LOS ANGELES, CA – Once again, and for the fifth time in four years, Israel is on the brink of an election, and is facing the all-too-familiar prospect of political deadlock—even before ballots are cast. With the country just weeks away from its November 1 election day, political parties and factions are going through the motions of campaigning, sloganeering, and branding exercises. Their efforts seem to be putting a new spin on the same question that voters have been confronting for years: should they or should they not return Benjamin Netanyahu to the prime minister’s office? If the last four elections have demonstrated anything, it is that this round may not help change the Israeli political map in any decisive fashion or produce a more conclusive result for both politicians and the public at large.
With only a few days to go until the Israeli election, the message one hears from almost all the various party leaders is: Vote for me to block the other guy. Vote for me to stymie the other guy’s potential coalition.
When elections come down to stopping someone else from being elected, then voters are no longer voting for anyone or really anything. The result really ends up demoralizing the electorate, it is the equivalent of a sports team always on defense and never really advancing forward. Such “tactical” voting is rotten. It completely ignores the critical diplomatic, defense, economic and social issues at hand. It guts Israeli politics of any serious ideological argument. It reduces our serial election campaigns to yet another round of sumo wrestling. It is a mind-numbing approach to determining Israel’s future.
Worse still is the oft-heard admonition not to “waste” your vote, not to vote for a political party that teeters at the so-called “threshold.” (The current electoral threshold, the minimum for gaining Knesset representation, is 3.25% of all valid votes. In practice, this means that a party that fails to gain votes equivalent to about four Knesset seats is wiped-off the political map.) This, too, is a terrible contention. It strips voters of their right to vote their conscience in an unadulterated manner. It reduces election day to pure pragmatism eliminating a passionate pursuit in the interest and celebration of democracy. It is a dispiriting approach to Zionist and Jewish political commitment. It could even be equated to when baseball in America was reduced to “Moneyball” and the only goal was merely to get on base. In this case it will create a functional government, but it will be devoid of drive and the desire to achieve something that lasts longer than the next election cycle.
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Instead, what is necessary is to vote in an upright fashion – one that is a healthy and satisfying form of political engagement. Selecting the political party and political leader that most closely represents one’s worldview without slavish reference to the latest polls proffered by biased media outlets and various political hucksters is a corrective to the cynicism that almost all Israelis feel about the political system.
It might mean that your vote “goes to waste,” but guess what? It could also mean your vote does not go to waste. If enough people in your “sector” vote their conscience and best ideological judgment, your preferred political party might be elected to the Knesset. Your vote could make the difference.
And what’s the worst that can happen? Israel seems headed towards another political stalemate, with repeat elections likely in April 2023. So, you’ll get another chance at that time to reconsider your vote and make a greater impact on the overall result. (And perhaps, hopefully, by then the range of political party options and especially their leaders will be better and broader.)
To be clear, I am not suggesting that Israelis vote for any one of the two dozen super-fringe factions that will have ballot slips on Nov. 1. Doing so would be truly silly. These splinters are too wacky to be taken seriously and too tiny to have any chance whatsoever of being elected to the Knesset.
Alas, Israeli voters face another muddy election in a convoluted Israeli political system where negative campaigning and personal animosities are at a peak. Most politicians are selling fallacies instead of tackling real issues with concrete solutions. They are selling tactical calculations instead of purposeful policies. They tell Israelis to vote to sidetrack the other guy.
Israelis ought to ignore such soul-destroying rat-a-tat and proudly vote their principles, even defiantly vote their conscience. If worse comes to worst, there will soon be another election.