The Compass

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Israeli Elections: My Miserable Voting Experience

TEL AVIV, Israel - Voting day has always been exciting for me. It started when I was a kid in Iran. Our local Kebab Restaurant (Kababi Najafi) was run by a member of the local Islamic committee. On voting days, he turned it into a voting office. For us kids, it was a good chance to gather around and play football. On such occasions, there were far more of us so it was twice the fun. The reason for the added numbers was because the streets were closed, due to fear of car bombs.

So instead of playing football between passing cars on the street, which on many occasions caused death or maiming of children (I was run over three times and nearly died during my first experience), we played football without the fear of Tehran's drivers. To us they were far more scary and real than car bombs.

I lived in Iran until I was 14, which meant I was too young to vote. In 1987 we moved to England. During my 17 years there, I never voted. This was because I was either too young, or moving around too much between Universities. Also, on a personal level, I didn't feel connected to the political system. The UK is a wonderful country, but politically, I never felt that I belonged.

This all changed when I moved to Israel in 2004. Politically speaking, I felt very connected here. After having left Iran, this was the first place where I felt at home. This country is no paradise by any stretch of the imagination, however as an Iranian Jew, I was welcomed and treated as an equal. As a family we have never felt discriminated against, because of our background. Israel gave us opportunities to progress professionally and in terms of education. This made me feel both happy and guilty.

The guilt came from the fact that Israel's Ethiopian citizens have been left behind. In some cases, they still live in immigrant absorption centres, despite the fact that they have lived here for more than 10 years. Many Ethiopians have progressed, but many have also been left behind.

In the 2006 elections, Kadima, who had backed the Gaza withdrawal, was slated to win. I thought that the peace process had enough support, so I could afford the luxury of voting with my conscience. The party who I chose to vote for was called Atid Ekhad (one future).This despite the fact that Shaul Mofaz, a fellow Persian whose family are also from Esfahan, was running for Kadima.

To me, social justice was more important than the return of the Esfahani empire. Although that will always be the secret “agenda”. I remember teasing an Arab friend once. “Forget your fears of the so called Zionist conspiracy taking over from the Nile to Euphrates. Once we Esfahanis have it our way, we will take over from Zayande Rood (a famous river in Esfahan) to the shores of the Pacific ocean. They don't call Esfahan Nesfe Jahan (half the world) for nothing”.

Joking aside, for now Atid Ekhad was the party for me. Its stated goal was “bringing to Israel the remaining Jews in Ethiopia and strengthening integration efforts for the community”. Many of its members were Ethiopians.

On the 28th of March 2006, on the occasion of elections for the 17th Knesset of the State of Israel, I wasn't just walking to the ballot box, I was almost hopping and skipping. The excitement was wonderful. Here I was voting for the first time in my life, for a party that my conscience fully supported. As I was about to cast my vote, I even asked the voting supervisor to take a photo of the historic occasion. “You are a new immigrant, right?”, said the guy bemusedly. I guess he had seen it all before.

Atid Ekhad proved to be a failure. Only 14,500 people voted for them which meant that they could not even win one seat in the Knesset. I couldn't believe it. On the night when the results were announced, almost angrily, I asked an Ethiopian security guard “how could you guys let this happen?”. His reply which in a true Ethiopian manner was polite and in a calm voice was “we vote Likud. They are the ones who brought us out of Ethiopia. We are loyal to them”.

Friends had told me to vote with my brain, and that to vote for Atid Ekhad was a waste. But I refused to believe them. In this year's election, I was going to vote with my conscience again. This time, for a Green party called Green Movement Meimad (GMM). Their platform which called for increased protection of the environment, social justice, and full support for the peace process was exactly in line which my thinking.

However, all of a sudden, the source of my vote, turned from my heart, to my head. Instead of just using my political knowledge, I started applying geometry. I realized that GMM had little chance of winning a single seat. So then next best party was Labour. To do that, I had to turn 45 degrees to the right. It wasn't easy, but realistic. That's the end of it, I thought.

Then I heard Bibi and his talk of deposing Hamas. The Iraqi regime change experience was bad enough for the US. It would be absurd to let a leader who talks about a similar adventure come to power in Israel. Stopping him became my priority. This is when I realized that Ehud Barak (head of Labour party) had no chance of running against Netanyahu for the post of Prime Minister. So it was time to get the protractor out for the second time. I decided to turn 45 degrees to the right again, to Tzipi Livni. She was the best moderate choice who has a respectable chance of standing against Netantahu.

90 degrees away from my conscience, I went to cast my vote today. As I placed my vote in the ballot box, I broke into a sweat. Tzipi Livni is a far better politician than Bibi, but she was not my first choice. She was my third. And now my body had joined my heart in protesting. It goes to show, that even when you have a full range of choices, it doesn't mean that you pick the one you ideally want.

Unlike 2006, my voting experience today was a miserable one. I don't want to imagine how I will feel if Likud wins. I know how President Ahmadinejad will feel. He will be happy.