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6 Reasons Israelis Aren't Excited About Voting (And One Why They Might Be)

On Monday, Israel's parliament voted to dissolve itself and call for early elections. This government is the second shortest in Israel's history, and many in the country don't want to go to the polls just two years after they last voted. BuzzFeed News' Sheera Frenkel reports from Jerusalem.

Last updated on July 3, 2018, at 1:01 p.m. ET

Posted on December 8, 2014, at 3:02 p.m. ET

1. Because you don't actually get to vote for anyone.

Ronen Zvulun / Reuters

In Israel, polling day means voting for the party list you think should be in power. Voters don't get to pick and choose individuals on the list, and in most cases, they don't have any say on who gets onto a party list either.

Usually, whichever party gets the most votes ends up forming a coalition by asking other parties to join them. The leader of the party then becomes prime minister and appoints various cabinet ministers.

"The entire process is basically designed to take as much as possible out of our hands," complained Israeli teacher Shlomit Revital, 41. "Even if there is one politician I like, it's not like I am voting for them specifically, and I then I have to back a whole list of people, some of whom I may not stand."

Some parties, including the left-wing Labor party and the right-wing Likud, have primaries, where members of the party can vote on the list. In other parties, such as Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beitenu, the list is appointed by the leader of the party.

"It all feels like politicians in backroom deals are making the decisions, not us the voters," said Revital. "Anyway, I hate that feeling so I never vote."

2. Campaign season is expensive, and government comes to a halt.

Recently fired Finance Minister Yair Lapid laughs during a vote to dissolve the parliament.
Baz Ratner / Via Reuters

Recently fired Finance Minister Yair Lapid laughs during a vote to dissolve the parliament.

When the parliament voted to disperse itself Monday, work on all legislation effectively ground to a halt. No new laws can be passed or bills proposed until after the next elections on March 17. And because Israel's budget is passed as a yearly bill in December, Israel will operate without a budget for at least four months into 2015.

"It's not the first time that it's happened; Israel regularly operated without a budget," said Tomer Apner, a financial analyst and Ph.D. student at Hebrew University. "But it's definitely not good for the country."

Campaign season is also incredibly expensive; Israeli political analysts have estimated that the new election could cost up to NIS 1.5 billion, or roughly $380 million. And Israeli election campaigns have progressively gotten more expensive, said Apner, so it may be even more.

"People in Israel are struggling financially, and they see these expensive elections being held and ... it just leaves a bad taste in their mouth," he said. "Why should these politicians waste millions on elections every few years because they can't figure out how to get along in a coalition together ... it makes me not want to vote."


3. It's (not) the economy, stupid.


The price of living in Israel has gradually gone up, leading to protests over everything from the cost of housing to the rising price of chocolate milk. Israeli politicians have repeatedly campaigned on the back of promises to lower the cost of living, but few have actually focused on socioeconomic issues while in power.

"They always say they don't have time to build low-income housing because they are busy saving us from Hamas or Hezbollah or something," said Sharon Michaeli, a 24-year-old student who lives in Tel Aviv. "But that's nonsense, it's just that no one knows how to solve the financial problems here."

A recent study by the OECD showed that Israel currently has one of the highest income gaps in the world.

"Israel is ruled by monopolies, and those monopolies all have friends in the parliament, so what incentive is there to change?" asked Michaeli. "I don't see a point, so I'm not going to vote."

4. What is old is new again.

Pool / Reuters

"When I look at who is running for office, I see the same faces again and again. Even when they start new parties, it's still the same old faces," said Chaim Barvan, a 31-year-old dentist in Jerusalem. "It feels like we are just in this endless cycle and each time we expect a different outcome."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently in his third term in office. While several new parties faired well in the last elections, including those lead by newcomers to the scene like ministers Naftali Bennet and Yair Lapid, Israelis have long wondered why the older, established parties don't cultivate a younger leadership.

"My dad voted Likud and my brothers vote Likud," said Barvan, who said he went for Netanyahu's Likud Party during the last two elections. "But I want to see some new faces in office. I want to see what the next generation of Likud will be."

Without that, he said, he feels like he's dragging his feet to vote again.


5. Israelis stopped talking about peace, or even a peace process.

Baz Ratner / Reuters

The Israeli–Palestinian peace process ground to a halt last year, after efforts by several successive U.S. administrations failed to get off the ground. During the last attempt, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, only indirect talks were held with Israeli and Palestinian officials, while a document which would outline the most basic parameters of the talks caused so much dispute that the entire process crashed and burned.

"We often ignore it, but peace with our neighbors, with Palestinians, that's really the most important thing," said Revital, the schoolteacher. "If there is no peace process, we have to ask ourselves what is our government really working towards, where is this all headed?"

During the last elections, she said, only a handful of the parties in the running even presented their plan for peace.

"It's become such a nonissue for them, it's not even part of the campaign," she said.

6. Israel's governments almost never reach full term.

Pool / Reuters

In its 66-year history, Israel has elected 19 governments, making the average life span for an Israeli government barely more than two years.

Political analysts have given a number of reasons for Israel's constant political turmoil, ranging from the low electoral bar, which allows a number of small parties to enter the Knesset and wreak havoc within coalitions, to the independent nature of each Israeli political party, which often see greater leverage in being in the opposition than in the coalition.

"Israelis can often feel like whats the point of voting if I'm only going to vote again in another couple years," said Yitzhak Shavit, a 47-year-old accountant who was once an active member in the Meretz, and then the Labor Party. "You feel like politicians trivially collapse and form governments based on their own political interests. It's easy to feel cynical and just decide, why bother to vote?"

And one reason Israelis are excited to vote...

Polls have offered a wide range of predictions about what might happen in the upcoming elections. There is talk of several center-left parties uniting under one banner, and a former member of Netanyahu's Party, Moshe Kahlon, has returned to form a new party, which polls show could steal away many of Netanyahu's base supporters.

"The next Knesset, it could be like the 12 tribes," said Tal Schneider, an Israeli political analyst and popular blogger. "The parliament could be made up of a number of small parties, which create a lot of possibilities and could be a positive shake up."

Israeli opinion columns have already speculated that these elections could be the end of "King Bibi" — the term used during Netanyahu's longtime reign. In the Knesset, or Israeli parliament, on Monday politicians could be heard repeating the slogan, "anyone but Bibi." Netanyahu, who has been prime minister of Israel since 2009, would be running for his fourth term as prime minister in the upcoming election. He previously served from 1996–1999.

"It's an exciting time and an exciting election," said Schenider. "Even if people are right now not interesting in voting, I think this campaign season will change things up and get people involved again."

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    Sheera Frenkel is a cybersecurity correspondent for BuzzFeed News based in San Francisco. She has reported from Israel, Egypt, Jordan and across the Middle East. Her secure PGP fingerprint is 4A53 A35C 06BE 5339 E9B6 D54E 73A6 0F6A E252 A50F

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