There are 5.1 million Israelis living in Israel who are eligible to vote for the
19th Knesset on January 22.
Unfortunately, too many will not exercise
this right – the very foundation of any democracy.
Israel’s voter turnout
compared to, say, the US or Switzerland is high, but it is lower than many
European states such as Italy, where voting was once compulsory; Belgium, where
it still is; and Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries.
the past decade there has been a worrying decrease in our voter turnout, from
around 80 percent in 1996 to just 65% in recent elections. Low turnout is often
a result of disenchantment and indifference.
Sociologist Robert Putnam
famously argued that the collapse in civil engagement as reflected in lower
voting turnouts can be blamed on television. In the 1950s and 1960s television
quickly became the main leisure activity in developed nations. In Israel
multi-channel TV was introduced in the 1990s.
Television replaced social
entertainment such as bridge clubs, church groups and bowling leagues. Putnam
argued in his book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American
Community, that as people retreated within their homes and general social
participation declined, so too did voting.
The best remedy for the
phenomenon described by Putnam is to get out and get more involved. The
Jerusalem Post , AACI and the Jerusalem Great Synagogue have organized a series
of debates geared specifically for the English-speaking community. Taking part
in these debates – in Netanya, Tel Aviv, Ra’anana and Jerusalem – can help
foster a stronger feeling of civic obligation and motivation to
Another factor that contributes to low voter turnout is the feeling
that one’s vote will not have a real impact.
Amnon Rubinstein and Adam
Wolfson, in their book Absence of Government: How to Rectify the System, have
warned that the large percentage of government decisions that are not
implemented can foster indifference among citizens. If the government is not
able to follow through with the decisions it makes, why bother to vote? A 2005
study by Doron Navot and Eli Reches found that in Israel 70% of government
decisions – ranging from public housing to privatization of the sea ports, from
reforms in the Israel Electric Corporation to the construction of a light rail
in Tel Aviv – are left unimplemented.
Yet another factor contributing to
low voter turnout is a low opinion of politicians. Just recently, Yuval Diskin,
former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), inadvertently gave public
expression to this feeling when he reportedly complained about Israel’s
According to Sof Hashavua and Jerusalem Post
columnist Ben Caspit, in a closed meeting with friends Diskin voiced support for
casting a blank vote in protest.
“A blank vote seems to me more and more
of a good option that could also be a strong statement if many people did the
same,” he was quoted as saying. “We must think of a way to make a deep and
profound change in our country.”
With Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s
right-wing coalition leading in all the polls, many on the Left or Center- Left
have fallen into despair and given up on the possibility of political change,
while many on the Right or Center-Right are complacent with the knowledge that
the present government is likely to continue. As a result, there is a real
danger that voter turnout will be even lower than in past years when the race
was close and eligible voters felt their vote made a difference.
not let that happen.
Failing to vote reveals a basic lack of appreciation
for the gift of democracy. The very foundation of the entire democratic process
is the right to vote. Eligible voters have a civic obligation to educate
themselves about the issues and to learn about the platforms of the parties
running for the Knesset.
No democracy is perfect and there are good and
bad politicians everywhere. But not bothering to vote or casting a blank vote
only relinquishes control to others. On average, these unused votes have the
potential of 15 Knesset seats. This potential should not be wasted due to
indifference or pessimism.