This week’s elections in Israel started off as rather hum-drum. Israel’s economy is in relatively good shape, better than most European countries, with a high economic growth-rate and low unemployment. Nevertheless, the government has run up a large deficit, and we are looking at some major budget-cuts. The previous government wanted to avoid elections right after the budget-cuts, so they moved the elections up, ostensibly to assure a stable coalition majority before implementing the new economic meassures. Israel is a representative democracy, structurally rather similar to Sweden. However, Israel traditionally has one large party on the right, one large party on the left and lots and lots of little parties, all over the place. Many small parties are interest-groups, pushing a one issue agenda, such as the Greens, the Pensioners, the Pirates and more extreme religious parties. The majority of the narrow parties do not get in, the current minimum requirement to get a place in the Knesset is 2% of the total votes cast. So this was not an election campaign of “burning issues”, and it plodded along, centering more on the personalities of the party leaders than on ideological differences. Because there was little heat to the debates, there was a feeling that more voters than ususal would stay home. In Israel we get election-day off, mostly because many of the ballot-stations are housed in schools, and therefore the kids get a vacation day. Like they don’t have enough vacations as it is. Those poetically inclined call the break Democracy Holiday, and on election day the weather was gorgeous. Therefore, there was an even bigger risk of people going hiking, rather than voting.
The funniest part of this election campaign in Israel was no doubt the Central Election Committee’s initiative to encourage people to vote. Electronic media were filled with video-clips from “The Complaint Police” (sorry, only in Hebrew with Arabic subtitles) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BINQTy69yGY
On the radio, an announcer announces in a very official-sounding voice that all citizens must vote, and if not, their right to complain will be taken away for four years. “Don’t you say (goes into a really whiny voice) “I don’t like the way things are developing, I don’t care for that at all”, (back to official voice) because that is a complaint, and if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain”. In the end, it turned out all right, and the voting percentage was slightly higher than in previous elections.
Until the day of the elections, I wasn’t excited about going to vote, at all. But when I was actually at the ballotbox, I enjoyed how festive it feels and how lucky we are, to be part of a democracy. 64 years ago, when the state was founded, the vast majority of the Founding Fathers, such as David Ben Gurion, were people who came from undemocratic Easter Europe. Despite the fact that few of them grew up in a democratic tradition, it was obvious to them that the new state would be democratic. Despite what some Western media likes to report, all Israeli citizens have equal rights to vote. In the current elections three Arab parties got into the Knesset with a total of 12 mandates, out of 120. Not all Arabs vote for Arab parties, some vote for Jews. In Jassr A-Zarka, a small Arab village of 13,000 people south of Haifa, over 100 people voted for the Ultra-Religious Jewish Shas party. Apparenly the same thing happens in every election since Shas was founded. I have no rational explanation for that.
It will take a few more days till we know the final outcome of the voting, and then another few until we know who will be appointed prime-minister. However, in all likelihood Benyamin Netanyahu will continue as PM. Can’t say I’m happy about that, but I’m not devastated, either. If that is what the voters want, in a democracy, that is what they get.
Noomi Stahl medverkade i P1 igår morse, klicka här om du vill lyssna på det.
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