Aaron Kalman
Working for Israel and the Jewish People

Did fundamental values matter in the elections?

Israel’s 2013 elections were, it seems, the elections of names, faces and personalities; the ideology behind them apparently less important than it used to be.

On Tuesday the Israeli public went to the polls, and nearly 70% of the country chose the 120 people who will call the shots and make decisions that affect our lives.

There were 34 parties in the running, only 12 of which received at least 2% of the popular vote to enter the Knesset. However, fewer people said they voted for parties. More voted for household names of people without a clear political record, rather than a clear-cut ideology.

In the campaigns it was rare to see more than a single face from any party on the billboards and TV. Even large parties gave center stage to their leader (be it Benjamin Netanyahu, Yair Lapid, Shelly Yachimovich or Naftali Bennett) and kept the others in the background.

Even the slogans spoke about the cover, not the content of the book. In a pose resembling Uncle Sam Netanyahu called for people to support “a strong prime minster.” The Labor Party ran ads with the writing “Bibi [Netanyahu] is good for the rich. Shelly [Yachimovich] is good for you.”

Yes, there were Likud-Beytenu posters featuring Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, and Labor tried to show its “team” and not only captain Yachimovich. Even Ayelet Shaked — the lone secular figure on the Jewish Home’s list — made an appearance. But those were the exceptions, not the rule.

More than half a million Israelis voted for Lapid. Physically, they placed a card for his party, Yesh Atid, which went on to win 19 seats and (in its first ever campaign) emerge as the second largest faction in the Knesset. How many of those half million voters knew (dare I say know?) the names of numbers 17, 18 or 19 on the party’s slate?

Most probably voted Lapid, and assumed the rest would be OK.

Tzipi Livni formed Hatnua, self-described as “center” and tagged by the media and general public as part of the “center-left” bloc. Right behind the Likud-raised politician (who shifted leftward with Ariel Sharon and Kadima) are two former heads of the left-wing Labor Party; number four is a retired general, leaning further to the right than those two.

Hatnua won six seats in the next Knesset, but which ideology did the people who chose them want? Was it Amram Mitzna’s (#2) socialist outlook on economic issues, or Elazar Stern’s (#4) capitalistic one? Stern’s firm stance on “security first” in diplomatic issues, or Amir Peretz’s (#3) belief that Israel should take active measures toward a two state solution, as soon as possible?

The votes garnered probably came from people who wanted Livni, Mitzna, Peretz or Stern to enter the Knesset; taking into consideration their different agendas was an afterthought.

Of course, only because parties don’t have a clear-cut platform doesn’t mean they don’t have ideals. Lapid (and the next 18) really want to change the country for the better. Livni (and the others) truly believe the peace process should be handled in a certain way.

But, voters — for the most part — chose the face on the poster, not the list as a whole.

Obviously some of the parties received a very clear ideological vote. People who voted Meretz (which won six seats) or Otzma Leyisrael (didn’t cross the threshold) did so because of the values those lists represent.

A friend suggested that the Labor — and especially Yachimovich — tried to show strong ideological arguments and not only the party leader. But, it seems MK’s in her own party thought Yachimovich turned the campaign into a one-woman show, following the general trend.

Not that voting for people is an inherently bad or wrong move. I voted for a party because I thought its members should be legislators in the Knesset; people I believe are willing to take the tough path in order to reach the final destination.

I’m guessing there are others who agree with me that all 120 legislators should be honest, with a moral backbone and willingness to act, even if we disagree on what the correct course of action should be.

But the Israeli system isn’t one in which you only vote for people. You vote for a faction, and the ballot cast (especially be people deciding at the last-minute who to vote for) doesn’t ensure the leader will enter the Knesset — it helps push the end of the list.

In the next Knesset there will be more than 50 new faces. People with limited public experience in fields that aren’t lawmaking. It’s good to push young blood into politics, it helps keep the system from stagnation.

I hope all those elected — returning politicians and those entering their first term — are decent people. Only time will tell if their actions and voting patterns are what the public wanted.

About the Author
Aaron Kalman is a Program Officer at the Ruderman Family Foundation, working to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community. Formerly an advisor to Israel's Minister of Diaspora Affairs and a Jewish Agency emissary to Sydney, Australia, Aaron has an M.A. in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and a B.Ed. from Herzog College.