three Percent Security Force” in Georgia and the “Oath Keepers” have reportedly been preparing themselves and their rifles in the case of what they deem mismanagement at the polls. Many of these militias have been around for decades, and in Israel there is also no shortage of armed groups whose existence is mostly ignored. In the territories, IDF bases, soldiers and vehicles have been attacked by our citizens with virtually no response. In the US, in Israel, and in many other western democracies it is high time that the tolerance of intolerants comes to an end.  The US might have some hard work to do post-Tuesday, but whether there is actual unrest after Tuesday or just ongoing threats, Israelis should take the time to consider pre-empting at home.

A third lesson is no less important.  Whether Clinton does win, which remains most likely, or not, she has her party to thank for it.  Past, present and future rivals have all come to her aid. Obama and his wife, Bernie Sanders, representatives and activists all over the country have been working night and day for her — and not necessarily because they adore her. Many are motivated out of fear of the alternative. But they are also working from a very extensive and well-developed network of party faithfuls all across the country. In order for Clinton to win, Democrats all over the country will be working to get their voters out to vote, including driving them to the polls. If Trump loses, it may in part be he doesn’t have the infrastructure to mobilize all his supporters. Modern democracies are based on parties, and one of the main reasons for much of our disappointing situation is that too many people are trying to circumvent the party system, meant to help identify, groom, and promote worthy candidates as well as provide them the supports of all sorts to enable them to succeed. If we want to improve our governments we should pay more attention to cultivating our parties.

The elections on Tuesday are bound to be interesting regardless of who wins. It will be to all of our benefit if we look not just at the final count but examine how our friends and family across the Atlantic found themselves where they are.

About the Author
Dr Laura Wharton is a member of Jerusalem's City Council as a representative of Meretz and an adjunct lecturer in the political science department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Born in the U.S., she immigrated to Israel after receiving a B.A. in the government department of Harvard University and then served a full term in the Israel Defense Forces. She subsequently completed an M.A. and a Ph.D. at Hebrew University. For research that later served as the basis for her book "Is the Party Over? How Israel Lost Its Social Agenda" (Yad Levi Eshkol, 2019) she was awarded the Prime Minister's Prize in Memory of Levi Eshkol. She is a mother of two and has been living in Jerusalem for more than two decades.
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