It was very reluctantly that I even went into the ballot station in Israel on January 28th. I had returned to the country to see my family and friends, with the elections only incidentally happening at the same time. Until the last minute I had half a mind not to vote at all. The basic reason for this has nothing to do with Israel: as an anarchist (or a libertarian communist, or a utopian socialist, or a direct democrat… call it what you want) I believe there is nothing democratic about any state regime in which there is an extreme political inequality between even the most perfect representatives and the rest of the population. From such a standpoint voting means nothing but signifying consent to be ruled.
In Israel, you might say, we can’t afford this European luxury. I agree that there is a significant difference between an Ariel Sharon government and one headed by somebody else, anybody else. But then it was clear that Ariel would win by a landslide. Over the past two years the Israeli public has gone through a massive shift to the right. The cycle of violence and counter-violence in the area – without entering into the playground logic of ‘who started’ – is pushing people into a position of fear and confusion, in which any politician who can maintain the illusion that he is doing something will receive public trust. (And by God – who does not exist – Ariel is really good at that. As is Yasser Arafat).
So any fancy about turning the tide right now is exactly that. And what would the alternative be, anyway? The Labour party? Remember, we’re talking about the same bunch that just left a unity government with Ariel, where they were providing a fig-leaf for the atrocities against the occupied Palestinian people. The same Labour who now shows a dovish face with Amram Mitzna (the mayor of Haifa, my home city, who sold our beach to his contractor friends), but would almost certainly revert to its old ways if given power.
OK, so what about building a strong opposition in Parliament? Or putting some people in there who would push social justice legislation? Let’s look at the menu again. Meretz, the left-of-centre party with a good legislative record, but hanging-on to the sham of a ‘Jewish and Democratic State’, peace with Zionism. They could hardly get my vote.
Azmi Bishara’s Balad, at least a non-Zionist party but from a nationalist standpoint, and with no social agenda, scores hardly better. Which left me with Hadash, the only genuine Arab-Jewish party, who’s MK Tamar Gozhansky (removed from their list before the elections) was the champion of social legislation. But this is a party torn between the reconstructed (and not so reconstructed) communists on the one hand – complete with Bolshevik organising, ‘party discipline’ and calling each other ‘comrade’ – and a quasi-nationalist wing resembling Balad on the other. Whichever way you look at it, I would be casting my vote with the right hand, and using the fingers of my left to hold my nose closed. In the end I did vote Hadash, but only as a personal favour to their number-four, my friend Dov Henin.
He didn’t make it. The soldiers’ votes made all the difference.
So were the elections a total waste of my time? Well… er… Yes. But there’s a broader lesson here. Israel or not, we can’t depend on our rulers to provide us with peace, social justice or equality. Their jobs depend on perpetuating the root causes for everything opposite. What we want only becomes reality when we organise for it at the grassroots. When people, not governments, enter into dialogue to solve their conflicts. Like old Mikhail Bakunin once said, ‘If voting could change anything, it would have been outlawed long ago’.