Israeli democracy is alive and kicking

Our transitions of power have been always been peaceful, and there’s a chance we will see that happen again this week.

April 10, 2019 01:22
3 minute read.
A child helps cast a vote by placing a ballot in a box in Jerusalem's Baka neighborhood

A child helps cast a vote by placing a ballot in a box in Jerusalem's Baka neighborhood, April 9th, 2019. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


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Regardless of the results, which remained unclear Tuesday night, Election Day is, first and foremost, a celebration of democracy and Israelis should be proud of the way we conduct ourselves on this day.

Israel is the world’s 10th-oldest democracy, with universal suffrage from the time of its establishment for all citizens regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion or anything other than Israeli citizenship and being 18 years old or more. Our democratic tradition goes even farther back than that, with the Yishuv’s Assembly of Representatives during the time of the British Mandate and the Zionist Congresses that preceded it.

Our transitions of power have been always been peaceful, and there’s a chance we will see that happen again this week.

Soon, we will have a new Knesset populated by factions that have been voted in by most of the Israeli public, with the hope that they will faithfully represent us and fulfill the promises they made over the past three months.

Yet, there are always the naysayers who cry that our democracy is in danger.

Reports of voter fraud – which happen in every election here, whether it’s voting slips missing or observers trying to sway the vote-count – happened this time too, but they are few and far between, and generally are dealt with swiftly by the Central Elections Committee and police.

And there are disputes about the proper balance between the three branches of our government, but the foundation of any democracy – free and fair elections – remains strong in Israel.

Chatter to the contrary is absurd, and the attempts to delegitimize our elections are the true danger to democracy.

A few days before this election, Beto O’Rourke, a candidate in the US Democratic Party primaries, said while campaigning in Iowa City: “I don’t think that [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu represents the true will of the Israeli people,” calling the prime minister a racist.

Regardless of whether one thinks Netanyahu is a racist or not – Labor, for one, campaigned claiming that he is – the idea that someone who was prime minister for the past decade and for three years in the 1990s doesn’t represent “the true will of the Israeli people” is a particularly pernicious one.

O’Rourke’s comments show total disregard for Israeli democracy and seem to imply that Israel is some kind of backwater whose voting results are not to be believed.

Now, most Israelis probably have no idea who O’Rourke is or what he said. But this kind of rhetoric has been floating around in Israel, as well.

Last weekend, Sima Kadmon, one of Yediot Aharonot’s top columnists, chose to amplify a conspiracy theory floated by former Labor MK Erel Margalit that the 2015 election was hacked – without a modicum of evidence, except that Netanyahu won by an unexpected landslide.

This was a late-stage echo of some of the reaction to the 2015 election results, in which many on the Left had trouble accepting the results of the democratic process. The response was somewhat reminiscent of the famous quote by New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael: “I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are, I don’t know.”

No matter the outcome, hopefully that kind of response will not be commonplace on either side of the political divide. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be on the lookout for irregularities, should they arise.

But overall, our elections work, our democracy works and it has for the past 70 years – and that’s a reason to celebrate.
Now, we wait to see what our government will look like.

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