Israel elections: Who – and what – are you voting for?

‘If you are going to build a country, you had better be prepared to get your hands dirty!’– Rav Kook

VOTE AS IF your life depended upon it. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
VOTE AS IF your life depended upon it.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Are you ready for another spin on the (not so) merry-go-round? As elections confront us yet again this coming week – actually realizing the joke that Election Day is an annual national holiday – there is an awful lot of apathy and cynicism in the air. Many of the people I talk to are not at all sure that they will be voting this time, either because they are convinced that there will be still another “hung jury” and the outcome will be inconclusive, or because they are fed up with election politics and the constant mud-slinging between the candidates.
While their feelings of frustration are fully understandable, I urge these people, along with every single Israeli citizen, to resist the temptation to stay away from the ballot box. Just think of all the centuries throughout our Diaspora history, all the many places we sojourned on our travels around the planet, when we had no power, no say, no control whatsoever over our fate. We were acted upon – usually to our detriment – but were never the principal actors. Emperors and kings and pashas and popes and dukes and czars decided what our destiny would be, and we were helpless, hapless victims of the whims and desires of others. At a moment’s notice, we might be taxed into destitution, evicted from our homes or summarily massacred.
And there was no right or means of appeal.
Finally, we have established dominion over our collective lives and become full-fledged members of the community of nations. Now, it is we who will decide our future, we who will judge ourselves, rather than be judged by a sometimes hospitable, sometimes hostile outside force. This independence and self-rule is the truest miracle of Israel, but it only is manifested when the public at large takes hold of the reigns and lets its voice be heard.
Oh, I know that this election campaign has been particularly dirty, and that you may not want to be soiled by it. But face it, you have no choice, unless you want an ever smaller and smaller minority to make choices for you.
I am reminded of the story about Israel’s legendary pre-state chief rabbi, Abraham Isaac Kook. He visited a kindergarten one Tu Bishvat, and watched as the teachers handed the little children seedlings to plant in the garden. Suddenly, one of the teachers noticed Rav Kook crying, and rushed over to him. “What is the matter?” she exclaimed.
“You gave the children plants, but you didn’t give me one!” said the rabbi.
“But we thought it would not befit your honor to get down on the ground, in the dirt,” explained the teacher.
As Rav Kook took a seedling and bent to place it in the earth, he looked up at the teacher and said, “If you are going to build a country, you had better be prepared to get your hands dirty!”
Yet even for those who are committed to participating in this election, many have said they simply don’t know who to vote for. They feel that each of the candidates has some “fatal flaw,” and they don’t get a strong, secure feeling about any one of them.
Well, I can’t tell you who I personally favor in the race – too many columnists insist on sharing their secret ballot with the public, as if we Israelis need someone else to tell us what to do! – but what I can tell you is who I will not be voting for:
• I WILL not cast my single, precious vote for any party that maintains, as a general rule, that they will not sit with any one particular group of Jews, be they secular or religious, right- or left-wing. What does this say about the quality of unity, if they put any Jew in a corner and ostracize him? How can we ever have peace among ourselves if certain Jews are declared persona non grata from the outset?
• I also will not vote for any party that is soft on security, that votes (and has voted) for terrorist murderers to continue receiving monthly payments as reward for their crimes. Such individuals, and their parties, are accomplices to atrocities in my eyes, and have voted themselves out of the consensus by their obscene acquiescence to terrorist abominations. They have no place in our government.
• And I will not vote for any party that disrespects the Israeli army, that seeks any possible excuse to criticize and attack our holy soldiers. If there is any one force in Israel that brings the nation together, that is the “great equalizer” in society, it is the IDF, which daily places itself on the firing line and allows us to go about living our normal lives.
The ideal candidate will be someone, man or woman, who has demonstrated a profound sensitivity for every citizen of the country, who has served with distinction in our armed forces, who has a deep love and knowledge of Judaism and who respects universal values of decency, morality and – are you ready for this? – honesty. While recognizing the many aspects of life here that need attention and adjustment, he or she will take unabashed pride in being Israeli and will represent us to the world at large not as a victim or a persecuted pariah, but as a great nation that stands upright in its conduct, and not only has the right to exist, but the ability to lead the entire planet to greater glory.
If you believe that one of the candidates, or party, espouses these qualities, then you already know for whom to vote. But if this caped super-hero is still on the horizon, don’t let that deter you from doing your patriotic duty. Eventually, he or she will appear, because a great nation will always produce a great leader. Vote as if your life depended upon it – because it does.