Come 10 p.m. this evening, the polls will close and within seconds each of the major channels will announce who, according to their exit surveys, has won the elections – or at least they will give a fairly accurate prediction of the state of the parties, even before the official counting of the votes has begun.
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There have been a few occasions when the exit poll forecasts have been wrong, but they have tended to be fairly accurate over the long term. Given the fact that the election can be decided by even one or two seats shifting from Labor (Zionist Union) to Likud or vice versa, even the smallest of errors in the exit poll prediction can be significant in terms of who will have the best chance of forming the next government.
As I have done after every election in Israel, I will listen for five minutes to the 10 o’clock news headlines and then get back to whatever I am doing – reading, working, watching a movie on TV, and probably go to sleep at the same time as I do every night. When I wake up the following morning I will have missed nothing – all of the latenight and early-morning interviews, party celebrations and admissions of defeat (if there have been any) will not have changed and I, like most of my fellow citizens, will have a busy day’s work ahead.
Truth be told I have not watched or heard a single election advert, have not tuned in to any election debate or analysis program on any of the Israeli TV channels (I have long since ceased watching any political discussion program on Israeli TV, with the same people answering the same questions ad nauseam for the past three decades) and did not use my valuable time to watch Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speeches to AIPAC and to the US Congress. And although I have clear political preferences I have not been active in any of the political parties in the lead-up to the elections.
That does not make me any less interested in Israeli politics and the outcome of the election. On election day I feel privileged to take part in a vote which, for much of the history of Diaspora, was denied Jewish communities throughout the world for almost 2,000 years. I want my Arab and Palestinian neighbors to enjoy that same right in the political entity of their choosing, neither threatening, or feeling threatened, by the idea that two such different peoples with such contrasting cultures, beliefs and ideologies, share the small piece of real estate in Israel-Palestine – the geographical and geopolitical locus of the world’s great civilizations and religions.
I believe that this is the only way forward for Israel to continue its miracle of the past 70 years and as a strong, independent, democratic country with a booming economy and vibrant society which, hopefully in the not-toodistant future, will also vest itself from the occupation and control of another people who seek the same rights to autonomy and independence as we, the Jews living in Israel, have been privileged to enjoy for well over half a century.
This is the day when the Diaspora doesn’t really interest me. Despite all the lobbying and funding done on behalf of Israel by Diaspora communities (especially in North America) out of a real concern and love for the future security and economic vibrancy of the country, election day is not their concern. They should not be funding or trying to bring their influence to bear on the Israeli political system. This is an election for Israeli citizens, those living, working and paying their taxes in the country, not for those who have opted, for whatever legitimate reason, to live elsewhere.
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The result of today’s election will depend largely on two key factors – the extent to which the Israeli population have become fed up with the present government and the incumbent prime minister, and the extent to which the 30% of the Israeli electorate who did not participate in the past election just over two years ago, out of dissatisfaction with the entire political system and the lack of real alternative offered by the parties, will return to the election booth.
Tonight’s result will only be the end of the first stage of the elections. Because of our electoral system and the way the government is structured, it will take almost as long, if not longer, for either of the two leading party leaders, Netanyahu or Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, to put their government together and this, in turn, will fill the news media and the pundits’ analyses for the next month at least – and perhaps even beyond.
We already know what the big questions facing the political leaders will be tomorrow morning, even before we have gone to the polls.
Will the expected leader of the largest party (Isaac Herzog) succeed in putting together a center-left coalition? To what extent will a country which labels itself the only true democracy in the Middle East reach a stage of maturity where it will be prepared to incorporate the major Arab party – expected to get anywhere between 12-15 seats – into its coalition, despite all the expected rhetoric against such a move, even from any of the centrist parties? Will the desire to avoid such a scenario be the main reason why President Reuven Rivlin will suggest a national unity government, bringing together Right and Left in what has always proved to be a government of national paralysis with no real direction and held together by a false glue that hides the cracks which have grown, during the past decade, into major fissures within Israeli society? We don’t yet know the answers to any of these questions and we are unlikely to get them for at least another month. The increase in the lower electoral threshold has meant that we will have fewer, and slightly larger, parties than in the past, but there will still be too many. The election system needs to be restructured even further in the coming years so that the task of putting coalitions together (and there is nothing inherently wrong in a coalition if it is composed of two or three parties with appropriate checks and balances reflecting different outlooks on society) is more about issues, and far less about what seats and budgets each party receives as a means of furthering the interests of their own narrow electoral base.
So what is new? Precious little. We’ve been there all too often in recent years and the issues and dilemmas have remained pretty much the same, although some would argue that given the strong move to the extreme Right on the part of the present Israeli government, the contrasting positions have become highlighted this time round.
And given that the questions are known in advance, I will have better things to do following the 10 p.m.
announcement than to remain glued to the television screen all night, as the drama, focused more on the individuals than the issues, unfolds.
It is early in the morning of election day. I am off to my local polling booth as early as possible to make full use of the day-long holiday which the country has granted as a means of enabling as many people as possible to vote (although whether a holiday actually brings people to the voting booth is open to question). The weather is perfect, the skies are blue, and it will not make one iota of difference if I wait until tomorrow morning (and perhaps even later) to discover the final outcome of today’s national referendum.
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