Israel Elections: Don't be pressured into changing your vote - opinion

Forget the threshold and be a strategic and principled voter, not a tactical and cynical one. Vote your conscience, even if that might mean that your ballot goes to waste.

 A NEARLY-EMPTY Knesset plenum debates the dispersal of parliament, in June. In the upcoming election, be a strategic and principled voter, not a tactical and cynical one, says the writer.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
A NEARLY-EMPTY Knesset plenum debates the dispersal of parliament, in June. In the upcoming election, be a strategic and principled voter, not a tactical and cynical one, says the writer.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

With ten days to go until Israel’s latest national election, the main message one hears from almost all the various party leaders is to vote for me to block the other guy. Vote for me to stymie the other guy’s potential coalition.

Such tactical election contention is rotten. It completely ignores the critical diplomatic, defense, economic and social issues at hand. It guts Israeli politics of any serious ideological argument. It reduces our serial election campaigns to yet another round of sumo wrestling. It is a mind-numbing approach to determining Israel’s future.

Worse still, it is the oft-heard admonition not to waste your vote or not to vote for a political party that teeters at the so-called “threshold.” The current electoral threshold, the minimum for gaining Knesset representation, is 3.25% of all valid votes. In practice, this means that a party that fails to gain votes equivalent to about four Knesset seats is wiped-off the political map.

This, too, is a terrible contention. It strips voters of their right to vote their conscience in an unadulterated manner. It reduces election day to tactical play, instead of it being a celebration of democracy in action. It is a dispiriting approach to Zionist and Jewish political commitment.

I say, forget the threshold and be a strategic and principled voter, not a tactical and cynical one. Vote your conscience, even if that might mean that your ballot goes to waste.

 Workers prepare ballot boxes for the upcoming Israeli elections, at the central elections committee warehouse in Shoham, before they are shipped to polling stations, October 12, 2022 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Workers prepare ballot boxes for the upcoming Israeli elections, at the central elections committee warehouse in Shoham, before they are shipped to polling stations, October 12, 2022 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Voting in such an upright fashion is a healthy and satisfying slant on political engagement. Selecting the political party and political leader that most closely represents one’s worldview, without slavish reference to the latest polls proffered by biased media outlets and various political hucksters is corrective to the cynicism that almost all Israelis feel about the political system.

It might mean that your vote goes to waste, but guess what? It also could mean that your vote might not go to waste! If enough people in your sector vote their conscience and best ideological judgment, your preferred political party may, indeed, be elected successfully to the Knesset. Your vote could make the difference.

And what’s the worst that can happen, that your vote will go to waste? So what! Israel anyway seems headed to another political stalemate, with repeat elections likely in April 2023. So, you’ll get another chance at that time to reconsider your vote and make a greater impact on the overall result. Perhaps, hopefully, by then the range of political party options and especially their leaders will be better and broader.

Don't be silly 

TO BE clear, I am not suggesting that Israelis vote for the pot or pirate parties, or for any one of the two dozen super-fringe factions that will have ballot slips on November 1. Doing so would be truly silly. These splinters are too wacky to be taken seriously and too tiny to have any chance whatsoever of being elected to the Knesset.

But I am suggesting that left-wing Israelis who believe in the secularist and non-Zionist principles espoused by Zehava Galon of Meretz should vote as a matter of principle for Meretz, even though the pollsters question whether the party will cross the threshold. They should not be off put by the pollsters.

I am suggesting that Arab Israelis who are impressed by the bravery of Mansour Abbas of Ra’am in joining an Israeli government (the first time that an Israeli Arab party has done so) and by his achievements in government, should vote for Ra’am as a matter of principle. They should not be deterred by doubts that the party can surmount the threshold this time, nor should they be threatened by radicals in their sector for identifying with Ra’am.

I am suggesting that right-wing and/or religious Zionist Israelis who deem Ayelet Shaked to be an honest, effective and weighty conservative leader should vote as a matter of principle for Bayit Yehudi. They should not be daunted by threshold uncertainties, nor frighted by angry accusations of disloyalty to the fate of the Netanyahu bloc. If enough people in this sector vote their conscience and use their best ideological judgment, Bayit Yehudi, indeed, may be elected successfully to Knesset.

The same goes for potential voters for Merav Michaeli. Her version of the Labor Party and each of the above-mentioned parties have a clear-enough identity, political history and tens of thousands of votes surely behind it to make it a passable choice.

Alas, Israeli voters face another muddy election in a convoluted Israeli political system, where negative campaigning and personal animosities are at a peak. Most politicians are selling fallacies instead of tackling real issues with concrete solutions. They are selling tactical calculations instead of purposeful policies. They tell Israelis to vote to sidetrack the other guy.

Israelis ought to ignore such soul-destroying rat-a-tat and proudly vote their principles, even defiantly vote their conscience. Worse comes to worst, there will soon be another election.

The writer is a senior fellow at The Kohelet Forum and in the research department of Israel’s Defense and Security Forum (Habithonistim). The views expressed here are his own. His diplomatic, defense, political and Jewish world columns over the past 25 years are archived at davidmweinberg.com.