A young Israeli casting his vote.
From memes of Obama and Sarkozy’s “you can’t sit with us” stance on Netanyahu, to almost fantastical tales of Israel’s Iron Domes and cross-border smuggling tunnels in Gaza that have filled daily international headlines for the past years, it’s hard to be oblivious to what’s going on between Israel and Palestine in the Middle East. My most recent trip to Israel and my time spent in Tel Aviv during this week’s elections further served to open my eyes to what Israelis, especially young Israelis are facing every day.
I was in Israel touring the country on a trip sponsored by their Ministry of Tourism and opted to extend my trip through the elections, staying with a friend who works for the American Embassy and befriending many young Israelis and expats while there, including journalists, techies and lawyers — a cross section of many fields and what seems to be a good representation of the young professional Israeli. From my new friends I learned of concerns ranging from Gaza to the rising costs of living in Tel Aviv. I am discussing a feature of my perspective of the elections for a bigger site but for now, and for viewers of ’N A Perfect World I wanted to give you quick points on what, to me, were the most important take aways of these elections (and the political situation in Israel) as a young American.
Election Day is fun! Naturally upon telling some people I was going to Israel, they insisted I be careful especially with elections — although my family members on the other hand asked for mezuzahs and shofars galore.
When I told my Israeli friend about poll hours in the US, he responded shocked that people had time to vote with work if they had a tough boss. You get election day off in most positions in Israel. If you’re denied the day off, your employer has to pay you 200% of your wages for that day. There is no excuse not to vote. The polls were very orderly and at the same time relaxed. I was allowed to take pictures, there was a bake sale going on in the school yard, quite the opposite of the almost police state like voting practices with disgruntled people trying to get it in before work that I dealt with voting at public schools in Brooklyn. After voting, I went to a fun Election Day barbeque and then a walk along the promenade in Tel Aviv where I saw Israelis basking in the sun, playing volleyball, working out. Just another beautiful day!
I kind of believe I spent election day with the most contentious voter. During the morning of election day, he contacted no less than ten people to discuss the parties on the ballot. “Do I want change? Do I like my life as it is now?” he opined at one point, to no one in particular. Even while at the polls, he stepped out to make one last phone call to a friend that he was sure had the answers. If the voters of Israel are even a small fraction as thoughtful of a voter as my friend is, the country is in good hands.
And no wonder he was so contentious. It’s because Israelis are dealing with real shit! Imagine navigating with the normal young adult stuff of how you’re going to make a living, maybe start a family, and then couple that with military service, necessary military service no less because there’s the constant threat of a large and vocal group of people that don’t recognize you as a state and in the most literal way, want to make sure that you don’t exist. It is such a different and fascinating concept of “voting for peace” to me. We, as Americans, vote for peace, or to pull out of Afghanistan, a place thousands of miles away. Despite the Israeli, especially Tel Aviv joie de vivre the desire for peace is a basic everyday need for them that is at their border. Pretty heavy, huh? Despite this, I felt amazingly safe in Tel Aviv, more so than many other cities I have visited.
And lastly, the elephant in the room. “Israelis are racist,” I’ve had several friends, including Israelis I knew living abroad say. Racist, religiously biased, there is no argument that Israel is a region fraught with tension and from my experience in Tel Aviv, maybe it was a weird bubble impenetrable to that — cue tasteless Iron Dome joke. I found stereotypically aggressive Israelis bent over backwards to be nice and accommodating to me. Even my intense questioning from El Al at JFK took on a “just doing my job” tone and less “Why were you in Turkey?” and “Did you know your middle name, Safiya, is Arabic?” So, that awkward Netanyahu Facebook post calling right-wing voters to the polls because “Arab voters are coming out in droves,” were met with just as much WTFness by Israelis that I met as by those abroad. I was told that the Arab-Israelis made up about 18-20% of Israel’s population. Imagine a President so blatantly discounting 20% of their citizens?
“The black people and the young people are voting in droves for Obama!” said Mitt Romney, NEVER. C’mon Bibi…
Netanyahu banners throughout Tel Aviv
Oh and the beautiful Israeli stereotype holds true in politics as well. Stav Shaffir of the Labour Party. Need I say more?
Below are some photos a friend took of me on the boardwalk enjoying Election Day!
Photo by Nir Doitch
Photo by Nir Doitch