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Netanyahu, Kahlon, Barkat in Jerusalem 370.(Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem)
Spirit of the vote
Resisting the influence of hype, spin and manipulation and educating oneself on the issues is essential to the functioning of a healthy and enlightened democracy.
Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right. – Thomas Jefferson

Hype, spins and mudslinging partially tarnished our election season as campaigns entered into the last frantic phase before Israel’s citizens headed to the ballots. Today, as they exercise the democratic right to elect political representation, voters should try to disregard attention-grabbing stunts, spiritual enticements and manipulations and focus on the issues.

On Sunday night, it was nervous concern over Likud Beytenu’s plunge in the polls that seemed to push Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to appoint Moshe Kahlon as director of the Israel Lands Authority. Potential Likud Beytenu voters were supposed to get the message that Kahlon, as head of the bureaucratic body responsible for allocating land for housing, would succeed in lowering exorbitant real estate prices just as he succeeded as communications minister at drastically lowering the costs of cellphone service.

But the appointment, which will not go into effect for six months and is pending an amendment to the law, was rightly interpreted by many as nothing more than an eve-of-elections ploy hatched out of desperation.

During his weekly Saturday night sermon, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef lashed out viciously at Bayit Yehudi, in the process compromising his position as the spiritual leader of Shas, who is supposed to strive for the high moral ground. Yosef referred to Bayit Yehudi’s members as “wicked haters of Torah” and said that anyone who votes for the party “denies the Torah.”

One can only wonder whether Yosef manipulates Jewish law for personal expediency in other fields as he did in his “ruling” against Bayit Yehudi. Meanwhile, the Bayit Yehudi misleadingly used pictures of Netanyahu in its campaigns, seemingly implying the prime minister’s support of the party.

Then there was the internecine battling waged by Shas, Rabbi Haim Amsalem’s party Am Shalem, and Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak’s party Koah Lehashpia [Power to Influence], during which Yosef’s and Amsalem’s books were burned. Tear gas canisters were shot at the crowd during a rally led by Yitzhak and telephone threats were issued against various party officials.

Rabbis affiliated with United Torah Judaism, meanwhile, promised a blessing of “sons, long life, and wealth” for all who vote for the party – not a bad deal.

Central Election Committee Chairman Justice Elyakim Rubinstein has intervened in numerous cases: He ordered news stations to refrain from broadcasting the press conference announcing Kahlon’s appointment; he fined Bayit Yehudi for coopting Netanyahu’s images for its campaign; and he forbid UTJ and Shas from offering blessings – or protection from curses – in exchange for votes.

But in the final analysis, Israeli citizens – not Rubinstein – are the ones responsible for using their democratic right to vote in a judicious and intelligent way.

If Israelis are truly convinced that a rabbi or a talisman will bless them for voting for a particular party or are gullible enough to be swayed by cynical spins and cheap hype, the founders of democratic thought might roll over in their graves, but there is little Rubinstein or anyone else can do to convince them otherwise.

Ideally, more rational considerations will govern voters’ choices today as millions of voters are left alone with their thoughts behind the screen of the ballot box.

Getting out and voting is important. But exercising one’s right to vote is not enough. Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of democracy, favored universal suffrage, but only on condition that it went hand in hand with universal education.

Scholars such as Thomas Cahill, Eric Nelson and Yoram Hazony have noted that one of the most profound gifts of the Jews is that they broke down the fatalistic notions held by the ancients. Jews rejected the idea that nothing new ever happened and conceived of history as being shaped by human action and the future an unwritten slate.

Democracy, as envisioned by Jefferson, grows directly out of this Jewish idea of personal autonomy and responsibility.

Resisting the influence of hype, spin and manipulation and educating oneself on the issues is essential to the functioning of a healthy and enlightened democracy.
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