On air: Do Israelis care enough about their democracy?

israel-elections5Update: turn out up so far. We’ll see if all those saying they wouldn’t vote are changing their mind. Have just got back from a polling station – where those voters still seemed muted about what their vote would achieve.

Photostream updated through Israeli election day.

Original post: I wouldn’t describe this country as being gripped by election fever. There are relatively few campaign posters, voter apathy isn’t hard to find and the turn out’s expected to be low. And this is just weeks after an offensive in Gaza that’s given the ever-present issue of national security an unavoidable immediacy. Why?

This country is regularly praised by its supports as being a beacon of democracy in the Middle East. And yes, these elections are almost certain to pass off peacefully and with observers declaring them free and fair and that’s not to be dismissed.

So how do we explain this? Here are some explanations I’ve heard. I’d be interested to get your reaction, and to hear your own reasons for the relative disengagement from the political process that we’re seeing here.


– the proportional representation system means elections are too common.

– The main candidates are too similar, and the others are primarily concerned with one issue.

– It’s the same people. Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barack have been PM before, Tzipi Livni is the foreign minister and deeply involved in the current government.

– The building of a coalition means that what you vote for you don’t get. You may support Likud, but a Likud-led coalition cannot only deliver which the party would support. It needs to offer incentives to minority parties to stay in the coalition.

– None of the policies on the Palestinian issue offers anything radically new (though Avigdor Lieberman with his no loyalty / no citizenship may disagree) so whoever wins it’ll be more of the same.

– The conflict with the Palestinians has been going on so long, no-one knows how to sort it out, so why even both to choose someone to try.dvePhotostre

26 Responses to “On air: Do Israelis care enough about their democracy?”

  1. 1 Steve in Boston
    February 10, 2009 at 12:51


    I’d like to know why you’re so negative about Israel? Do you have even one good thing to say? I’m surprised they even let you in, give the DISPROPORTIONATE amount of negative attention you give these people.

    Hopefully when you are on the air today you will be able to refrain from shouting down the guests when you disagree with them. We want to hear what have to say. Please let them finish a sentence.

  2. 2 Justin Mann
    February 10, 2009 at 13:21

    Apathy is unfortunately a tendency of a wellestabolished democracy. For any real change things are going to have to get really bad, or the choice is going to have to be so profound that Israel will have no choice but to turn out and vote. Case and point…. the previous U.S election.

  3. February 10, 2009 at 14:17

    There are some who argue that Israel is the 51st state of the USA in view of the huge military, diplomatic and economic support it gets from it. The Israelis may be complacent about the living and democratic standards they’re living. They may view their political leaders as the same despite the political parties they stand for.

    Despite the apparent apathy on the part of the Israeli voters, Israel can survive only through democracy. Without it, the differences between politicians can generate into violent political and social instability, a situation Israel can’t afford if it wants to survive in a volatile regions where the “paws” of many countries and political movements are directed against it.

    However, Israel should be democratic towards the Palestinians living within Israel or in the Palestinian territories, many of whom pay dearly because of its differences with their political leaders. The recent events in Gaza – military assaults and blockades by Israel- are a case in point.

  4. 4 Michel Norman
    February 10, 2009 at 14:21

    Ros its a lot more complicated than you put it. On the Palestinian front I would suggest that we are frustrated on 2 levels – 1 is that every election for the last 30 years has been “crucial – it decides the fate of the country – the right will destroy the peace talks, the left will give everything away” – the second is with the Palestinians we have tried fighting, we have tried unilateral disengagement we have tried negotiations. the sad truth is that the Palestinians have not move one millimeter in 20 years, their Leader displays not one ounce of understanding of our position and his demands are so rediculious because for us to accept them would be suicide so with due respect none of us have much faith that anythign will change in the next four years on that side.

  5. 5 Michel Norman
    February 10, 2009 at 14:26

    The main problem we have with proportional representation is that we are left second guessing the coalition politics – Assuming Bibi wins and you want the peace talks to continue you have to counterbalance the right (who actually want peace, but are nearly as extreme int heir demands as the Palestinians) by voting for a left wing party who you think could be election partners. In thuth there is not a lot of difference betweeen the parties and what most of us want, which is a government that does not give in to the extortion of the ultra orthodox is probably not what we will get. On top of that this was an election fought on personalities not policies, where the election broadcasts focussed on rubbishing the oppposition convincing all of us that none of them are any good, and that none of the personalities are over appealing.

