The POSTman Knocks Twice: The coming of age of the Israeli voter

Not so long ago, you could pretty well know how Israelis would vote by an identifying feature or features, what knowledgeable English-speakers call stereotyping.

Israeli election ballots [File] (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israeli election ballots [File]
Not so long ago, you could pretty well know how Israelis would vote by an identifying feature or features, what knowledgeable English-speakers call stereotyping.
A few examples: haredi dress equaled voting for an ultra-Orthodox party; a black kippa wearer with a guttural accent chose Shas; a smaller kippa was national religious; non-kippa wearers were distinguished by class: while working and lower middle class voted Likud; upper middle class and intellectuals chose Labor or Meretz. And so on.
The stereotypes are of course sweeping generalizations of how we pigeonhole people in our minds. The word was first used in this sense by the American Jewish journalist Walter Lippmann in his ground-breaking book Public Opinion almost a hundred year ago. Stereotypes obviously tend to lead to prejudice. But they can be dispelled by face-to-face talk, and openness to the other.
Now here is the great change, the “coming of age.” Below are a series of random conversations I have had with strangers, which is a habit that causes consternation to my family, who now realize this is my trademark.
Stereotype 1: A skimpy white beard on an olive-skinned man wearing a large black kippa, who spoke Hebrew so gutturally that he threw me back to the newcomers 60 years ago. I asked how he sees the elections.
He said, “Ahh, what a bunch of...”
I: So don’t vote Shas, He: I can’t stand Shas. They dress like Ashkenazim and have lost all the openness of the true Sephardim. I just don’t vote at all.
I: Where you from? He: (Puzzled) Why? Jerusalem. I was born here, That concluded our chat. Two strikes on me. He was not a Shasnik, and he was not a new immigrant. I might be forgiven the latter because his Hebrew was nothing like that of the old line Jerusalemite Sephardi families, like the Banais or the Eliashars. Nonetheless, the stereotype was shattered.
Stereotype 2: An Ashkenazi, speaking Sabra Hebrew, if a bit pedantic, wears spectacles and obviously looks an intellectual.
Must be a leftist, but hard to say which party. Probably Meretz, looks a bit too determined to be Labor-Zionist.
No dialogue needed, but what a wrong stereotype.
It is Bennie Begin. He holds a PhD and is known as an honest person and, like his father, a man of dignity and principle. To my consternation, he has just accepted Mr. Netanyahu’s offer to join the Likud list as No. 11. Ideology must play the determining role here. Having met and respected Bennie Begin, I doubt whether Bibi is his dream of rectitude.
Stereotype 3: A graduation ceremony from the capital’s Hartman High School. The young grads almost all wear small kippot, some fastened by clips and worn on the top of their head. Some of my erstwhile neighbors from the blackest Right would spit at the mention of the late and remarkable David Hartman. All these young men must be – those neighbors would think – implacable unrepentant leftists, about to undermine Orthodoxy.
Wrong. Hearing the yeshiva choices these youngsters made, we saw that many leaned rightward, ranging from the hesder yeshivot known for their unreconstructed Greater Israel beliefs through to Ateret Kohanim, the hotbed of Third Templists.
Yes there were others who chose “mixed” (male-female or Orthodox-non-Orthodox) pre-army preparatory-year courses.
A selected few wanted the most liberal of Orthodox yeshivot – that of the Religious Kibbutz Movement in Ma’aleh Gilboa.
Just a few.
Stereotype 4: True, if politically incorrect. An immigrant who arrived here from the former Soviet Union about 11 years ago.
I: Which part? He: Moldova.
I: Like [Avigdor] Liberman. What do you think of him? He: Give him two years as prime minister and he’ll straighten out our government.
I: Really? He: Just because he is strong, “they” are after him. They’re always after strong people, like Bibi, too...
I: Okay.
Now, dear reader, I believed that just as there were many right-wingers among what we call “Russian” immigrants, I also knew of people on the Left. I have read reports of the younger generation of Israeli educated children of “Russian” immigrants who vote along lines similar to the rest of the population.
In this case, my interlocutor was a correct if bad and outmoded stereotype.
Stereotype 5: And finally, the clearly Likud-brand group of taxi drivers. They belong to a company which puts Likud stickers on its cars in election season, and whose leader is a devoted fan of Benjamin Netanyahu.
I: Well we can talk politics, because there’s no one in your company who isn’t Likud.
He: Not all.
I: Come on, I’ve driven with dozens of you.
He: I never voted Likud. Maybe the others did. I never voted Bibi.
I: Okay. Sorry.
Another incorrect stereotype So what is the purpose of these ramblings? They are not a scientific poll. Just random conversations. What is the point? The bottom line is that stereotypes are misleading, that the days of bringing voters en masse by machers – the political voting operators who knew how everyone would vote by various tricks and subterfuges – is just about gone.
Israeli voters have come of age. Three generations after statehood, many voters make up their minds on issues or on character, and the floating vote is large. As for the polls, they are interesting, but with a 4 percentage point margin of error, they are better as indicators rather than as actual predictors.
And just as in every generation there rises a new star to attract the young, inexperienced and disenchanted, so it/he fades. We saw it happen with the great Yigael Yadin. We saw it happen with the less great Tommy Lapid, and we see his son, a television personality with no parliamentary or executive experience, Yair, heading in the same direction.
There is a new star on the horizon, Moshe Kahlon and his Koolanu (“All of Us”) party. The party will undoubtedly merge with one of the blocs or submerge by the next elections. Meanwhile it is an important safety valve for moderate rightists disillusioned with Netanyahu’s Likud.
Thus I believe that we have finally reached a stage of voter maturity.
The optimist in me and the seasoned Zionist will welcome the results, whatever they may be, knowing that cheap manipulation and brash sloganeering no longer works.
Avraham Avi-hai was a senior staff member in the Ben-Gurion and Eshkol governments, and a member of the Jewish Agency-WZO executive for a decade. His academic books have been followed by a novel,
A Tale of Two Avrahams (Gefen Publishing House and Amazon).