Voting matters

Israelis are going to the polls and it's a perfect opportunity to make the vote count.

March 16, 2015 22:13
4 minute read.
Bar Refaeli and models encouraging Israelis to vote.

Bar Refaeli and models encouraging Israelis to vote.. (photo credit: AVI WALDMAN)

Israel’s citizens go the polls today to choose their next government in an election that is taking place earlier than usual. We proudly perform our duty as citizens to vote as our natural right as constituents of that country so often described as the only democracy in the Middle East.

Our democracy is often referred to by Iran as the “Little Satan,” paired with our ally, the veteran democracy of the United States, the “Great Satan.” But while Israelis have had the right to vote ever since independence, and have perhaps come to take such a right for granted, we would do well in the election of 2015 to recall how many citizens of the great American democracy could not do so until relatively recently.

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America’s black citizens living in the South had to wage a long and bloody struggle against racial injustice to win the right to vote. Ten days ago the American civil rights movement marked the 50th anniversary of three marches from Selma to the Alabama state capital of Montgomery. It was a gauntlet of some 90 km. marked by brutal confrontations with racist police, backed by authorities determined to preserve an unjust culture of discrimination.

The three marches led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

in March 1965 came after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had ended legal segregation, but not the deeply entrenched prejudice that motivated Southern state legislatures to maintain practices, such as discriminatory voter registration requirements, that disenfranchised millions of African Americans. It took voter registration campaigns by volunteers, many of them young Jewish activists from the North, to confront this prejudice on the ground.

Just 50 years ago the American nation witnessed scenes of shocking brutality on television, watching in horror as Southern police unleashed attack dogs on peaceful marchers and beat them with clubs before the cameras – while off camera, a dozen voting rights activists, black and white, were murdered.

In the first civil rights march on March 7, which became known as Bloody Sunday, the world’s media publicized a photo of marcher Amelia Boynton, beaten unconscious by Alabama state troopers and lying wounded on the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge. On March 15, then president Lyndon Johnson asked a joint session of Congress, on national television, to pass a voting rights law.

By the time of the third Selma march a week later, when governor George Wallace refused to protect the marchers, Johnson sent in some 2,000 US Army troops, 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard under federal command, and many federal agents to defend what grew to be a line of some 25,000 marchers who reached Montgomery.

Today the marches that helped to bring about the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are memorialized as the “Selma To Montgomery Voting Rights Trail,” which is designated as a US National Historic Trail.

As our election unfolds in the shadow of the American people’s victorious battle for voting rights, Israelis of virtually every political persuasion are able to choose among some two dozen parties. But this ostensible wealth of choice, rather than offering a unique array of democratic freedom, has instead produced a small movement of voters who have announced their intention to boycott the election.

Representatives of this group even met recently with President Reuven Rivlin, who asked them to reconsider not exercising their democratic right, lest this have the effect of spreading complacency on our society.

“I fear that refusing to vote is an own goal [an accidental score against one’s own soccer team],” Rivlin said. “A low electoral turnout is an incubator for social deterioration.

It only widens the dangerous gap between the elected officials and the public; it empowers extremist, violent groups, which endanger us all.”

In reality, there is no such thing as not voting. If by staying home or going on a picnic you think you are showing your disdain for corrupt politics, you are in effect voting for the status quo, whose parties are counting on your apathy and/or disgust to reelect them. If you choose to silence your own voice, you are actually doubling the value of other voters’ choices.

Rivlin addressed the would-be boycotters’ expressions of growing despair and apathy at what they perceived as an ultimately unresponsive political system, to which their only recourse is to opt out of the democratic process.

“The solution,” he said, “does not begin with doing less, but doing more. To be more involved. To be more observant.

To be more united. To demand more. My friends, go and vote!”

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