Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own
government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice,
they may be relied on to set them right.
– Thomas Jefferson
Hype, spins and
mudslinging partially tarnished our election season as campaigns entered into
the last frantic phase before Israel’s citizens headed to the ballots. Today, as
they exercise the democratic right to elect political representation, voters
should try to disregard attention-grabbing stunts, spiritual enticements and
manipulations and focus on the issues.
On Sunday night, it was nervous
concern over Likud Beytenu’s plunge in the polls that seemed to push Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to appoint Moshe Kahlon as director of the Israel
Lands Authority. Potential Likud Beytenu voters were supposed to get the message
that Kahlon, as head of the bureaucratic body responsible for allocating land
for housing, would succeed in lowering exorbitant real estate prices just as he
succeeded as communications minister at drastically lowering the costs of
But the appointment, which will not go into effect for
six months and is pending an amendment to the law, was rightly interpreted by
many as nothing more than an eve-of-elections ploy hatched out of
During his weekly Saturday night sermon, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
lashed out viciously at Bayit Yehudi, in the process compromising his position
as the spiritual leader of Shas, who is supposed to strive for the high moral
ground. Yosef referred to Bayit Yehudi’s members as “wicked haters of Torah” and
said that anyone who votes for the party “denies the Torah.”
One can only
wonder whether Yosef manipulates Jewish law for personal expediency in other
fields as he did in his “ruling” against Bayit Yehudi. Meanwhile, the Bayit
Yehudi misleadingly used pictures of Netanyahu in its campaigns, seemingly
implying the prime minister’s support of the party.
Then there was the
internecine battling waged by Shas, Rabbi Haim Amsalem’s party Am Shalem, and
Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak’s party Koah Lehashpia [Power to Influence], during which
Yosef’s and Amsalem’s books were burned. Tear gas canisters were shot at the
crowd during a rally led by Yitzhak and telephone threats were issued against
various party officials.
Rabbis affiliated with United Torah Judaism,
meanwhile, promised a blessing of “sons, long life, and wealth” for all who vote
for the party – not a bad deal.
Central Election Committee Chairman
Justice Elyakim Rubinstein has intervened in numerous cases: He ordered news
stations to refrain from broadcasting the press conference announcing Kahlon’s
appointment; he fined Bayit Yehudi for coopting Netanyahu’s images for its
campaign; and he forbid UTJ and Shas from offering blessings – or protection
from curses – in exchange for votes.
But in the final analysis, Israeli
citizens – not Rubinstein – are the ones responsible for using their democratic
right to vote in a judicious and intelligent way.
If Israelis are truly
convinced that a rabbi or a talisman will bless them for voting for a particular
party or are gullible enough to be swayed by cynical spins and cheap hype, the
founders of democratic thought might roll over in their graves, but there is
little Rubinstein or anyone else can do to convince them
Ideally, more rational considerations will govern voters’
choices today as millions of voters are left alone with their thoughts behind
the screen of the ballot box.
Getting out and voting is important. But
exercising one’s right to vote is not enough. Thomas Jefferson, one of the
founding fathers of democracy, favored universal suffrage, but only on condition
that it went hand in hand with universal education.
Scholars such as
Thomas Cahill, Eric Nelson and Yoram Hazony have noted that one of the most
profound gifts of the Jews is that they broke down the fatalistic notions held
by the ancients. Jews rejected the idea that nothing new ever happened and
conceived of history as being shaped by human action and the future an unwritten
Democracy, as envisioned by Jefferson, grows directly out of this
Jewish idea of personal autonomy and responsibility.
influence of hype, spin and manipulation and educating oneself on the issues is
essential to the functioning of a healthy and enlightened democracy.
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