The polls were set to open in Jerusalem at 7:00 AM. This turned out to be a suggestion. In our neighborhood the barriers were moved aside at 7:40. The delay allowed those who arrived on time to shake their fists and shout thank yous to the soldiers and election officials who blocked their way. I do not understand why everyone seemed so upset. Maybe they objected to the armed soldiers keeping order at the polls?
This was understandable, but should little Israel hope to emulate the American standard of voter security enjoyed in, say, urban Philadelphia?
Advanced election technology was also missing; Israelis use “ballots.” We were deprived of voting machines, chads and modern counting software. I doubt many Americans can imagine the uncomfortable feeling associated with placing an ordinary piece of paper in an envelope then putting it into a plain blue box while an election supervisor looks on. Virtually anybody could have counted my vote or recounted it, if need be, with absolutely no mystery regarding its authenticity.
The Israeli government is a parliamentary democracy. Voters do not vote for individuals but cast single votes for a political party by selecting a Post-It-sized slip from a tray filled with papers marked with Hebrew characters representing the parties. The Knesset (legislature) membership is then established by party-list proportional representation.
After the election a period of haggling and negotiating among the elected parties (quaintly called, “forming the government”) becomes the stuff of headlines and nightly news, rivaling, while it lasts, the nation’s enthusiasm for bad driving and the odd kind of football.
Two other likely differences between elections in American and Israeli are first, the absence of the existential question, “Will we survive?” in the American version and, secondly, the relatively few holocaust survivors one might find beside them in the states while standing in line to vote.
I recently learned that one of the ladies I recognized at the polls, I’ll call her Yudit, escaped from Nazis Germany in 1941. Yudit is easily under five feet tall with short, cropped, totally white hair. She is severely bent over with age but always has a smile for Penn_E when we walk past her apartment where she seems to spend a lot of time sweeping the sidewalk or feeding cats. Yudit would have been under ten years of age when she was forced to leave Germany but still easily old enough to ask why her survival depended on running from home. The short answer, of course, is because Yudit is a Jew. How interesting that seventy-two years later Yudit would find herself in Israel, voting rather than running for her life, while that same problem plagues her. She is still a Jew, and while there are 21 Arab nations on this planet it appears that a single, small Jewish nation is one too many for them; that Jew hatred has created a refugee population that now needs at least half of Israel to survive, for now, and will certainly require the remainder later.
And most of the world agrees.
I ran into a second familiar lady from the neighborhood while voting. I do not know her name or whether she is a holocaust survivor but like Yudit she is very old and not in great shape. On election day she was struggling to climb the stairs outside the polling place so I offered her a hand. We climbed the stairs together and she thanked me.
At my age, I don’t get embarrassed anymore asking people for help.”
It’s easy enough to understand her past embarrassment. Asking people for help–even other Jews–has rarely worked well for Israelis. We’ve been convicted by the world and even support from the US has begun to fade, but Israel has one ally Who will never be an embarrassment to call on, and His name was not on the ballot in January.