Elections in Israel, part 1

Today I voted – in Israel. Having lived there part-time for a long time as a temporary work gig turned into a quasi-permanent one, eventually I became a dual citizen.

There is no need for a campaign to motivate people to vote here — voter turnouts are generally quite high. Ascribe it to the argumentative character of the Jewish people (yours truly included), or to the “something for everybody” slate of over 30 parties, or to the inability to “take a vacation from reality” in a country that still cannot take its very existence for granted — Israelis vote, even as they grumble.

But while the voter turnouts might be a Deemocrat [sic] ward-heeler’s dream, the vote integrity measures would be his nightmare. We showed up with our blue national ID cards and our individual official voter’s summons, at the designated polling station indicated there. There, our faces were checked against out ID cards and our names and ID numbers against the roster of voters — then, as we were handed our ballot envelopes, the entries struck through to indicate that we voted.

Despite Israel being an early-adopter country, generally speaking, when it comes to technology, the voting procedure is decidedly old-fashioned. The voter is directed to a booth which has piles of printed slips with the various party’s ballot letters (in huge print) and full names (in still-large print). One picks the one for the party of one’s choice, inserts it in the envelope, and seals it — then, again in full view, deposits the sealed envelope in the ballot box.

The system is not fully bullet-proof. Some fraud is known to exist — typically in the ultra-Orthodox and Arab sectors where identity cards of deceased people are sometimes not returned but recycled by voters that, to an outsider’s eye, “all look the same”. Also, a person that cannot read the country’s two official ballot languages (Hebrew and Arabic) and/or is not “all there” can be manipulated by giving them preprinted slips of a party and telling them to put those in the ballot envelope. Furthermore, people who read Hebrew haltingly may get confused between the about three dozen different letter codes — this is one reason why all parties display theirs very prominently on all their campaign materials. A number of the veteran parties have de facto permanent codes: אמת for Labour (although שקר or כזבwould be more apt ;-)), מחל for the Likud, ג for United Torah Judaism, and the like. 

Yet, on balance, the vote in this country reaches a level of integrity that US elections can only dream of. 

THere is no longer a direct election of the prime minister, who is the head of government here — the president’s position, as head of state only, is largely ceremonial. Typically the head of the largest party becomes the prime minister if (s)he can cobble together a coalition that can muster a majority in the Knesset. THere is no realistic chance, for better or worse, that the next prime minister will be anybody other than Binyamin Netanyahu.

And “coalition” — aye, there’s the rub. Israel has  full proportional representation and no electoral districts of any kind, and only very recently was an electoral threshold of 2 (two) percent introduced. This means in practice a highly fragmented parliament, as well as that the kind of lobbying and horse-trading by special interests that goes on inside the two major parties in the US here takes place right in the open, between competing sectorial parties. 

Yet a smorgasbord of options still does not guarantee a party that truly fits. The last US elections offered a stark choice that, somehow, is absent here. Leaving the far-left, far-right, and sectorial parties aside, all of the options had one fatal flaw or another for me. The option of putting in a blank slip with “mihu John Galt?” written on it sounded appealing, but struck me as an act of self-defeating electoral self-gratification. In the end, as no “Tea Party of Israel” was running, I ended up voting for the least bad fit with my own beliefs.

(to be continued)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s