Tomorrow is election day in Israel.
Last week I got an email from a community organization strongly advocating that we vote for the United Torah Judaism (UTJ)/Gimmel party in the upcoming elections in Israel. I read it thoroughly but wasn’t convinced.
Then I got a call from a volunteer telling me that that I should vote for Gimmel; I listened but remained noncommital – I didn’t like being asked to commit verbally to voting for any party. To my American sensibilities, this was a breach of boundaries. Then dh got a call on Friday morning, in which he was pressured to say that he would vote Gimmel. I had seen some advertising of some other parties and one particular party appealed to me, but I needed to do some more reading and find out what each party actually stood for. Last night dh mentioned that he’d probably vote Gimmel and I was dumbfounded – I looked at him in disbelief and asked, “Why?” He hadn’t had a chance to do any research on the parties, but when I gave him some introductory information and he continued with his own research, he quickly changed his mind.
We were married on Israeli election day in 1992, the first year that Gimmel was a party. This was our party, this was how our entire peer group voted – we never thought to ask what the platform was because it was obvious that this was the party for the serious supporters of Torah. There were Gimmel election slips that at some point were thrown onto the dance floor at our wedding, and the crowd went wild when dh danced holding one up. That was then.
What is UTJ/Gimmel? This is the yeshivish charedi ashkenazi party, and a vote for Gimmel is portrayed as a vote in alignment with the Torah leaders of the generation. This year there was a proclamation that those who are working who vote for Gimmel will have a share in the Torah learned by all of the learning men who are being supported by the party, that this is . This was supposedly stated by a very prominent Torah leader, though I have to admit to a certain degree of skepticism when it comes to rabbinical proclamations – I believe many of the the stated positions of the elderly Torah leaders are too often manipulated or outright lied about. This is considered by some to be a brilliant move but I found the Yissachar/Zevulun reference disturbing – as if the Torah learning of someone working isn’t as valuable as the Torah learning of someone in kollel.
I looked at the Gimmel platform to see how they described their party, and though their theme song is catchy, it was clear to me that this isn’t the party that represents our interests. Here in Israel, our family would be labeled as ‘working charedim’ – and the interests of working charedim are often different from those in full-time learning. For example, we want our boys to learn secular subjects in high school and train for a career, and assume they will serve in the army. The representatives of Gimmel are against all of these things.
So who to vote for? Unlike in the US when there are two major parties and then the independent, here in Israel there are a lot of parties. A lot. 34, to be exact. That meant doing enough reading to narrow down the choices and hopefully find one that we actually agree with. Until recently, I was strongly leaning towards HaBayit HaYehudi, but am now shifting to Am Shalem. Am Shalem (link to good article detailing their positions) is a new party and seems to best share our values and politics, though if it will be able to garner enough votes for a seat in the Knesset is still unknown. I’m willing to take the chance that I’m throwing away my vote to help bring a new and positive voice to the Knesset; if enough others who share these beliefs are willing to do the same, Am Shalem (letter Tzadi) will be voted in.
If you’re living in Israel and are totally bewildered about the Israeli election process, take heart. Once you start to read it’s not nearly as overwhelming as it seems. Here are a couple of places where you can begin your reading. Once you get started, you’ll begin to find lots more available if you’re interested.
Jerusalem Post – A political guide for the perplexed – this is okay, not so thorough and I wouldn’t make any decisions based on the information in this, but it’s a starting point.
The 2013 Knesset Elections – this is a helpful post about elections that has some good links at the bottom, one of which will lead you to a more detailed description than above of the party platforms.
A vote is a very personal thing, and there are good aspects to most political parties. The tricky part is to know what you believe in and then find the party that advocates for that.