Real democracy?

A new initiative encourages Israelis to pair up with Palestinians and vote on their behalf.

Israeli-Arab man casts his vote elections voting 370 (R) (photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
Israeli-Arab man casts his vote elections voting 370 (R)
(photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
"I’m Aya, age 28. I am an Israeli citizen and I wish to give my vote to a Palestinian citizen,” writes Aya Shoshan on the Facebook page of Real Democracy – an online group of Israelis, Palestinians and internationals whose stated goal is “to provoke thought, dialogue and a political change” that will result in an equal democracy.
“Giving my vote is a symbolic act; if Palestinians are not part of this democracy, then neither am I,” writes Shoshan.
“Calling this election a democracy when there are four million Palestinians under Israeli control, with no right to vote in Israel or establish their own state, is a joke. Let’s expose the hypocrisy together. My Palestinian friend, you have my vote. What would you like to do with it?”
THE OBJECT of the group members’ discontent is what they call the government’s “illusion of democracy,” which they are trying to change using the January 22 Knesset election.
Their method is simple: Israelis who are eligible to vote are encouraged to give their votes to Palestinians. Each Israeli will be paired with a Palestinian and will vote for the latter’s candidate of choice on election day.
The inspiration for Real Democracy was a campaign called “Give Your Vote” that took place in England in 2010. Citizens of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Ghana who would ultimately be affected by England’s elections were given the opportunity to participate by telling a voter whom to vote for.
The Israeli version, which began on December 26, is quickly gaining momentum.
Hundreds of Israelis have made pledges directly on the Facebook page or by email. Others have heard about the campaign and independently offered their votes. As of this writing, the page has received 1,249 “likes” and Palestinians are also sending emails to Israelis asking for their votes.
According to Real Democracy, “the Israeli government makes many decisions that control the lives of millions of Palestinians who live under occupation and siege... yet Palestinians have no right to vote for the Israeli government.” This is the reason some Israelis give for “donating” their votes to Palestinians.
THE ADMINISTRATORS of the Facebook page claim that undemocratic policies toward Palestine can be found on two levels: in the Israeli government and in the United Nations, both of which, they argue, render Palestinians powerless. A non-member status in the United Nations leaves Palestinians voiceless and without representation, administrators say, while Israel has full representation and can vote in the UN General Assembly.
Creators of the Real Democracy campaign believe Israel has two options: “Either the occupation stops, or allow Palestinians to vote in the elections.”
MUHANAD IS a 23-year-old Palestinian volunteer for the campaign. An activist and a guide for activist peace groups, he believes that Real Democracy “tries to build a bridge between the two peoples from both sides in order to share their views and opinions about the political situation.”
Not everyone agrees with him. “It is a new idea, and Palestinians have not practiced such an experience that exposes them directly to the other side, which used to [cause them to] feel frightened and panicky.”
He thinks that Palestinians should contribute to building trust between the two sides, but that Israelis should be the ones to initiate a change, since Palestinians “significantly ache from the occupation which is manifested in settlements, checkpoints, inaccessibility to water and no control over Palestinian land.”
All Palestinians are affected by the “occupation” at various levels, he says, and this has caused serious emotional damage.
Current results of the campaign show that one-third of Palestinians have asked their Israeli counterparts to boycott the elections; one-third prefer Hadash, since they would like to work with Israelis as partners for peace; and one-third want their votes to go to parties such as Balad, Meretz and the Da’am Workers’ Party.
Polls for the 19th Knesset vote show that the new government, most likely led by a Likud Beytenu ticket, may take an even tougher stance on these issues than does the present Knesset.
But, says Gilad Harish, a Tel Aviv lawyer, “This initiative is a gimmick. It is a joke to think that this is legal.”
“Israeli law says the vote is given to Israeli citizens and it is not to be passed to any other person, Israeli or not.”
In this case, the act of giving up one’s vote is undemocratic.
The Central Elections Committee declined to comment on the legality of the initiative.
According to Prof. Amal Jamal, professor of political science at Tel Aviv University and director of I’lam – Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel, “the Palestinians have been completely pushed aside since 2009,” the year Binyamin Netanyahu became prime minister.
“His right-wing government made it clear that it does not recognize Palestine as part of an imagined future, and ignores the Palestinians as partners in peace,” he states, adding that “the government benefits from an increasing number of settlements and their expansion in the West Bank. Additionally the government targets Area C, occupying more and more land in order to reduce the space left for any future Palestinian state.”
The average Israeli, Jamal says, supports the government’s policy in the West Bank by the mere fact that they either ignore or suppress what the government is doing there.
However, Shoshan does not consider herself one of those Israelis. Active during the 2011 social justice movement, she works with Palestinian communities, and she sees herself as part of the global movement that began in Tunisia and led to the Arab Spring.
“In Israel, our case is especially strong. Millions of people who are directly controlled by the Israeli authorities do not have even the basic right to vote,” she complains.
In fact, she argues, “the occupying regime represents the interests of those who do not want Palestinians on this land.”
Reactions from her peers vary. Whereas many of her friends have expressed enthusiasm for the Real Democracy campaign, she has also received crude messages such as “self-hating scum” and “a pathetic embarrassment to the Jewish people.”
Her own vote will go to a Palestinian from a refugee camp near Hebron.
Muhanad has not yet asked for a vote, but he hopes that when he does, his efforts will help the Arab citizens of Israel.
Both agree that the voting gesture is symbolic and will not really affect the outcome of the elections, but Muhanad says that “it is just the start of a long way.”
“For some Israelis, it has been the first time talking to Palestinians and hearing from them about their stories with the Israeli occupation, whether they were from Israel itself, the West Bank, Gaza Strip or the diaspora,” he says. “All of that occurred throughout this [Facebook] page. And definitely for Palestinians, it is the same.”