Saturday, January 26, 2013

Israeli Elections: Our People Have Spoken

Shalom, chaverim! Things are rocking and rolling here in lovely little Nahariya, with last week's excitement being all about the national elections. It was with a quiet feeling of pride and communal participation that Elul and I went to our local polling station and cast our votes for the first time.

Voting in Israel is actually a fairly straightforward procedure. First, you get a card in the mail with your personal details and the address of your polling station. Then, on election day, you show up. (This is easy to do, since Election Day is a national holiday and nearly everyone has the day off.) You show the polling place worker your card and your national identity card (aka a "teudat zehut"), and when it's your turn, you are given an envelope and you go to your "voting booth." In Israel, your booth is basically a cardboard screen on a table.

A soldier casts his vote in his "voting booth."

Inside the "booth" is a cardboard tray filled with little pieces of paper. Each party has been given its own set of initials which identify it. All you do is grab the slip of paper that has the initials of the party you want to vote for, then put it in the envelope and seal it. Then you come out, put the envelope into a locked ballot box, and leave.

Sample of party identification slip and ballot envelope.
With this system, there is absolutely no chance of the "hanging chad" fiasco of American elections gone by. There is an elegant, low-tech simplicity to this process of voting. Aside from lots of trees being murdered for the sake of democracy, it seems like a method that is low-cost, easily understood, and very easy to administer.

The next day, there was great excitement all over the nation about the election results. The party of current Prime Ministery Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud, did not do as well as expected. Instead, a new party called "Yesh Atid" ("There is a Future") did quite well. This center-left party is run by a respected television news journalist and national columnist called Yair Lapid, and because of this strong showing got lots of seats in parliament. Now it's Netanyahu's job to form a coalition with different parties, including Yesh Atid, which should result in the country's moving away from the disproportionate dominance of the extremely religious parties. If you're interested in a reasonably concise explanation of Israel's current political parties, you can visit this article here. Note that this article was written before the elections, so some of the predictions were quite off. And, as the author notes, Israeli political parties seem to change as quickly as the weather.

The results of this electoral shift may have a real impact on the lives of millions here, and Israel's national economy. Since in the past, extremely religious Israelis called "haredim" have been exempted from military service and have received disproportionately large amounts of government assistance, the Yesh Atid party calls for an end to this preferential treatment. This is not the only problem facing Israel's economy, of course. But in short, the country cannot continue on its path of squeezing the working, tax-paying middle class into oblivion. Now that we have real "skin in the game" when it comes to matters of taxation and trying to make it economically in Israel, the political landscape has become less background noise.

In a small country like Israel, politics and democracy have real relevance to one's life. Remember, the entire country could fit into the state of Vermont, so we have to be very careful about how we conduct ourselves collectively. One of the reasons Elul and I wanted to make Aliyah was so we could have a real say in what goes on in Israel, and we wanted to earn the right to have that say. Our voices may be small and insignificant, but they are still being heard. Yet again, we're very glad we made Aliyah.

Shabbat shalom and shavua tov, everyone!


  1. Love your blog!!
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  2. It is fascinating to see how it is done there. So simple and straightforward. I'm surprised by how the little slips of paper look so beautifully crafted. Thank you for this look into everyday life in Israel.


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