They’re baaack. Again! The Israeli national elections are upon us. Normally I wouldn’t write about this particular topic. Besides trying to stay clear of politics, I also like to write about occurrences that are somewhat rare and unusual. Israeli elections no longer fall into that category. We are heading to the polls for the fifth time in a little over three-and-a-half years, putting Israel in first place in the world in terms of the frequency of elections. This is a trophy we can do without. And there is no guarantee that this election will help us break the political deadlock that has been afflicting us for the last few years. But since elections have become so prevalent, I thought I would give you a taste of what goes on here.
A quick overview: There are 120 members of the Knesset. This year we are being treated to a smorgasbord of 39 parties, large and small, each with its own agenda and platform, which are running to secure their place in the Knesset. One party, Tzi’irim Boarim (Fiery Youth), has been drawing much attention. The party is headed by Hadar Muchtar, a TikTok influencer who at the age of 20 is a year too young to serve in the Knesset. Her main platform is to combat the increased cost of living. A majority of 61 seats are needed to take control of the Knesset placing the other parties in the opposition. With no one party ever able to garner that number of seats, the party with the most seats typically enters into negotiations with the smaller parties to form a coalition of 61 seats. If no party can reach a coalition of 61 seats, we go back to square one and start over. Simple. Right? Wrong!
National elections usually generate a certain amount of excitement which Israelis thrive on. But after so many elections, many have become bored and have decided to sit it out for these elections. Already in the most recent election, voter turnout was the third lowest in Israeli history. Some are just not bothering to follow the whole thing. The elections definitely dominate the media right now, but on the street, people seem less focused on it as compared to previous elections. Sightings of campaign banners are few and far between, at least in these parts. There have been no demonstrations. In order to counter the pervasive feeling of apathy, which can greatly impact the results of the elections, much effort and energy are being invested in motivating citizens to go out and vote. On the night before Election Day and throughout the day itself, inter-city public transportation is free. This definitely makes it easier for citizens to vote at their registered polling stations. Israelis do love to travel. But not only on intercity trains and buses. I believe that if voting would require traveling to an exotic country to place a ballot, motivation would soar. But with the exception of diplomats and emissaries of Zionist institutions who vote in embassies and consulates, all voting must take place inside Israel. So, politicians need to come up with other creative strategies. One approach is to produce extraordinarily high-pressuring campaigns. The survival of fill in the blank (Torah, the State of Israel, the judicial system, democracy, other) is at stake and depends on your vote. As we get closer to Election Day, the “HELP SAVE fill-in-the-blank!” campaigns become louder until they become deafening. Another interesting thing parties do is to try to convince you that their adversaries are winning (even if that may be inconsistent with the polling data) to encourage their potential supporters to go out and vote. These campaigns have come to be an expected part of elections and even have a name: “Gevald” campaigns. The push to get people to vote seems to have been successful. As of the time of this writing, voter turnout for this election is the highest figure since 1999.
But elections are not just a serious business; there is a lighter, more easy-going side to the day. With Friday being the one day off for many people and Sunday being a regular day of work, Election Day is a welcome (by employees, not employers) paid vacation day. As schools are converted into voting stations, the public school system closes down, giving happy children a day off from school. With no halachic restrictions or obligations about where to eat (Sukkos), what to eat (no chametz), and when to eat (not a fast day, before shkiyah), Election Day becomes the perfect time for an enjoyable outing. Many spend the day at the beach, recreational parks, or historic sites. Others shop up a storm. And many participate in the various Election Day activities taking place all over the country. A spectacular sound and light show took place at Masada last night. Throughout the day, politicians continue to campaign, hoping to secure a few more votes. Last election, I met Ayelet Shaked when she came to campaign in Ramat Beit Shemesh. Today, Bibi Netanyahu came to the Big Fashion Mall in Beit Shemesh, and Betzalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionist Party, came to the recreation center in Ramat Beit Shemesh.
Election Day costs money. A lot! The Finance Committee of the Knesset approved a proposed budget of $150 million, representing a cost of about $22 per voter of 6,788,804 eligible voters. The cost to the economy is billions of shekels. While Israel is well known for its high-tech industry, it is interesting to note that the voting process itself is very low-tech. There are no electronic polling stations. Voters stand behind a cardboard partition and choose one sheet from piles of paper slips, each containing the name of a party, which they then seal in an envelope and place in the slot of a blue cardboard box.
Many consider voting in Israeli elections to be a great mitzvah. Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief Rabbi of Tzfat, circulated a special tefilah to recite just prior to voting. We clearly need an enormous amount of assistance from Hashem regarding elections. We hope that this time we will see favorable and long-lasting results, b’ezrat Hashem!