    The similarity between the parties was so great that many of us used a computer program that went around on the internet to work out which party was closest to our views

  6. February 10, 2009 at 14:35

    The Obama election in the US was exciting less because of the politicians and more because a new generation of activists are demanding better of their politicians. In Chile the is an old story that every hundred years the people awake, so apathy is nothing new.

    On Steve from Boston,

    I liked Ross “Oh, Come On!” human interviewer. A bookstore is man on the street stuff and some of the folks needed muscle not to run over each other. It is much easier to sit back home and critique than it is to do the real circus act of live radio.

  7. 7 Ricardo
    February 10, 2009 at 15:12

    @ Steve

    what´s there to be positive about? okay, we have a democtratic election, but wasn´t there a democratic election in Gaza, too?

    Okay, the Israelis didn´t like the electoral outcome, but will the Palestinians like the Israeli electoral outcome?

    What´s to be in store? tough talk, tough military actions, tough display of patriotism, tough enforcement of new settlement building?

    What´s positive about that?

    One thing is positive about that, though. It is not even a small thing by that token.

    Thanks to the tough and uncompromising stance of the new elect right wing Israeli government as opposed to center left leaning government that would stir hopes of compromise, there is no need to squander any more diplomatic capital on resolving the conflict.

    Sure, Hamas is not a moderate force either. But that is the point.

    Instead all those peace envoys should devote their attention and high profile diplomacy to other conflicts in the world. In the net result, lives will be saved by doing so, or be it not those in the region.

  8. 8 Ramesh
    February 10, 2009 at 15:28

    Democracy and Military Power are crucial factors for the very existence of israel. For outside world, it is not possible to understand how life is like for a small country surrounded by muslim countries threating its existence 365 days a year.

  9. February 10, 2009 at 16:05

    Proportional representation is the key to modern democracy, and its lack in the USA is why democracy there is foundering.

  10. February 10, 2009 at 16:31

    I’m afraid I agree with Justin Mann, that apathy doesn’t only afflict the Middle East. The style of government that Isreal has (coalition) sounds like everyone gets to put his or her idea into the mix, which is good. It is just that governing is long-term project, and a lot of people only think short term. A lot of short-term decisions rarely make for a good long-term outcome. So we get, “My vote doesn’t ever count anyway.” “My wife would vote the other way, so we decided we won’t vote at all. Ha ha.” And the ever popular, “Oh the person I like can’t possibly win, so why vote at all? ” It takes a big jolt, even bigger than a Hamas rocket, I guess.

  11. 11 Steve in Boston
    February 10, 2009 at 16:38


    What’s to be positive about? How about the fact that Israel is a country that was basically started from scratch, by the remnants of of the Jewish people who were being shoveled into ovens all over Europe just a few years prior, and has grown to be a thriving homeland for Jews who have been kicked around as outsiders for the two thousand years since the Romans annihilated Israel?

    How about a little reporting on thriving farms, universities, industry, and government, despite the fact that the world continuously stacks the deck against Israel?

    You want to report the negatives? Fine, but how about a little proportionate reporting on the positives?

  12. 12 Des Currie
    February 10, 2009 at 17:47

    Not democracy, theocracy. Otherwise they would have no claim to it.
    Des Currie

  13. 13 ~Dennis Junior~
    February 10, 2009 at 17:57

    Ros and the team!

    I think that Israeli (citizens) care about democracy! But, they have problems with the same-old-things in the country regarding Propostional representiation….

    ~Dennis Junior~

  14. 14 nicholaus
    February 10, 2009 at 18:08

    It is true that since i was very young I used to hear that the president of Israel is BENYAMINI UP TO NOW IS STILL THE SAME PERSON.I think that is not democracy the democray means that after certain period of Time the president has to drop regardless of his potential so as some one else can run the country.

