By Laura Kelly
"I think it''s crazy that you have 40 different parties to choose from in your elections," I said to an Israeli in a surprisingly calm debate over the electoral process."I think it''s crazy that you only have two candidates to choose from," he easily retorted.
Even though we''re all Jewish, it''s hard to ignore the cultural differences ever present between Israeli Jews and American Jews. Israelis say Americans are too polite, too agreeable and open. Americans say Israelis are too direct; they don''t mince words, even bordering on rudeness. One explanation for these dichotomies can be seen in how each group is raised in their electoral process. American''s have always only had two choices, Republican or Democrat. Sometimes it’s the devil we know versus the devil we don’t. Since only one person can never fulfill all of our hopes, dreams and ideals, we''ve chosen to see the good over the bad, to highlight the pros and excuse the cons, strive for positive and just changes, but resign our candidate to shortcomings we can''t control. Israelis, in their electoral process, have forty different parties to choose from. This allows them to be specific in their wants and needs. For each ideal they hold dear, for each issue they want at the forefront of policy, there is a party for them. If you are orthodox, you can vote for the religious party on the right. If you are Arab, you can vote for the Arab party on the left. If you are center, there are a couple different parties with certain nuances that will help make your decision easier.It''s mere hours before American''s crown a new leader of the free world. The results of this election are exacerbated even more so for the Jewish community in the flux of the Israeli-American friendship. In a recent study of 1000 American Jews and their voting tendencies, by theWorkmen’s Circle National Poll based in New York, results summarized that American Jews are more liberal when it comes to the economy and social justice and put these issues above a candidate''s stand on Israel. This allows them to support a President who has put changes forth in universalizing health care, acknowledging the need of equal rights for the gay community, and imposing higher taxes on America''s wealthiest. The downside is the repeated snubs President Obama has served Israel and the not-too-subtle tension between the American President and the Israeli Prime Minister. The Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, while presenting an image of a staunch and unwavering support for Israel, finds himself flummoxed in regards to social justice issues including women and gay rights, and an equally confusing tax plan.
Israelis ask American’s easily and frequently who they are choosing, Obama or Romney. To Americans, this can seem an extremely personal question, as choosing who to vote for is essentially aligning one''s own personal character with all the good and bad that goes along with the candidate. We can justify the good, but we can only shrug and shy away from the bad. If I vote for Obama, I am for social justice, but as an American Jew, how can I be “against” Israel? If I vote for Romney, I take a hard stance on Iran and support Israel, but what will I be giving up as a woman? To vote in the American election is to decide what I stand for, but also what I’m willing to give up.Conversely, ask an Israeli which party he is voting for and he will answer and define his character by that party. No matter where one lives in Israel, he can vote for the party that best represents his interests. In America we are limited by the state we live in and the number of Electoral College votes our state garners. In Israel, there is more of a power in knowing that each vote cast is in ones own interest. The smallest parties in the Knesset today have only three members, but they were put there by Israelis to represent their interests. For the ruling party to pass policy with a majority, at one point they’ll have to consult one of these little guys. On that day, those Israelis are represented. But my electoral process, whether good or bad, has shaped how I view the world today. I see things as only having two choices, between good and bad. In Israel, that distinction can’t be made. There it is complicated and even more complicated. Even if I don’t agree with either President Obama or Mitt Romney, I still have two clear choices, I can choose to vote or I can choose not to.
The writer is an American-New Yorker currently living and working as the Jerusalem Post Premium intern in Israel. She is a graduate of Fordham University in the Bronx, NY and writes based on her experiences living in New York, the Netherlands, Ireland, China and her travels throughout the world. Her blog is http://lkelly718.blogspot.com