We in Atlanta should pay close attention to Israel’s election, as it will affect us in Atlanta just as it affects us in Jerusalem.
Elections in Israel Affect All Jews
American Zionists should track this election as carefully as our Israeli brothers and sisters, as these issues are important to us all: security, safety net, religious equality, a two-state solution, egalitarian worship at the Western Wall, a strong U.S.-Israel partnership, and the list goes on.
Israeli elections are unique in that the political parties disagree on the fundamental status, character and future of the Jewish state. Within mainstream, secular, and ultra-religious parties, there are significant differences on what it means to be a Jew.
Ultra-Orthodox parties have used coalition politics to demand draft deferments, large sums of money for their schools, and control over religious matters, including marriage, conversion, and public prayer space. Religious freedom should matter to us all.
Election Reform is Necessary
Israel’s political scene is volatile, and its electoral system only worsens its divisions. Election reform is desperately needed. The goal should be to increase the electoral threshold and thus increase the government’s ability to function.
Additionally, it is high time for Israel to adopt a “district based” electoral system. A constituency system would curb the power of certain blocs. This would reduce the influence of established parties and favor local representation.
Currently, voters in Eilat receive the same ballots as voters in Mea She’arim. Reform would bolster parties with strong support across the entire country.
Zionism and Democracy Win in All Elections
The importance of Israel’s elections lies in the fact that no matter the results, Israelis are free to vote as Jews and as a nation. Sometimes it’s hard to see that in the midst of the electoral rhetoric – negotiating for peace, corruption, policy details.
Voting (in Israel) and paying attention to the election (in the U.S.) are how we work every day on the ideals of Zionism.
Zionism matures; it doesn’t remain static. The election for us in the diaspora is a reminder that we have a home, not just today but for the future. When Israelis vote, we celebrate our democratic process in action as Jews, Arabs, Druze, Muslims, Bahai, and Christians will all be voting. The religious and the secular, women and men, gay and straight, left and right – all will vote. The political process is a messy one, but the day after the election we will still chant Am Yisrael Chai!
Rabbi Peter S. Berg is the senior rabbi of The Temple.