Israeli election scenes
Left to right: Winnipeg transplants Miriam, Ronit, Dor and Bruce Brown. (photo by Bernie Bellan)
Once again, Election Day has come and gone and the world continues to spin; albeit slightly more rightward for Israel.
I went to sleep the night before the recent election a bit more excited than usual – I love the hoopla of an Israeli Election Day – and a bit more apprehensive than usual – I was still not sure who to vote for.
Election Day in Israel is a holiday, and we had a fun day ahead of us. My son was set to participate in our democratic process. My wife and I were set to vote – well, almost, as I was still undecided. We had a family lunch date with friends. And I was looking forward to watching the exit polls at home.
My son – still too young to vote but not too young to hold an opinion – was manning a party booth outside the local polling station. Dressed in a party hat and T-shirt and armed with colorful brochures, he was out of the house by 7 a.m., surprising, since we can barely get him out of the house on a school day, which starts an hour later!
As opposed to the sterile polling environment of Canada, Israel’s polling stations are last-minute electioneering grounds. Every party has a booth with party hacks or students for hire (such as my son) vying for last-minute votes. And multiple cars covered with party posters and carrying huge loudspeakers on their roofs compete for sound waves by blaring political jingles – a classic Israeli balagan. The scene is lots of fun and a great place to catch up with neighbors and friends to debate Iran, the religious, the economy, last summer’s war and who to vote for and who not to vote for.
I think the last time I voted in Canada was in the 1998 election when I cast my vote for Brian Mulroney. Oops – should I have written that? In Israel everyone knows not only what you earn and how large a mortgage you have, but also how well you get along with your mother-in-law and who you vote for. We are a very open and argumentative society, so voting preferences are common water cooler and Friday night dinner table talk.
Anyway, by mid-morning my wife, daughter and I – and even our dog – went to visit my son and to cast our votes. With our identity cards and a falafel in hand (a not unusual text message arrived from my son a few minutes before we left the house: “I’m hungry”), off we went to the polling station.
It was more crowded than usual and we actually had to wait in line – or what counts for a line in Israel – to reach the ballot box. My wife confidently cast her vote. And I – in a last-minute decision (no doubt influenced by a quick chat with a party faithful just outside) – cast my lot for a pure centrist party. OK, there were two of them, but being a good Canadian (!) I will keep my specific choice secret.
Afterwards, we drove to Tel Aviv where we met friends at an excellent Persian restaurant, an appropriate choice given some of the election issues. For sure the talk was about the elections but also about other things just as in any normal country. And Israel, in its own special way, is a normal country … even on Election Day.
Towards mid-evening, I popped my microwavable popcorn and relaxed in front of the TV to watch the exit polls. Since it appeared to be a virtual tie, I went to sleep around 11 p.m. believing a national unity government was inevitable. True to form for Israel – where the unexpected should be expected – I woke up the next morning to a strong right-wing lead, with the overwhelming likelihood of another four years of Netanyahu rule, with a strong tilt to the religious right.
Good? Bad? With Election Day come and gone, one thing is clear: the Israeli beat goes on.
Bruce Brown is a former Winnipegger now living in Israel. This article was originally published in the Jewish Post and News and is reprinted with permission.