An informal man-in-the-street survey broadcast on Monday evening on Israel’s Channel 12 revealed what everybody has been predicting: that voter turnout for the Sept. 17 Knesset elections is going to be low.
Israelis have been claiming for months that they “have nobody to vote for,” so the item wasn’t all that surprising. What was astonishing about it, however, was that—with a mere two weeks to go before the public heads to the polls to determine the makeup of the next government—not a single person interviewed in the short clip could remember when the elections are actually taking place. It is a level of apathy rarely seen in Israel—a country filled with news junkies and busybodies.
One might argue that such a small, on-the-fly sampling constitutes flimsy anecdotal evidence. It turns out, however, that research conducted by the Central Elections Committee backs it up with more reliable statistics. These indicate that voter turnout will be even less than the 68.46 percent that it was on April 9, the election that ended in a coalition impasse.
This is not the lowest Israeli voter turnout, by any means. The only election that has seen a higher turnout since 1999, when it was 78.7 percent, was in 2015, when it reached 72.36 percent. In 2003, it was 67.8 percent; in 2006, it was 63.5 percent; in 2009, it was 64.7 percent; and in 2013, it was 67.8 percent.
Nevertheless, Central Elections Committee CEO Orly Adas decided to launch a televised public-service campaign to encourage Israelis not to stay home this coming election day, the date of which is displayed prominently on the screen at the end of the commercial.
The ad, according to Adas, purposely targets people’s emotions through the use of young teenagers who are not yet eligible to vote. The boys and girls, including members of the ultra-Orthodox, national-religious, secular, Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Ethiopian, Arab and deaf communities, are shown appealing to their mothers and fathers not to let “someone else decide” for them, stating, in an accusatory fashion: “You have no right to give up your right.”
It’s hard to believe that this touchy-feely attempt to grip parental guts will have an effect on voter turnout. Let’s face it: Any high school student who is more concerned about the ballot box than the latest Instagram sensation clearly comes from a civic-minded home to begin with.
But hey, we Israelis are used to having our tax shekels spent on futile, top-down endeavors born of nanny-state committee meetings held to interpret and tackle societal phenomena. No wonder there’s a sense that voting won’t change anything. But it’s a false sense, particularly today, with Iranian missiles aimed at Israeli towns, and the 2020 presidential election campaign already under way in the United States. You know, small stuff like that.
It is thus imperative for the persuasion to be done by private citizens—something that social media enables, even more than activists handing out fliers and stickers at intersections. Certainly more than party placards. For tools such as Facebook and Twitter to work, of course, they must be utilized wisely, not simply as vehicles for venting rage and hurling epithets.
A perfect example of an intelligent and worthy post, aimed at the election day naysayers, was written by a friend of mine, Avi Soffer, whose voting patterns I do not share, but whose integrity I greatly admire.
The following is my English translation of his original Hebrew admonishment, edited for idiomatic clarity:
“Elections. The curses and insults don’t irk me; they’ve always been [a part of election campaigns.] Nor does all the wheeling and dealing, which defy logic and ideology, disturb me. They’ve always occurred and will continue to do so. … Even the ‘ethnic demon’ is a kind of tired genie that gets dragged out of its bottle during every election season. … And it appears that it will continue to be dragged out until we all inbreed to the point that there are no more ethnic groups left. Yeah, when the Messiah comes.
“I don’t get worked up over [political promises that aren’t even intended to be kept.] Those have always been there, and likely always will. Like Trump is going to build a wall and Miss Universe is going to bring world peace …
“Only one thing gets on my nerves … those delicate souls on the left and right who live in ‘there’s nobody to vote for’ land, who brought upon us [this do-over] election.
Stop complaining and vote. This travesty has your name written all over it … ”
“Stop complaining” is too tall an order in the Jewish state, where kvetching is a national pastime. But there’s nothing in the Israeli playbook that prevents humiliating armchair whiners into flapping their ballots along with their jaws.
After all, it will be their fault if a third round of elections becomes necessary.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”