There was a joke circulating a few years ago that Israelis are different from everyone else in the world in their voting behaviour.
Everywhere else, people lie in pre-election polls.
Israelis don’t. They lie when they vote.
I am rarely cynical but the paradoxes of Israeli political life and the ups and downs of the election campaign and subsequent polling are beginning to make me appreciate this witticism in a new way.
Let me give you a few examples.
A “light” segment in a television news program had the presenter go to various public places with plastic cups decorated with the faces of candidates in the elections. People were asked which person they would like to toast with a cool drink. The results at the market in Netanya were not so different from those at Beer Sheva. Overwhelmingly, people chose the cup with the picture of the current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. But then, the presenter asked them what issues mattered to them most in the upcoming election. The answer? Corruption! The paradox should be obvious.
One of the most important consensus items in this country is that Israel strives to be a state that is Jewish and democratic. Of course, many argue how this can be done and whether the Nation State law passed in the previous Knesset contributes to or undermines this principle. But all seem to agree that Israel OUGHT to be democratic. The problem is, few seem to understand that democracy means more than holding elections. They do not appreciate the importance of balance-of-power. In particular, they do not understand the important role of the judiciary. Our justice minister has launched a campaign against the High Court. Some parties have made the main issue of their campaign to bring down the High Court. They want to use democracy to undo democracy. Is that not a paradox?
Israelis were very proud of the increase in the number of women in the last Knesset and delighted to see the dramatic increase in the number of women voted into office in the recent municipal elections. When, a few weeks before these elections were announced, there was a day of solidarity with women who suffered from domestic violence, the percentage of women participating throughout the country was greater than the percentage of American women who took place in the famous Women’s Marches in 2017. Yet, because of the way the list system works here, there is going to be a dramatic decrease in the number of female representatives in the next Knesset – and few are outraged. Women in the Blue and White coalition even made a video that sounded like a feminist campaign – having accepted that all the leadership of their parties will be men.
Our hospitals have levels of overcrowding beyond anything remotely acceptable. Health is not an election issue. Our schools urgently need additional resources and a major overhaul in educational thinking. With the exception of a minor party, education hardly gets a mention; even the education minister focuses only on his desire to be Minister of Defense. The trains, an important component of public transport, are a disaster. There is overcrowding, delays, cancellations and break-downs. But the Transportation Minister has been promoted and feted.
When other places speak about “left” and “right” they refer to socio-economic ideologies: the left prefers greater social welfare and the “safety net;” the right believes in individualism and rewarding entrepreneurism and all forms of economic achievement. Not so in Israel. The terms refer almost exclusively to attitudes towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hence, right-wing Arab parties are labelled “left” – intended as a pejorative – and some of the left-leaning politicians (sometimes in parties that label themselves “right”) vehemently deny being left, even though they are promoting social policies that are clearly associated with a welfare state. “Left” has become a label of shame in some circles.
People in the south of the country have suffered intolerable conditions for years, with the constant barrage of rockets and incendiary devices from Gaza. They say that they want a long-term solution. Even the army says that that means a political solution; there is no way that the issues can be solved militarily. But in the city of Sderot, the people say they are going to vote for more of the same.
But who knows? What people say might be what they really think. That does not mean they will actually vote that way.