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Sunday, October 26, 2014

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Voting with the neighbourhood

Tags: Israel
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Israelis in the Tel Aviv area patiently await their turn to vote last week. [Israel Sun photo]

TEL AVIV — The weather for the 2013 Israeli elections couldn’t have been more perfect. It was a beautiful sunny day, and with much of the country off work, there was a relaxed feeling of cheerfulness in the air.

As I walked over to the community centre near my apartment to cast my ballot, the whole neighbourhood seemed to be up and about. Everyone seemed in high spirits. No one was rushing.

Pundits would later explain that the perfect winter day influenced the highest voter turnout in 10 years.

I got to the polling station early, as we had plans to enjoy the national day off with friends. The whole neighbourhood seemed to have similar plans, and I got stuck waiting in line behind a gaggle of neighbours.

And whereas lines in Israel usually don’t work, there was no jostling or butting in. Amazingly, everyone waited patiently.

It wasn’t until the moment that I stood behind the divider looking at the ballot tickets that I made my decision. Before that, I knew I would vote, but I just didn’t know for whom. With a field of 32 contending parties and no single party that represented all my wishes for the country, I fell into the much-talked-about “undecided” category.

And then, with my civil duty done, I gathered up my family and we headed off to the northwest section of Yarkon Park to meet friends. The park was packed.

Israelis across the country took to the outdoors – many going to national parks and the beach, as well as municipal parks to enjoy the extra day off.

Sprawled out on a picnic blanket and sampling lots of cakes and fruit slices, we spoke a bit about politics – we’re Israelis, how could we not? – and about the overall feeling of indecisiveness and hope for change.

Fast forward through lunch at a local shwarma stand, everyone coming to play at our place, supper, bath, bedtime for the kids and then the wait for the 10 p.m. newscast. Even though many Israelis – me included – were apprehensive about seeing the results repeat themselves from the last election, we all tuned in to hear the exit polls.

“I wasn’t so excited going in to the election. I was quite discouraged, in fact, with all the attention to the right-wing parties and the extremism being touted as moderate. It was scary and really made me not want to pay attention to politics this time around,” Ziva Haller Rubenstein, an arts consultant and mother of two in Modi’in, told The CJN.

“So, when the poll results were being announced, I was still not so excited, thinking the predictions would play out and we’d be stuck with the right wing and struggling. After Yesh Atid won 19 seats – and after the right and left blocs were somehow more equalized – I’m definitely more hopeful for the future of this country and for families like mine who want to live peacefully with others, with the environment and with Judaism.”

That feeling of hope quickly took over my social media circles, with people Tweeting and posting on Facebook their thoughts on the exit polls.

In Israel, everyone can claim to be a winner, because there are so many parties and no one champion. My peers who supported Likud announced satisfaction with the results. My peers who voted for Yesh Atid were hopeful. My peers who chose Hatnua, Meretz, and Jewish Home also announced victory. So did voters from nearly all the other parties – save for Kadima, which crashed and burned.

“I am happier with the results than I expected to be,” said journalist Abigail Leichman, from Ma’ale Adumim, who took a long morning walk outside before hosting her grandchildren for the afternoon. “I think that Likud and Yesh Atid have the potential to bring together disparate factions and to forward a lot of good initiatives for Israel’s social, economic and security future – assuming they can form an effective coalition. I do think the results signal a big change. We see traditionally strong vote-getters such as Labor and Shas becoming more marginalized, and we see more native English-speakers stepping up to positions of authority and power. To me, this is a good trend, because North Americans might be able to introduce a saner brand of politics to Israel and also are better equipped to discuss, in English, issues of great national importance with the leaders of governments worldwide.”

Copy editor Surie Ackerman, of Jerusalem, said her first thought upon seeing the exit polls was that the government wouldn’t be able to hold a coalition together and presumed another round of elections was not far off. She says she’s trying to stay hopeful that social issues – and not security – will be the new governments priorities.

“I’m pleased by the presumed shift in emphasis away from defence and security to more domestic issues. I think, however, that a lot of our economic inequality problems stem as much from a lack of solidarity and empathy for each other – reflected as greed at the top of the business pyramid – as from macro-economic problems or decisions. Attitudes like that are much harder to fix,” she said.

“Israel proved to itself and to the world that there are significant voices from within that clearly reject the status quo and its bellicose agenda predicated on fear and the threat of military action. The election results hold the promise of a coalition that can lead Israel on a renewed course of engagement with core social issues that continue to fester, while simultaneously addressing Israel’s international issues through a multitude of perspectives that will provide a greater system of checks and balances than that which existed under [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s current term,” said Danny Labin, a children’s media producer who lives in Tel Aviv.

The new government will include 52 new members of Knesset. There are also 27 female parliamentarians.

“I think what swayed me to vote for Yair Lapid was his centrist but social-focused approach. And that included women’s roles in making change in this country,” said Haller Rubinstein. “Lapid allowed for women – accomplished and impressive women, too – to take prominent and leadership positions in effecting that change.”

“I am very pleased to see that aside from veterans such as Tzipi Livni, Limor Livnat and Shelly Yachimovitch, we have rising stars such as Tzipi Hotovely [Likud] and Ayelet Shaked [Jewish Home]. I will be interested to see how much influence they are able to wield in the 19th Knesset,” said Leichman.

With the elections done and coalition talks underway, everyone around me seems to have an opinion about which ministerial position should go to who and whether Likud will form a government with or without the haredi parties.

One thing that is a constant – at least for now – is that feeling of hope.

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