Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Israeli Election Day 2013

Because of the Knesset elections, all public institutions - Gan, the post office, banks, government offices - are closed and the day has become a middle-of-the-week holiday.  Many people went traveling up North, and based upon the news report I saw on television last night, a large number of these citizens don't particularly care to end their vacation early in order to vote.

As a political science major at Barnard College and as a human being who generally throws herself gladly into the arena of Democracy, I think this voter apathy is a shame and an embarrassment.  These same families who choose a hike over the gift of choosing the next Prime Minister will be the first to complain once the election ends.

The Israeli system can seem baffling if you have grown up with the American version of voting.  First off, it is considered most impolite and practically a violation of your personal rights if you ask a person whether he voted for Obama or Romney;  but on the streets of Jerusalem this morning, every conversation in which I was involved or overheard started with the sentence, "So, who got your ballot today?" With a 15% Undecided coming into the elections, that question became much more interesting than usual.

Secondly, America pretends at direct elections, but then starts with the bullshit of the Electoral College, compounded by Blue and Red states.  So for example, when I voted this past November, it didn't really matter because I am registered in Massachusetts, Seriously Blue territory, and it was obvious that Obama would take the state and its delegates even if no one showed up at the polls.

In Israel they have direct elections in the sense that you vote for a party list.  You cannot choose the list per se, though as a registered member of a party you can vote in the primaries.  A designated price per seat is assigned, and literally each vote is counted toward that goal;  private deals have been negotiated for the 'spare change' so to speak.  In order to sit in the Knesset, your party must receive enough votes to account for at least two mandates out of 120;  if you fail to pass the threshold, your party disappears into oblivion.

The party with the most seats almost automatically gets the nod for forming the government, which then deteriorates into an ugly and expensive series of back room meetings, until the sitting government can claim a majority of at least 61 out of the total 120 seats.

The procedure itself dates back to the Byzantine Era, you stand behind a flimsy piece of card board, you choose a little piece of paper that represents your list and put it in a blue envelope.  The blue envelope goes into a blue box, and at the end of voting at ten pm, a bunch of really dedicated and really tired people count them by hand.

Based upon recent polls, Netanyahu's sitting Likud-Russian Mafia party will most surely receive the most seats, although less than they had anticipated.  They will then most likely form their majority government with other similar leaning parties (The Jewish Home), at least one despicable Ultra Orthodox party (Shas), and maybe, if they have the balls, one Center-Left party (Yair Lapid, Labour). In other words, silly business as usual.

For myself, I quite enjoyed the day off with Raphaela, we walked in the spectacular Summer-like weather to the voting station; sat at our favorite bakery and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast; Mommy got a haircut while Raphaela cooperated more than I ever imagined;  and then we went to the mall and bought our weekly groceries.  We spent the afternoon playing together and taking walks around the neighborhood, grabbing the sun shine wherever we could find it.

Raphaela has become such an active and real person, she has a brilliant sense of humor (for a three year old) and a calm happy disposition.  I feel like I won the biggest lottery in the Universe, and I am thankful for the time we had today to spend with each other.

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