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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

January 28, 2003

On today's elections

I am getting tired of Haaretz. Their Hebrew edition's readership is the lowest among the 3 major Hebrew dailies. But they are selling their left-wing propaganda through their English edition on the web as Israeli mainstream. Consider this headline: "Expert: low voter turnout favors smaller parties; Likud said concerned". It is quite misleading, since the reality is that Labor is "said" to be just as concerned. In fact, IBA radio reported today that both Likud and Labor asked judge Cheshin to permit them to publicly call on Israelis to get out and vote, while there still was time. Then there is this:
Turnout has often spelled the difference between victory and defeat in Israeli elections. In 1996, for example, many Labor Party supporters refrained from voting, assuming that favored incumbent Shimon Peres would win re-election against underdog Likud challenger Benjamin Netanyahu. In a nail-biting result, Netanyahu edged then-prime minister Peres by just 27,000 votes out of more than four million.
I would not know - I was not following Israeli politics at that time. So, let's say, so far so good. Then it goes:
Turnout has also been strongly affected by "sectarian" factors, with voter percentages in such sectors as Israeli Arabs, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and the ultra-Orthodox, having a potentially crucial impact on the outcome of elections...

...The ultra-Orthodox have exhibited particular success in mobilizing high voter turnouts - at times flying in chartered planes full of voters registered in Israel but residing in New York
Hmmm...Except for the ultra-Orthodox super-enthusiasm, what do "sectarian factors" have to do with elections? Aren't members of these "sects" equally Israeli, and their votes are equally valid? Apparently, Haaretz thinks not:
In 2001, Israeli Arabs, angry with incumbent Ehud Barak over the handling of October, 2000 riots in which Israeli police fire killed 13 Arabs, boycotted the prime ministerial elections, which Ariel Sharon - buoyed by strong support from immigrants - won in a landslide.
Now I get it: Sharon won last time not because the majority of Israelis wanted to kick Barak out of office for his willingness to reward terrorism with concessions, and even not because many Israelis hoped, at least secretly, that Sharon will "clean up" the hornet's nests in the territories once and for all. He won because Israeli Arabs did not show up, and new immigrants from Russia showed up in droves. But what do those stupid "Russians" know? They don't really count, mind you.

Well, there is really no contradiction here. The truth is that people vote with their feet, not just their ballots. When one stays home and does not vote, he/she still casts a ballot of sorts. Problem is, I don't think that is what Haaretz had in mind. I think what they are doing here is preparing their English-speaking readers to Sharon's next win, which everyone, including Haaretz, thinks is inevitable.

As a side note, and speaking of voting with one's feet: on the radio today they interviewed Nativa Ben-Yehuda, the daughter of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who is considered the father of the modern Hebrew language. She was boasting that she had voted in all of the 16 Israeli elections, since the establishment of Israel. She mentioned, however, that several times she placed a blank ballot in her envelope. After she went off the air, some of the guys went wise-cracking about that last detail: "Nativa, darling, you know that placing a blank ballot is the same as not voting at all, don't you?" Well, guys, better shut up, and listen to the old lady. Maybe it is the same as being undecided. But it is definitely the opposite of being lazy, or indifferent, or spiteful.

I wish I could vote in these elections, but I cannot. In Israel we don't have absentee ballots, except for diplomats and such, and I think this is the way it should be. When I lived in Israel, I voted in all elections since I was old enough to do so, and I was never undecided. I hope I get to vote in many more Israeli elections in the future, and if there is no one I can consciously vote for (which I hope will never happen), I will vote with my blank ballot.

Update: turns out Mrs. Ben-yehuda is not Eliezer's daughter, but she is a celebrity, and is about 75 years old - long story. (Thanks to Imshin for the correction).