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Why I’m Excited About the New Israeli Election. Yes, Really

Sure, most Israelis are jaded by all those trips to polling places, but there’s actually lots to love – especially if you enjoy municipal spaces, shopping malls and free pizza

Linda Dayan
Linda Dayan
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Israelis need to choose just one party every time, but because they have so many elections, at least they get a chance to try out the different options.
Israelis need to choose just one party every time, but because they have so many elections, at least they get a chance to try out the different options.Credit: Moti Milrod; Yoav Dudkevitch; David Danberg; Ohad Zwigenberg; Artwork by Anastasia Shub.
Linda Dayan
Linda Dayan

In a move that made headlines the world over and surprised exactly zero Israelis, Knesset members have decided to dissolve parliament and send the country back to another round of its favorite pastime: voting.

Looking from afar, you might conclude that Israelis are absolutely hog wild about slipping a piece of paper representing a political party into an envelope and putting that envelope into a cardboard box. After all, why else would they do it over and over again if not for the joy and excitement that follows?

In reality, it seems that most people are exasperated with these endless election cycles, and are just hoping for this one to end before it’s even started. We’ve been sucked into the loop of endless elections before, and for many the news of the imminent collapse of the government joined a chain of recent disappointments: the loss of reproductive rights in the United States, a new COVID wave and the announcement of BTS’ hiatus.

The outcome is obvious, they say: gridlock, with neither the Netanyahu nor anti-Netanyahu bloc reaching a clear majority. We may have a multiparty system, but it still seems to revolve around one man with purple hair.

But me? I’m optimistic about this election. You know what? Even better, I’m excited.

Elections are a particularly festive part of the Jewish calendar. Most people get time off from work without the limitations of most Jewish holidays – no public transportation, say, or restaurant closures. In one day of rabid shopping and mall sales alone, it seems as if the Israeli economy rebounds from the cost of elections.

The scheduled date for the election – this year, November 1 – usually sees fabulous weather, and the picnics will sprawl across the nation’s parks. Families will lift their eyes from television and computer screens and remember that their children and parents exist. A secular Shabbat, if you will, under the auspices of democracy.

Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casting his vote in the March 2021 election.Credit: Marc Israel Sellem / Pool

Scavenger hunt

As someone who has moved three times since the election loop began, voting has also given me a chance to see more of my city. It starts with a scavenger hunt. To which apartment will Israel send my voter information? Will the website that sends you off to your ballot box register that change of address before the date arrives? Will I, as I did two elections ago, mosey on over to my previous polling place, only for them to tell me that it’s moved – but still be allowed to vote there because this is a thing that happens often enough?

Since I arrived in Israel nearly eight years ago, I have voted in two community centers and two different schools, and it gives an exclusive peek into where my tax money goes. On the whole I’ve been impressed with the architecture, interior design and historic restoration of Tel Aviv’s public spaces, and am excited to tour even more of them this time.

On a professional level, Election Day is a thrilling time to be a Haaretz editor. In our old newsroom, they decorated it ceiling-to-floor with balloons and streamers – and never took down the latter because “election time” did not end for two years.

They order in pizza, snacks and cases of drinks. Last time, they went all out and brought us bagels in the morning and burritos in the evening. I have worked every Election Day for the past three and a half years for the food alone.

The day itself is surprisingly peaceful, because nothing happens on Election Day. Photographers send pictures of Naftali Bennett’s mother casting her ballot. There are a few reports of Likud breaking some sort of election law and getting fined. Other than that, though, there’s not much to write about until the exit polls are announced at 10 P.M. When they are, the crowd of mildly buzzed editors goes wild, and the newscasters inevitably report that neither side can form a coalition with the current data. The editors frantically prepare that one article, and then everybody breathes again.

Everyone stays for a bit to chat, and it’s lovely to spend the evening surrounded by people who are as invested in the event as you are.

And, of course, I am especially exhilarated for what lies ahead, after the votes are counted. I have refused to project the results of any and every election since November 2016, when we learned that we are actually living in a parallel universe and nothing can be inferred using logic alone.

An excellent example of that is the last Israeli election. Bennett, who won a measly seven seats for the right-wing Yamina party, linked up with centrists, leftists and even Islamists to assume the national leadership. Anyone who tells you they saw that coming is either a liar or a witch.

Election Day in Tel Aviv, March 2021, where the turnout was particularly strong in shopping malls.Credit: Hadas Parush

This election carries the same potential for surprises and upsets. The past government, with its bizarre constellation of ideologies, managed to do much that previous ones didn’t – including passing a vital budget, which for a government is the equivalent of a normal person getting up in the morning and getting to work on time. But hey, you’ve got to start somewhere.

So, in the words of my personal hero Gina Linetti, “Chin up, little pup.” It is very trendy to despair, but where has that gotten us? We are stuck in this timeline, so we may as well make peace with reality, and perhaps do something even more radical – get excited about it.

Rally your pals, get dressed up for the occasion, cover yourself in the free stickers that political parties give outside polling places and sashay into the religious girl’s school where your ballot box lives like you own the place. You may get a new government, and I’ll definitely get free pizza.

If we don’t like the outcome, we can be comforted by the fact that an Israeli governing coalition apparently dissolves faster than cotton candy in the mouth of a sugar-crazed fourth-grader. And then we get to do this all over again. How fun!

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