Saturday 15 November 2008

After the Elections

Although most of the world was focused recently on a certain election in the USA, we in Israel have held our own elections. Last week, Israelis went to the polls to elect representatives to more than 150 local authorities and municipalities.

All citizens and permanent residents aged 17 years old and above are entitled to vote in the local government elections. Each voter has two votes, a direct vote for the head of the council, city or town and a vote for representation of the council. As with the national government vote, the vote for the council representation is based upon proportional representation. Each voter votes for a party. The party presents its list of candidates and wins seats on the council in proportion to the percentage of the total vote that the party receives.

There were a number of interesting facts arising from these elections that are worthy of mention. The first of which is that the local government elections have hardly any link to national politics at all. Although the parties represented in the Knesset often run at the local government level, they usually do very poorly. In addition, national politics has no bearing on local elections whatsoever as local government elections are largely fought on local issues only. Perhaps the best example of this fact arises in the city of Sderot, which has been under the fire of Kassam rockets from Gaza for the best part of 7 years. It is generally accepted that the national government has not done enough to reinforce Sderot to protect it from the rocket fire. There are those who say that the national government has been negligent in the way that it has chosen to deal with Sderot, or not to deal with it by not providing sufficient protection for it. For much of the time that Sderot has been under rocket fire (and certainly over the past few years), the Kadima party has been in power. It seems very ironic, therefore, that the Kadima party candidate, David Buskila, was voted to replace incumbent mayor Eli Moyal. Adding further irony, Buskila was the first to criticise the national government when numerous rounds of rockets landed in and around the city in the days following the election.

The second point of interest is how the same issues seem to appear in many towns and cities. The battle for the mayoral seat in Jerusalem reflected arguments up and down Israel. The leading candidates in Jerusalem were Meir Porush and Nir Barakat. Porush was an ultra-orthodox candidate representing the ultra-orthodox parties in Jerusalem. Their power succeeded in electing Uri Lupoliansky, the outgoing mayor of Jerusalem. Barakat is a secular candidate who was defeated by Lupoliansky the last time around. Inevitably, the battle was along religious lines, but not necessarily as one may think. Most of the ultra-orthodox citizens voted for Porush, except for certain ultra-orthodox sects who had a long-standing rivalry with him. They, together with the modern religious and secular citizens, voted for Barakat. Barakat was the eventual winner by a comfortable 10 point margin. Many other citizens in cities across Israel also voted along religious lines. Religious voters preferred religious parties that would ensure sufficient funding to their religious schools and other institutions. They would also ensure that the laws of Shabbat and other Jewish laws would be protected in their local area. Secular voters, afraid of the religious imposing their will on non-religious citizens, rushed to vote for secular candidates who promised to oppose the might of the religious lobby. The argument over religious issues unfortunately drowned out the real issues facing most local authorities and their citizens today. These include running a balanced budget, eradicating corruption, providing an improved educational framework for all our children, reducing pollution etc. It is my view that these issues are far more important to Israelis, religious and secular, than the futile religious debate and should have formed the main points of the election platforms.

The animated debates that formed part of the election campaigns and the arguments that ensued between rival parties were, themselves, viewed with concern by certain people. The view of Jew arguing with Jew and accusations being flung from all sides was concerning to some people who understand the need for Jewish unity. This is particularly true at a time like this when we, as Jews, are under continued attack on many fronts. There were even those who attempted to prevent the debates from taking place in attempt to encourage greater unity.

It is my view that the attempts to limit these debates, as honourable as they may be, are futile. The course of the democratic process demands that people express their views and are prepared to present what is most important to them. It is also important for each voter to be able to identify what it is that he does not like about the party that he is not voting. If necessary, he should be allowed to challenge different party platforms in attempt to find the position and the party that best represents his views. Any attempts to quell this process ultimately end up destroying the democratic process. In Israel, we should be grateful for the democratic rights which are guaranteed to all citizens and we should be protecting them with all that we have. This requires us to defend the democratic process, even if this means pitting Jew against Jew in doing so.

Part of the democratic process also requires us to accept the outcome as the will of the majority, and to do our best to work within the framework set out by the duly elected representatives. It additionally requires us to create unity amongst ourselves to allow us to fight the common enemy that continues to try to destroy us and our nation. It is my sincere hope that we Israelis will be able to do this as well as we were able to defend our positions and platforms against one other.

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