    It is difficult to trace the efficient of the president if it is the same person has been in the system for the while.But this is some thing to do with Israel people themselves to decide who will be their best president.

    Benjamini he is getting old now so he must think about remain as advicer for the another president.


  15. 15 Michael in Alameda, USA
    February 10, 2009 at 18:17

    Religion remains the great hurdle of world peace. On one hand it seems that Arabs in Israel and those displaced by the foundation of the Jewish state have been mishandled, in part because of their religious belief or background. However the blatant hypocrisy and double standard of many Muslim countries is hard to believe. Saudi Arabia funds the building of huge mosques in Europe, but a synagogue in Saudi Arabia is unthinkable.

    Jews, even completely innocent Jewish civilians remain targets of discrimination and even violence in much of the world (note Mumbai, Amman, Sinai, Istanbul, Casablanca, Mombasa, Tunisia, etc.) So long as Jews are targets, a Jewish state remains the most logical option. This is especially true since the official state religion (or sometimes the defacto state religion) is blatantly anti Israeli and at best discriminatory of local Jewish populations.

    Peace will only come when religion and tribalism that comes with it looses it’s hold on societies. Saudi Arabia would be a great place to start secularizing.

  16. 16 Raydan
    February 10, 2009 at 18:18

    With all these political parties I think the jews are wandering in the desert again!

  17. 17 John in Scotland
    February 10, 2009 at 18:22

    Voter apathy …thats nothing new .Seems to me the Palestinian and Israeli working classes should see their common cause ,and put an end to this lunacy .

    The question is vested interest in the status quo. One thing we know is that Israel is goingin to recession and its also being affected by a lack of water ….

    …what was that about the next wars being about water ??????

  18. 18 ~Dennis Junior~
    February 10, 2009 at 18:24

    Also, more people in Israel have a different view of democratic rule, is because…They have the usually the same candidates and party officials running the country in most of the time….

    e.g.: Ehud Olmert & Binyamin Netanyahu ….Have been both been Prime Ministers of Israel over the many years, among other persons…

    ~Dennis Junior~

  19. 19 IK from KALW
    February 10, 2009 at 18:37

    You’re on Gaza Street. Ros, are you going to jaunt over to Gaza to sit in a bombed out cafe to have a beer with Palestinians? You’re what, 30 minutes away?

    And I’d still like to know when these Americans and Europeans I’m hearing moved to Israeli. And I’m still waiting for you to ask them how they feel about the fact that they have more rights than the Palestinians who have decades of connections to the land.

  20. 20 John in Scotland
    February 10, 2009 at 18:52

    guys…. stop seeing yourselves in regards race and religion . see the bigger picture and your common interest , and go on from that .

    Otherwise your doomed to some ridiculous self destruction based on some sort of relative mysticism ..

    …..think kids …future…love and …life !

  21. 21 Steve
    February 10, 2009 at 18:58

    I’m shocked that you read IK’s comment, which was very bigoted and racist. She’s saying that the people aren’t Israelis that you had on, but rather are Americans and Europeans.

  22. 22 Sam Kansas city
    February 10, 2009 at 19:05

    Well secuirty overrides any hope of democracy as one cannot have a democracy without intrenal peace and stability

  23. 23 Teresa
    February 10, 2009 at 19:54

    I agree that we treat Israel as if it were the 51st state, and I am totally against that. I don’t think the situation is any of our business. Why do we always have to be in the middle of every global dispute? I think it is disgraceful the way the Israelies are treating the Palestinians. All of the killing in the name of God totally disgusts me.

    February 12, 2009 at 09:48

    I think that there was too many political parties fighting for the average Israeli Voters….

    ~Dennis Junior~

  25. 25 George
    February 14, 2009 at 09:48

    Is the economy in Israel a topic? or just the continued killing of Arabs & Jews.
    By the way All three religons pretty much agree there will be no peace until the God returns to earth( End times) , maybe we will finally see peace soon.

  26. 26 Shakhoor Rehman
    February 14, 2009 at 13:51

    Israel is the 52nd state. All it seems to care about is Greater Israel like the Serbs only used to care about Greater Serbia. The Serbs have changed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: