A woman casts her ballot as Israelis vote in a parliamentary election, at a polling station in Tel Aviv, Israel April 9, 2019.
(photo credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)
After the seamy campaign we just witnessed, it would be understandable to expect most of the eligible voters in Israel to stay in bed, hide under the covers and wait for Election Day to pass.
And nobody would throw blame for that. To say that the 40-odd parties running for the Knesset ran underwhelming campaigns – which avoided the issues as much as possible in favor of personal attacks, alarmist rhetoric and a distortion of reality – would be an understatement.
It is no wonder that so many voters appeared to be undecided heading into Election Day. Aside from some enthusiasm emanating from the “Anybody But Bibi” flank (and the stoners-for-Feiglin sect), this campaign has been not only devoid of issues, but of passion. Does it really matter if Netanyahu stays in power until his indictment, or if Gantz – who failed to distinguish Blue and White’s policies as being much different from the Likud – takes over?
For those thinking that their vote wouldn’t matter because things are going to stay the same anyway, staying in bed was surely a viable option. But as it turned out, the day was just too damn nice. The sun shining with unseasonable warm temperatures, blooming spring flowers radiating messages of renewal, hope and another chance… it would take an ogre to resist getting up and getting out.
Election Day in Israel is that rare commodity of being a national shabbaton (day off) that isn’t a Jewish holiday with the usual travel/shopping constraints for the observant public. With schools and workplaces closed, the country was on vacation. The atmosphere is light and relaxed – two adjectives that are rarely used to describe life in Israel.
Beaches and national parks (not to mention malls) are filled to capacity. Those many options out there – generally not available on a weekday – only make it that much harder to make time for the ballot box.
But despite the dismal campaign and the enticing distractions of a picnic or a bike ride, Israelis are indeed exercising their democratic right to vote. By midday at least, voter turnout was more or less on par with previous elections. Because while we love to bitch and moan, when it comes down to it Israelis take their right to vote seriously. Maybe because, whether Jewish or Muslim, it’s not something we can take for granted.
For Jewish Israelis, going to the polls is a celebration of the privilege of being able to vote in the Jewish homeland. For Muslim citizens, voting for parties that will represent their interests in the Knesset is a phenomenon that is not widespread in the region. Together, for whatever disparate reasons, Israelis are coming together in an act that lets their voices be heard.
The adage that “if you don’t vote, then don’t complain” doesn’t really hold water in Israel. Everyone will continue to complain anyway, whether they voted for Likud, Meretz or the beach.
It’s part of our DNA, which makes Election Day even more remarkable. We can’t form a line at the supermarket, but here you have an unruly people courteously queuing up, having their identity cards checked and verified, and going behind a screen to vote from a choice of parties larger than the list of Ben & Jerry’s flavors.
It’s an ordinary scene – but it’s also extraordinary, given who we are and what we’ve gone through to get here – Israelis of Russian, Ethiopian, Yemenite and so many other descents huddled under the blue and white flag of the country that made and keeps the promise of insuring their safety and freedom.
Sure, it’s easy to stick your head in the sand – or under the covers – and plead apathy or exhaustion. There’s plenty enough here to fill one with despair. But Election Day is also a reminder of the maturing nation that Israel has become, and of the responsibility that weighs heavy on each of us to shape the kind of country we want to live in.
And what if, after making the effort and getting to the polls, the results don’t turn out exactly as you had hoped? Not to worry: Chances are we’ll be back in the voting booth in less than four years.