Commentary Magazine

Article Preview

What Israel Did (and Did Not) Vote For

- Abstract

Israel’s political system has a long history of mergers and fissures, with smaller parties joining to form larger ones and splitting again in new ways. Up to the day it was held, this year’s March 28 election seemed certain to be remembered for the most recent and dramatic of such splits: Ariel Sharon’s walking out of the Likud last November to form the new Kadima party, which his January stroke prevented him from leading in the campaign. Contemplating the election’s returns, however, one wonders whether the real bolt wasn’t a different one, in which the Israeli public walked out on national politics.

One might start with the fact that the turnout at the polls was a mere 63 percent, compared with 67 percent in 2003 and 62.3 percent in 2001, when the vote—which elected Ariel Sharon to his first term—was not for the Knesset but for prime minister alone. On the face of it, this may appear to be par for the course. Voter turnout has been low and dropping in Western democracies for decades. In post-World War II presidential elections in the United States, for example, turnout peaked at 63 percent in 1960 and fell steadily to 47 percent in 1996 before rebounding somewhat in 2000 and 2004. In French parliamentary elections, it dropped from 74 percent in 1945 to 60 percent in 2002. Seen from this perspective, Israel is part of a worldwide trend.

About the Author

Hillel Halkin is a columnist for the New York Sun and a veteran contributor to COMMENTARY. Portions of the present essay were delivered at Northwestern University in March as the Klutznick Lecture in Jewish Civilization.