By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
One: Israel rightly prides itself of its democratic structure. As the country isn’t divided into ridings where the first past the post candidate is elected, in theory every vote counts. That’s why today, election day, Israelis can vote for 32 different political parties (two others have withdrawn prior to the election). However, this seemingly fairest manifestation of democracy is, ironically, also one of its major shortcomings.
For a party to get any seats, it must get at least 75,000 votes of the more than 5,5 million potential voters. As most of the 32 parties won’t reach that, their useless ballots will benefit the large political parties. In other words, a lot of people will be helping politicians whom they wish to oppose.
That’s behind a large advertisement in my newspaper today (and no doubt in others, too) urging voters not to spoil their ballots by voting for the small parties. It’s signed by more than two dozen distinguished Israelis, about half of them recipients of the Israel Prize, the country’s highest honor.
I know what they mean. At the last general election I voted for a candidate who’s a friend and who had been in the Knesset before where he played an important and positive part. But the relatively large party with which he allied himself ditched him and he joined forces with a small one. He didn’t get in. My vote together with thousands of others benefited those whom we wished to oppose.
Though he’s not standing this time, there’re others of his kind who do. I won’t be voting for any of them. My vote will go to a party that’s certain to get in with several mandates; for all I know, my vote may help them to get an additional seat. Its ideology and platform speak to me. Though it’s almost certain that it won’t be part of the next government, its representatives will continue to make significant contributions to the Knesset and thus to the country.
Two: Often it seems that those who vote for new parties are disillusioned and are saying, “A plague on all your houses.” Thus in a previous election many young people voted for the Pensioners Party, which in no way represented their interests or served the country well. It’s possible that there’re such parties in this election, too, and they may get the vote of the cynics and the disgruntled. Once again, such votes may serve those who don’t deserve it and whom they don’t want to see re-elected.
Three: Democracy means, of course, that citizens are free not to vote. But that’s another way of helping the large parties that those who abstain don’t want to see in the government. A growing number of Israelis stay at home on voting day. The campaign to persuade them to vote is fairly vigorous but by all accounts too often it falls on deaf ears.
The Arab citizens of Israel are said to be particularly remiss in this respect. They could have a much stronger representation in the Knesset if they cast their votes for one of the specifically Arab parties or for others that have Arab candidates and espouse causes that would serve the Arab minority. Yet about 50% of Arab Israelis stay away and thus help to vote in those who are more likely to hinder than help them.
Democracy is, indeed, about casting, or not casting, your vote as you wish, but it’s also about helping to shape a government that reflects the wish of the people and steers the country in the right direction. It seems that a lot of Israelis fail to see this.