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Israel's Election Day: Not a Change We Can Believe In

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So this Tuesday my husband and I will get up at 6:30 (early for us) and walk through the empty streets of downtown Jerusalem to a school that will be hosting the polls for national elections. This is our way of avoiding the lines that are certain to coagulate the hallways just an hour later; we have the advantage of living close by. I will choose a piece of paper representing the political party I am voting for, place it in a sealed envelope, and then stick that in a cardboard box with a slit at the top, feeling as if I am voting for school president and not for Prime Minister of a country.

We will then wander home and I will try to ignore the profound feeling of defeat that for weeks now has been growing as I have contemplated whom to vote for.

In America, I never felt as if my vote really mattered one way or another. I lived in a Blue State, so that was that; the outcome of the elections a mere formality.

Here in Israel, my vote counts for much more. This is especially true since the entire population of the country is about the same as (or less than) New York City alone.

It counts, but it also doesn't. Come Election Day, we the voters here in Israel will have the power to vote, but we will not have the power to effect a meaningful change to the state of our country. What Americans were empowered to do on November 4th of this year is an opportunity that still eludes us.

I'll explain. First of all, it seems that a lot of people think that Israelis are voting for Prime Minister on Tuesday, with a choice between Ehud Barak, Binyamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni. This is not true. We are voting for political parties. The greater the number of votes a political party receives, the more seats (if any) it has in the Knesset. The winning candidate for Prime Minister will be the one who can successfully form a government, leaving the rest of the Knesset members to form the opposition.

So an Israeli voter faces the task of deciding whether to vote for one of the big three parties, each led by the candidates for Prime Minister, or to "throw away the vote" on a smaller party.
One of these three parties will end up running things from now on--and who are they? Well, let's run down the list. Ehud Barak was a disaster as Prime Minister a decade ago; appointing him Defense Minister was already a joke in the first place. Where he gets off running for Prime Minister again is a mystery to me. But I don't really have to worry about him, because it is highly unlikely that he can win.

Then there's Tzipi Livni of the current ruling party, Kadima. Bizarrely, her campaign theme is "change" even though she represents the incumbent party. If she's so bent on change, what's been stopping her? And what exactly is Kadima's platform, anyway?

The party was formed specifically in order to push forward the disengagement from Gaza ("Kadima" means "onward" in Hebrew). Well, that was 2005. And the disengagement itself was carried out with all of the finesse of a World War II-era tank, creating consequences that burden the country irrevocably to this day.

As for Livni's much-vaunted promise of "change"... Where was all this "change" as Hamas was amassing its supply of rockets? Where was this "change" as Israel's education system crumbled and its environmental policies stagnated? True, most of the blame for the current mess belongs with the corrupt former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but it was Kadima's mess.

Then there's Netanyahu, another failed Prime Minister. So many people I know hate him. Left-wingers hate him because he is right-wing. Right-wingers hate him because he made unilateral concessions as Prime Minister. Yet the object of all this hatred is currently leading in the polls, and I don't hate him, to tell the truth. I don't really see why I should. I just don't see the point of him--he represents business as usual in Israeli politics, as much as Livni or Barak would.

All three of Israel's candidates for Prime Minister belong to an era that should be receding behind us, not popping up in our ballot boxes again and again. Israel needs true and lasting change: We need a government which will create a plan for a two-state solution that is realistic, has goals that can be measured, and that does not move forward until the set goals are achieved.

But with the old guard at the helm, we will not have peace. Without creativity and flexible thinking, there is no chance that this country will survive another 60 years.

Security is also a way for people to avoid the other very serious issues that are plaguing this country. The world's financial crisis is our problem, too. The worst water crisis in the country's history, air pollution, a deteriorating school system, thousands of people living in abject poverty, and immigrant populations who need all the help we can give them are just some of the challenges that a new Israeli government should be addressing.

If I believed that any of the three big parties had the capacity to bring peace, I would vote for one of them. Since I am deeply pessimistic that peace can ever be achieved with the government we get, I'm voting based on who will be best for social issues. For that reason, I will probably vote for the Green Movement-Meimad, a party whose security platform I do not really agree with, but whose leaders already have an outstanding record on Israel's social problems--more than anyone else in the Knesset. One of their top members, Alon Tal, is one of Israel's most prominent environmental activists.

I still don't feel excited about my vote. Sometimes I wonder if I'm making the wrong decision, since Meimad is a small party that is unlikely to wield much influence. But what I'm sure of is that what Israel really needs is not going to be achieved in the Knesset anytime soon, regardless of who wins.