I don’t often agree with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the right wing religious party Shas, on matters of politics. Yet here’s something we can agree on: a vote Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman is a vote for the devil. R. Yosef said "They are people with no Torah, people who want civil marriage, pork stores and drafting yeshiva students. My heart is heavy. They must not support them, it is forbidden. Whoever does so, his sin is too great to bear. Whoever does so supports the devil."
In case the message wasn’t clear enough, in his weekly sermon this past week, R. Yosef explicitly called Lieberman out by name: "Whoever votes for Lieberman gives strength to Satan."
In this case, I agree with R. Yosef 100%: a vote for Lieberman is a vote for the devil! Although my reasons are very different. Lieberman is one of the most virulently racist politicians on the Israeli scene. He favors executing Arab Parlimentarians who meet with Hamas and favors doing a population transfer, transferring Arab towns that are INSIDE pre-1967 Israel to the Palestinians in order to reduce the number of Arabs in Israel. It has recently come to light in the Israeli press that Lieberman was once a member of Kach, Meir Kahane’s ultra-far-right political party (on the US’s list of terrorist organizations) that favors expelling all Arabs from the biblical land of Israel. Supporters of Lieberman have been heard shouting “death to Arabs” while waiting for their hero to arrive.
On the other hand, politics can make for very strange bed-fellows. Even though Lieberman is cast in the role of far right bogeyman, other than his racist rhetoric in many ways his actual views are more moderate than that of the center-right Likud party. Leiberman favors getting the government out of the religion business, allowing civil marriage, the creation of a Palestinian state, and dividing Jerusalem and giving the Arab eastern part to the Palestinians – which puts him closer to Kadima than to Likud on many issues.
All of which shows one of the problems of this election, and one of the ironies. Many polls say voter turnout might be low tomorrow. People don’t know who to vote for. There have been no debates between the candidates; there has been little discussion of crucial issues like security, or the economy. Instead the election is all about personalities. See my post “I believe him, I don’t believe in him” on that subject. The great irony is that the election has been turned into an election over personalities, yet Israeli voters don’t get to directly vote for any of those personalities – they only get to vote for political parties. That in theory should be offering us platforms and positions more than personalities.
There is an “Israel Election Compass”which is actually very helpful in trying to figure out which party one is most inline with. I was a little surprised by the results when I filled out the questionnaire and saw where I was mapped on the compass. In recent weeks, I found myself feeling some affinity for Michael Melchior’s Meimad party, which is a little bit of a quirk: a left wing religious party. But on the map, I come out much closer to the center, in the middle of a little clump that includes Labor, the Greens, and Torah Judaism. Torah Judaism was a bit of a surprise, especially since on any of the issues that relate to the role of the state in religion, my positions are almost diametrically opposed to theirs – but apparently in terms of security and the economy their views are pretty close to mine.
So who to vote for? I can understand why polls are showing a large number of “undecideds.” It’s a day before the elections, and I’m still undecided. Which is very rare for me. I’m usually not shy about coming to an opinion on political matters. But the differences between several of the major parties on important issues are either small or unknown. Tzipi Livni (Kadima) is currently foreign minister and Ehud Barak (Labor) is currently defense minister. I read two newspapers a day and really pay attention to what’s going on here; yet I couldn’t really tell you what the differences are between either those two individuals or the parties they lead on the crucial issues of security and the economy. Their ads have all been about who’s trustworthy and who’s capable, not at all about issues.
A lot of people have decided to sit this one out. The other day I was buying a felafel for lunch, and heard a conversation that was another one of those, only in Israel discussions. Customer sees guy making felafel looks religious sefardi — black kippa, dark complexion. So customer asks "who you voting for? Shas?" (Shas is the party of the religious sefardis). Felafel maker says, "no, I'm going to sit this one out, I don't like any of them!" Customer goads him a little, saying, "what, you have to vote for someone! How about Meretz!" he tries, laughing at his own joke (Meretz is an avowedly secular left wing party). Then he offers that he doesn't see any choice but Likud.
Can you imagine in the States, someone walking up to the cashier at McDonald's, a few days before Election Day, and starting a conversation, "So, who are you going to vote for?" Not so likely…
Israeli law forbids polls in the last few days leading up to an election. The most recent polls showed Kadima gaining on Likud because Yisrael Beiteinu was drawing away some Likud seats. So Kadima and Likud (led by Benjamin Netanyahu) are almost in a dead heat at this point. There could definitely be a surprise at the polls; I just hope it won’t be a nasty surprise for those of us who favor a negotiated peace with the Palestinians, freedom of choice in religion, and a capitalist economy (with a safety net).
One thing’s for sure though. Like Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, I won’t be voting for that devil Avigdor Lieberman!