The Space Between

We have national elections coming up in Israel on April 9.

**To my American readers: Try to wrap your mind around an election campaign that is only three months long!


My mom asked me why I don’t seem to be so interested in the Israeli political scene, especially since I seem to have a lot of opinions on the US political scene. (To be fair, I think everyone in the world is interested in the US political scene. Every day there is some new shocking thing.)

The thing is that Israeli politics are very different from US politics.

In the US, you have two parties, three branches of government, and each state follows a similar pattern.

In Israel, for the upcoming election there are at least 11 parties. You might think that it would be easier to find a party to support, but I find it harder. The principles of each party tend to be so specific that I find myself agreeing with several principles from several parties. But in Israel, you vote for the party, not for people or on specific issues. The percentage of votes the party gets is reflected in the number of seats each party gets in the Knesset. Because one party is not usually strong enough to get a simple majority (61 seats), Israel is ruled by coalition governments. If the coalition is weak, you have elections sooner; if the coalition is strong, you have a full term of government (4 years).

You don’t vote for the Prime Minister either. The leader of Israel is the head of the party that got the most votes – again, it’s the party that matters not the person or the issue.

Israel is the size of New Jersey, but the country has snow-covered mountains in the north and desert in the south, hi-tech in the city, and agriculture in the country. But rather than have regional representation, you can only choose the party and hope that the party represents you.

Right now, people are breaking away from parties, creating new parties, getting fired from parties, getting nominated to parties (not to mention the corruption scandals and possible indictments). Only in February will we have an idea of who is on each party list.

And that’s another thing: some parties have elections within their parties to determine who is on their list; other parties just present their list. That means that if you are a member of a party, you can vote in the primary. The list is numbered by how many votes each person got (sometimes they add special interest places on the list that are likely to get a seat in the Knesset). Then, the number of seats the party gets in the Knesset (based on the percentage of total votes in the election) determines who goes to the Knesset. In parties that don’t have primaries, the leadership determines the list. If you are not a member of any party, you can still vote for any one of the parties in the main election with the knowledge that the list was determined by other people and may or may not represent you, your region, or your interests.

Israel is a little country in a hostile neighborhood, so it’s also really hard to understand how a political swing here or there will affect the country in the short, medium, and long term. As a voter, you have to trust that the coalition that the head of the leading party came up with will protect the citizens, will strengthen the economy, and will do what is right for Israel.

So, it’s not that I’m not interested in the political scene; it’s more that I can’t find myself in the political scene. I do my civic duty by voting (it’s hard not to, it’s a day off!) in the hope that the party I choose will do the best it can for Israel. I don’t feel that any party represents me personally, so from the space in between the parties, I allow myself to be an observer of the process.

On Power

I saw this quote in an article this week.

Dumbledore to Harry:

It’s a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it.  Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.

We have politicians, not leaders.

We have elected officials, not public servants.  

We’ve been seeing this over and over again in the US and in Israel.  Trump is facing an impaneled grand jury set to deal with the Russia investigation and Netanyahu is facing his own potential indictments for corruption with a former chief of staff turning state’s witness.  It’s not a good time for either the US or Israel.

The common saying is “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s usually used against people who try to gain absolute power, but I think we tend to forget that any amount of power has the potential to corrupt.  We see these corruption scandals and we shout from the rooftops, “Why? Why would they [fill in the crime]?”  The answer is not a complex psychological evaluation of each individual person.  The answer is they do these things because they think they can get away with it.  They do them because they can.

Of course we must resist and say “No!” But we have to do it without getting drunk on our own power, drowning in our viral videos, or sharpening knives of snarky anonymity. That power too can corrupt.

What can we do?

Vote. Obviously.  It would be better to vote with our consciences, for someone we actually believe in rather than the lesser of two evils. Elect officials that represent the best parts of ourselves.

I know. We lack good candidates. Who wants to be a leader today? Who wants to be a public servant? People want six-figure salaries, great benefits (especially health insurance in the US), and plenty of vacation time to get away from all their responsibilities.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Gandhi

The truth is that we can’t change other people.  We can only change ourselves.

Maybe if more people decided that “if it bleeds, it leads” was awful and voted with their money to not support news outlets that operate that way and choose instead to support responsible journalism, we would get real, informative, considered news.

Maybe if we made media choices based on human values, we wouldn’t encourage snark, insults, bias, xenophobia, and clever meanness on every form of media.

Are we drawn to a Cult of Personality, or are we choosing our representatives based on their vision for the future?

“It’s not dark yet. But it’s getting there.” – Bob Dylan

Bob wasn’t talking about society with this lyric, but it’s appropriate. Until more people make better choices, we are going to have politicians, not leaders. We are going to have elected officials, not public servants.  We will value people who are famous for being famous, not smart people who want to make the world better.  And we will worship anonymously in the Cult of Snark and take no responsibility for anything since it’s always someone else’s fault.


Unless I’ve inspired you. And you can inspire someone else. And that person can inspire someone else. Then maybe, just maybe, politicians will lead, elected officials will serve the public, people will be famous for real accomplishments, and we can all be nicer to one another.