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Elections in Israel

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The Israeli elections were held last week. I don’t hold Israeli citizenship, so I was unable to vote. To give a glimpse into the voting process here, I interviewed my friend, an Israeli who moved to the States when he was four years old, grew up in America, and moved back to Israel five years ago.

So election day comes, and with it, a full day off work. That’s right, the country shuts down so that people can undertake an activity that requires no more than a few hours’ time, in the worst case scenario. As such, my friend planned voting around the other activities of his day — seeing a movie, grabbing lunch, reading in a café.

Now, from what I gather through our conversation, the entire voting process here seems a bit . . . limiting, let’s say. Several booths are set up next to each other in different rooms. There is a list with the names of all eligible voters from a specific area, and when you get to the front of the line, you hand the person manning the list your ID card, he crosses your name off the list, and then you take an envelope with you and walk into the booth.

Once in the booth, there — are you ready for this? — little square pieces of white paper with the name of each party, and the party’s chosen head, written on them. No amendments, no legislation, no local or regional candidates. You simply choose the party and candidate you want, slip that piece of paper into your envelope, exit the booth, and deposit your vote in a ballot box.

Perhaps I’m just on a pro-America kick these days because of the recent election, but I must say, I was very disappointed when I heard about the voting process here in Israel. Everything about my friend’s experience seemed messy, slack and somewhat inaccurate.

First, Israel’s political system is parliamentary, meaning that you can vote for the specific candidate you want, but in the end, the strategy involves parties, blocs, coalitions and the finagling of politicians, as opposed to the will of the people.

That being said, you may be forced to vote strategically — against a potential coalition, let’s say — rather than for the person you ideologically support.

Moreover, this absence of “democracy” and of the involvement of the civil society seems to be present in the fact that you simply vote for a party, and have no say in laws such as those pertaining to environmental issues, educational reforms or personal freedoms and individual liberties.

Finally, as is always the case here in Israel, my friend’s voting experience does not appear to have been a well-run, efficient process. My friend arrived at the school where he was slated to vote, and found a long line of some 35 people, mainly senior citizens, awaiting him. All of these people were in line to vote at booth 136; next to him, at booth 44, however, there was no line at all. Everyone in line for booth 136 stood around, and after a good 20 minutes or so, the line still had not moved at all. Meanwhile, the few scragglers over at booth 44 whizzed in and out in mere seconds, happily continuing on their merry way to their leisurely day off work.

Obviously, people in line for booth 136 were complaining, but nothing could be done, and in the end, my friend just had to wait. (I can only imagine that the division of precincts-neighborhoods was done in typical Israeli fashion — with no rhyme or reason, and certainly no regard for efficiency.)

What can I say? I was not at all surprised to hear about my friend’s experience. But luckily for him, whatever annoyance and frustration which came as a result of the whole process — due to the voting system or the political system — was washed away by the falafel and movie (and nap) he was free to enjoy during the remainder of his full day off.

 

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