From his home in Binghamton, three hours northwest of Manhattan, Ohad Shem Tov is navigating the Israeli Pirates party through its second election campaign.
The party in its current form started up in 2012, but Shem Tov, 35, is a veteran of several campaigns. From 2006 to 2009 he was chairman of the Green Leaf Party; at 26, he says, he was the country’s youngest-ever party leader.
Before the elections for the 18th Knesset, he left Green Leaf with several other disgruntled members and ran under the name Holocaust Survivors With Green Leaf Alumni.
A number of Pirate parties have sprung worldwide. They support direct democracy, open-content computing and reforms of copyright and patent laws, and they oppose censorship.
The original Pirate Party, established in Sweden in 2006, has elected representatives to the European Parliament, while in Germany it has representatives in the parliaments of four states, though it failed to make the Bundestag.
The Israeli Pirates Party is modeled on these parties, with a multifaceted agenda.
For example, the party wants to “cancel personal-status laws from the Ottoman era,” “legalize all drugs,” “implement a comprehensive reform of the police and promise free education from birth onwards in government institutions.”
Its website notes that the party also seeks to “preserve privacy and individual rights,” “change intellectual-property laws so that they protect the rights and independence of artists,” and provide “fast Internet for all for free as a basic democratic right.”
The party bases its activity on open-source technology, which enables users to raise issues to be discussed and make decisions together.
According to Shem Tov, this system enables citizens “to increase their participation in the decision-making process by a mechanism that bridges representative and direct democracy.”
Shem Tov, a doctoral student in public policy at the State University of New York at Binghamton, has no illusions about his party meeting the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent of the valid votes. The party got 2,076 votes (0.05 percent) in the 2013 election.
“We feel the chances are nil; we have no resources,” said Shem Tov. “I, the head of the party, cannot allow myself to buy a ticket back to Israel to vote in the elections.”
He said, however, that if the public shows interest and support, “of course, I’ll come back to Israel. I’ll come back if the polls show we have a chance to get even half of the threshold.”
So despite the lack of resources or chances, why did Shem Tov and his colleagues set sail into Israel’s murky electoral waters again?
“We are running to make a statement, not to grab votes,” Shem Tov said.
“We offer a lesser evil compared to the other parties. We offer the public something clean that really works for its benefit - to allow it to tell the MKs how to act in real time and not just through one vote in a campaign that focuses on just a few issues.”