With ten days to go until the Israeli election, the message one hears from almost all the various party leaders is: Vote for me to block the other guy. Vote for me to stymie the other guy’s potential coalition.
Such “tactical” voting is rotten. It completely ignores the critical diplomatic, defense, economic and social issues at hand. It guts Israeli politics of any serious ideological argument. It reduces our serial election campaigns to yet another round of sumo wrestling. It is a mind-numbing approach to determining Israel’s future.
Worse still is the oft-heard admonition not to “waste” your vote, not to vote for a political party that teeters at the so-called “threshold.” (The current electoral threshold, the minimum for gaining Knesset representation, is 3.25% of all valid votes. In practice, this means that a party that fails to gain votes equivalent to about four Knesset seats is wiped-off the political map.)
This too is a terrible contention. It strips voters of their right to vote their conscience in an unadulterated manner. It reduces election day to tactical play, instead of it being a celebration of democracy in action. It is a dispiriting approach to Zionist and Jewish political commitment.
I say, forget the “threshold.” Be a strategic and principled, not a tactical and cynical, voter. Vote your conscience, even if it means your ballot might “go to waste.”
Voting in such upright fashion is a healthy and satisfying form of political engagement. Selecting the political party and political leader that most closely represents one’s worldview without slavish reference to the latest polls proffered by biased media outlets and various political hucksters is a corrective to the cynicism that almost all Israelis feel about the political system.
It might mean that your vote “goes to waste,” but guess what? It could also mean your vote does not go to waste. If enough people in your “sector” vote their conscience and best ideological judgment, your preferred political party might be elected to the Knesset. Your vote could make the difference.
And what’s the worst that can happen? Israel seems headed towards another political stalemate, with repeat elections likely in April 2023. So, you’ll get another chance at that time to reconsider your vote and make a greater impact on the overall result. (And perhaps, hopefully, by then the range of political party options and especially their leaders will be better and broader.)
To be clear, I am not suggesting that Israelis vote for any one of the two dozen super-fringe factions that will have ballot slips on Nov. 1. Doing so would be truly silly. These splinters are too wacky to be taken seriously and too tiny to have any chance whatsoever of being elected to the Knesset.
But I am suggesting that left-wing Israelis who believe in the principles espoused by Zehava Galon of Meretz should vote as a matter of principle for Meretz, even though the pollsters question whether the party will cross the threshold. They should not be off put by the pollsters.
I am suggesting that Arab Israelis who are impressed by the bravery of Mansour Abbas of Ra’am in joining an Israeli government (the first time that an Israeli Arab party has done so), and by his achievements in government, should vote as a matter of principle for Ra’am. They should not be deterred by doubts that the party can surmount the threshold this time (nor should they be threatened by radicals in their sector for identifying with Ra’am).
I am suggesting that right-wing and/or religious-Zionist Israelis who deem Ayelet Shaked to be an honest, effective and weighty conservative leader should vote as a matter of principle for Yamina. They should not be daunted by threshold uncertainties, nor frightened by angry accusations of “disloyalty” to the Netanyahu bloc. If enough people in this sector vote their conscience and best ideological judgement, Yamina may indeed be elected to the Knesset.
The same goes for potential voters for Merav Michaeli. Her version of the Labor Party, and each of the above-mentioned parties, has a clear identity and political history and there are tens of thousands of votes behind it, making it a passable choice.
Alas, Israeli voters face another muddy election in a convoluted Israeli political system where negative campaigning and personal animosities are at a peak. Most politicians are selling fallacies instead of tackling real issues with concrete solutions. They are selling tactical calculations instead of purposeful policies. They tell Israelis to vote to sidetrack the other guy.
Israelis ought to ignore such soul-destroying rat-a-tat and proudly vote their principles, even defiantly vote their conscience. Worse come to worst, there will soon be another election.
David M. Weinberg is a senior fellow at the Kohelet Forum and Habithonistim: Israel’s Defense and Security Forum. His diplomatic, defense, political and Jewish world columns over the past 25 years are archived at www.davidmweinberg.com.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.