Israeli Voting

IMAGE_110 This morning, for the first time in Israel, I exercised one of the most cherished responsibilities and privileges of a citizen – I voted.

Voting in Israel is quite different than voting in the US.  Every time I’ve voted in the US, there are signs of technology.  I’ve voted on touch screens, I’ve voted with forms where you fill in circles or complete bars to vote in a way amenable to electronic readers.

By comparison, my voting process this morning was pretty primitive.  I was up very early today, as co-host of the Rabbinical Assembly’s “Rabbis’ Run” this morning.  I finished the run and got back home around 7, just as the polls were opening.  Decided I might as well do it early, and it was good I did – there was no line at all.

Similar to the US, I voted at a school, where there were different rooms for different “precints.”  But from there it was different.  There were four officials in the empty classroom, and one voting booth.  They checked my ID against the roster, and handed me an envelope.  I went behind the booth and there was a box with a bunch of compartments with slips of paper.  I had wondered why ads for political parties were accompanied by cryptic abbreviations, for example, while Meretz is logically the letters that spell Meretz, Labor is alef mem tuv (emet), which seems to have no connection to Labor, Likud is mem-chet-lamed, and so on—now I knew.  The slips of paper for the ballots had those abbreviations.  You stick the slip of paper of your choice in the envelope, seal the envelope, and drop it in the blue box as in the picture above.  They cautioned me to make sure there was only one slip of paper in the envelope.

As I came out, another voter (who I think heard my American accent) said this was really a two-horse race: the American horse and the Russian horse.  The American horse, of course, being Netanyahu of Likud who lived in Brooklyn for a while and has a lot of support among the increasingly right wing “Anglo” community, and Lieberman, the Russian.

The election season in Israel was certainly a lot different than in the US; limited in time and intensity.  I think there is a huge amount of voter apathy this time.  None of the candidates is really all that exciting.  Israelis definitely want a prime minister that would give them hope, and none of them seems to be offering much hope.  They are all offering variations on more of the same.  Two of the three leading candidates for PM – Livni and Barak – are senior ministers in the current government, so a vote for either is probably something of a vote for the status quo.  The third major candidate, Netanyahu, has been PM before, and there probably wouldn’t be anything so new about him this time.  The fourth major vote getter, Lieberman, would certainly be different, but he’s pretty scary.  So all in all, no one to be really enthusiastic about.  I think a lot of voters are going to the polls out of a sense of duty, not out of a sense of being galvanized by the candidate/party of their choice.

Still, on a personal level, even though I was not thrilled with the candidates, I was thrilled with the idea that for the first time I cast my vote as an Israeli citizen.  Pretty cool.

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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