“Why waste your vote?” Friends ask when they discover my intention to vote for HaLev HaYehudi, a party that no poll predicts will cross the minimum threshold to get into the Knesset. My answer is simple. There’s only one thing worse than having your vote do nothing, and that’s having it do something…that you don’t want it to do.
The fear that your vote will end up furthering values that are the very opposite of those you wanted to support has actually become one of the central themes of this latest round of elections, playing a starring role in campaigns across the political map. Netanyahu’s campaign warns right-wing voters that a vote for Yamina or New Hope will end up bringing a left-wing government to power. The “Religious Zionism” party plays on the same fears, and the very same warning is mirrored on the other side of the spectrum, with parties warning that a vote for the ostensibly secular, liberal Likud party will actually bring religious extremists to power, and that a vote for Bennet or Gantz will again end up being a vote that supports Netanyahu for prime minister.
Voters for Kachol Lavan know first hand how real this fear is. Their ballot on behalf of a party whose central (only?) platform was to replace Netanyahu ended up being a vote that crowned him once again, and ultimately did not bring Gantz to power. Their experience demonstrates how the possibility that your vote will be misused undermines the very significance of voting in a democracy. Yes, we all understand that politics is the art of the possible, and that there need to be compromises given political realities. But if a party is willing to betray the very values that led me to support it for the sake of political expediency, what meaning does my vote have? It is worse than meaningless. It is a betrayal of my values.
Now, I’m a bit of an eccentric, it seems, in that I am deeply opposed to a policy that most people don’t even think about. I’m opposed to Israeli support of genocide. I have to be honest. I have a hard time understanding why this position is eccentric in Israel today. I truly believe that if you ask the average citizen on the street – “Israeli support of genocide – for or against?” – he or she would also be against it. And if you really pushed it, and downgraded genocide to “mere” ethnic cleansing, or mass killings, the average citizen would remain consistent in their opposition.
Sadly, Israel’s official policy differs. It allows, and sometimes even encourages Israeli arms sales to regimes known to commit genocide, ethnic cleansing, executions, and to use rape as a tool of war. Where? It would be easier to say where we don’t. A partial list of clients: Myanmar, South Sudan, Cameroon, Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sri Lanka, Honduras, the Philippines, Rwanda. (Click here for a comprehensive picture).
It is difficult to find countries that have murdered their citizens in recent decades who didn’t buy Israeli weapons, technologies and training, other than our direct enemies. Thus, this policy turns Israel, and all of its citizens, into accessories to these crimes. We supported the perpetrators, we armed them, and we trained them. And ultimately, Israel even “profits” from this support, and this benefit is presented as one justification for this policy.
So, when I think about how to vote in a way that my voice will not betray my values, I must ask myself the following question. What party has made this issue a red line? What party has declared that it refuses to serve in a government that continues to allow the arming of mass murderers? Four years of lobbying and activism have convincingly demonstrated that none of the parties that are polling over the threshold pass this test. In fact, two elections ago, two party leaders (Benny Gantz and Amir Peretz) made public statements committing to this issue, and then did nothing in the Knesset to further necessary legislation.
I wish I did not have to contemplate the prospect of “wasting” my vote on the Lev HaYehudi party. I would much prefer that this be a consensus issue. It should be as easy and obvious as “Jewish and democratic”. But that isn’t the case. And, after all- politics is the art of the possible, and we have to be willing to compromise, given the political realities. So, I am left to hope and pray that my vote will be among thousands more representing people who vote their conscience, and who vote to end our support of brutal, murderous regimes. And if it is not, at least I will know that I did not actively give my voice to continue this gravest violation of my values.
Learn more about HaLev HaYehudi on their Facebook page!
A version of this article appeared in Hebrew last week on Ynet. My thanks to Eric Grosser for his help in translating.