Editor’s note: The following letter was received shortly before Israel’s Nov. 1 election.
Once again, and for the fifth time in four years, Israel is on the brink of an election, and is facing the all-too-familiar prospect of political deadlock — even before ballots are cast. With the country just weeks away from its Nov. 1 election, political parties and factions were going through the motions of campaigning, sloganeering and branding exercises. Their efforts seem to be putting a new spin on the same question that voters have been confronting for years: Should they or should they not return Benjamin Netanyahu to the prime minister’s office? If the last four elections have demonstrated anything, it is that this round may not help change the Israeli political map in any decisive fashion or produce a more conclusive result for both politicians and the public at large.
With only a few days to go until the Israeli election, the message one hears from almost all party leaders is: Vote for me to block the other guy. Vote for me to stymie the other guy’s potential coalition.
When elections come down to stopping someone else from being elected, then voters are no longer voting for anyone or really anything. The result really ends up demoralizing the electorate. It is the equivalent of a sports team always on defense and never really advancing forward. Such “tactical” voting is rotten. It completely ignores the critical diplomatic, defense, economic and social issues at hand. It guts Israeli politics of any serious ideological argument. It reduces our serial election campaigns to yet another round of sumo wrestling. It is a mind-numbing approach to determining Israel’s future.
Worse still is the oft-heard admonition not to “waste” your vote, not to vote for a political party that teeters at the so-called “threshold.” (The current electoral threshold, the minimum for gaining Knesset representation, is 3.25% of all valid votes. In practice, this means a party that fails to gain votes equivalent to about four Knesset seats is wiped off the political map.) This, too, is a terrible contention. It strips voters of their right to vote their conscience in an unadulterated manner. It reduces election day to pure pragmatism, eliminating a passionate pursuit in the interest and celebration of democracy. It is a dispiriting approach to Zionist and Jewish political commitment. It could be equated to when baseball in America was reduced to “Moneyball” and the only goal was merely to get on base. In this case it will create a functional government, but it will be devoid of drive and the desire to achieve something that lasts longer than the next election cycle.
Instead, what is necessary is to vote in an upright fashion — one that is a healthy and satisfying form of political engagement. Selecting the political party and political leader that most closely represents one’s worldview without slavish reference to the latest polls proffered by biased media outlets and various political hucksters is a corrective to the cynicism that almost all Israelis feel about the political system.
It might mean your vote “goes to waste,” but guess what? It could also mean your vote does not go to waste. If enough people in your “sector” vote their conscience and best ideological judgment, your preferred political party might be elected to the Knesset. Your vote could make the difference.
And what’s the worst that can happen? Israel seems headed toward another political stalemate, with repeat elections likely in April 2023. So, you’ll get another chance at that time to reconsider your vote and make a greater impact on the result. (And perhaps, hopefully, by then the range of party options and their leaders will be better and broader.)
To be clear, I am not suggesting Israelis vote for any of the two dozen super-fringe factions. Doing so would be truly silly. These splinters are too wacky to be taken seriously and too tiny to have any chance of being elected to the Knesset. Alas, Israeli voters face another muddy election in a convoluted system where negative campaigning and personal animosities are at a peak. Most politicians are selling fallacies instead of tackling real issues with concrete solutions. Israelis ought to ignore such soul-destroying rat-a-tat and proudly vote their principles. If worse comes to worst, there will soon be another election.