I never promised to keep my promise

If promises are not fulfilled and political positioning is contrived, how do voters decide for whom to vote?

An Israeli flag is seen in the background as a man casts his ballot for the parliamentary election (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Israeli flag is seen in the background as a man casts his ballot for the parliamentary election
(photo credit: REUTERS)
An article by the title “I never promised to keep my promise” appeared on these pages 26 years ago lamenting the failure of our political leaders to keep their pledges. In that instance, I wrote about prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, who had brazenly broken his written pledges to the Shas Party concerning the distribution of power in a new coalition to be formed after the elections for the 12th Knesset in November 1988.
Every day now we read about political leaders deciding how they want to “position” themselves for the 20th Knesset elections.
One party leader decides to “move” to the Center (|Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, before the investigation), another to the Left (the Zionist Union’s Tzipi Livni adapting to her new political settlement), and yet a third to the Right (Koolanu Moshe Kahalon in one of his recent zig-zags). We are told by the omniscient commentators the reasons for the political repositioning. Yet, the underlying assumption of all this is profound and, I believe, misplaced: the public has no residual conception or recollection of what any particular politician has purported to represent in the past. Thus, the politician is able simply to decide how he wants to be seen for this election and thereby attract votes from the targeted segment of the public.
Another way of putting this is that the voter is mindless and will accept as real whatever has most recently been projected.
Not being a certificated political scientist, I cannot posit rules of voter behavior, but intuitively I find the assumption of a mindless body politic to be unreliable. I believe that the rank-and-file public has great common sense, founded in real-life experience.
In broad terms, people heuristically understand who stands before them and what they more or less represent. Of course, regarding some of these politicians (maybe more than some), they represent little more than what they think we want them to represent. But most politicians do have political views or at least predispositions. And I believe that the public has both types pretty well figured out. As a lawyer in the US, I always trusted the judgment of a jury over that of a judge, based on a basic faith in the common sense of the “average Joe.” By and large that faith was proven correct.
All this rumination was triggered by a recent study released by the Institute for Zionist Strategies which analyzed the history of the Bayit Yehudi promises of a “Religious Revolution.” These promises were made by Bayit Yehudi leader and former economy and trade minister Naftali Bennett and former deputy minister of religious affairs Eli Ben-Dahan at gala press conferences in May, 2013 and February, 2014. It is most informative to track these public pledges of political action and see to what extent they were fulfilled.
According to the results of this study, Bennett and Ben-Dahan promised that the number of the religious councils would be reduced dramatically by consolidation, but this did not happen. They promised that the chairmen of the religious councils would be designated by professional appointment, but this, too, did not happen.
On kashrut, they promised: 1) uniformity among and transparency by the rabbinical authorities on a) standards and b) procedures; 2) a centralized and computerized national data and information center; 3) increased enforcement tools for kashrut supervisors; and 4) more kashrut supervisors. But not one of these promises was fulfilled.
In all, one solitary Bayit Yehudi promise was kept. The party promised legislation to allow young couples to choose more user-friendly localities with which to register for marriage, and such a provision was indeed enacted into law. But the rabbis were more adept than the legislators, and many local rabbis demanded certificates of bachelorhood from the applicant’s home rabbinical authority, rendering the new reform hollow.
If promises are not fulfilled and political positioning is contrived, how do voters decide for whom to vote? If I knew the answer to this question, I would be fishing somewhere off my own island. But here are some observations to consider. Unfortunately, almost a third of those eligible do not bother to vote for anyone.
Those that do vote, increasingly vote with their gut, and thus the perceived character of the person at the head of the list may be a most influential factor. Recidivist party-hoppers would not seem to engender trust. Candor and credibility are likely to become more and more important, and it is not by chance that the media experts who are paid to know concentrate on building image and likability.
One last observation: The real problem with predicting trends is that they will soon be tested by results.
Joel H. Golovensky, an attorney in Israel and the US, is the founding president of the Institute for Zionist Strategies.