Confessions of a first-time voter

Native-born Israelis and veteran immigrants of 20 and 30 years all agree that the run-up to the election has been 'boring,' 'dreary,' 'depressing,' 'unexciting' and 'totally sleepy'

ballots 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ballots 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Time: 6 a.m., Tuesday March 28. Gently woken by my radio. BBC World Service News. Lead item… Israeli polls open in just under an hour. The reporter describes the election as "unexciting" but with "high stakes." But this day is the first election of my aliya; my first opportunity to put my vote where my heart is, and that is exciting. I wonder how the procedure will compare with the UK. Grab a coffee. It was interesting that yesterday there was much talk among colleagues about how we were going to spend our bonus day of liberation from work. No talk of politics, just a few cursory comments about how dreary the campaigning has been. Even friends hardly breathed political inclinations to each other. Not that we don't care, just that we care so much. Political passions revealed might shatter friendships. A political ingenue, I opened what I thought would be a political discussion. "Do you enjoy walking through minefields?" queried a sagacious colleague. I won't go there again. Now armed with polling card, ID and a scrap of paper with relevant Hebrew letters designating my party of choice, I'm off to perform my democratic duty. And here's the first difference with my previous electoral experiences. In the UK you don't need an ID to vote, you just tell them who you are and they tick off your name on the register. Early-morning joggers bob past me, panting the bright, sharp morning air. A few minutes before seven and I'm at the gates of one of the local schools. A lady hurries in laden with bags of water bottles and food, prepared to camp out for the day while administering voting procedures. There is a security guard at the door, of course. Another with a gun slung over his shoulder wanders along the street. A police car cruises by. It certainly doesn't feel like voting day in the UK. 7 a.m.: A huddle of early-morning voters gathers at the school gates. We enter the school and then are delayed a quarter of an hour while officials, behind closed doors, tie up bureaucratic loose ends. I'm interested to hear the views of my voting companions. Native-born Israelis and veteran immigrants of 20 and 30 years all agree that the run-up to the election has been "boring," "dreary," "depressing," "unexciting" and "totally sleepy." That's the consensus. The reasons given vary. A few offer similar views to an Israeli-born teacher of English to Ethiopians: "the cases of corruption depressed the mood of the electorate." "It is depressing that there's no leadership quality running." Some describe the electorate as "tired." Too many elections in too few years. The truth is everyone is tired: tired of politicians and tired of the intifada. The undecided are just more tired than those of us who have gone to the polling station. A TV crew from the prime Japanese Broadcasting Corporation NHK sets up. No, it won't be the first item on the Japanese news, they explain, "but Japan depends on Middle-Eastern oil and Israel is the center of the Middle East, so there's a lot of interest in what happens here." The door to the voting room opens and each individual gains separate admittance, much more organized and controlled than the UK. In the UK I remember a rather jolly atmosphere of conviviality and bonhomie surrounding the polling station. The Israeli voting experience is by contrast quiet and sombre, but then we are all rather tired and not because of the early hour. Another police car glides by. I pass a second, larger polling station down the road; here there are two armed guards. Yes, definitely different from the UK. And now back to bed to grab an hour before I get some serious Pessah cleaning done: how else does one spend a day off at this time of year?