Ask an Israeli about the conflict, they will likely say, “it’s complicated.” Ask the same Israeli about the upcoming election, the most divulging reaction might be an eye-roll. Parliamentary systems, coalition building, and “kingmakers”… Israeli politics function in a different language. That language is as frustratingly easy and hard as the Aleph Bet.
On January 22, Israelis will go to their local voting stations to pick from 34 eligible parties. This isn’t Baskin Robbins though; a voter cannot mix and match. It is one vote per person, for one party. With the overabundance of wannabe politicos, some, like members of Pirate Party Israel, won’t successfully make it across the waters to enter the 19th Knesset.
There is a final curveball awaiting Israeli voters in the kalpi, or voting booth. You enter the room, hand over your I.D. to the electoral officials in exchange for an envelope, and make your way to a large table protected by a wall of cardboard. Behind that wall lies your moment of truth: 34 boxes stuffed with stacks of hand-sized sheets of paper, each individually marked with up to three Hebrew letters.
Each letter combination represents a party. Some are pretty straightforward, and like the Pirate Party, only employ one letter; but only seven single letters remain and some have strategized unique methods to win voters. Meretz, a liberal party on the Israeli left, is represented with Mem, Resh, Tzadi = Meretz. Shas, a Sephardi religious party, is represented with a Shin and a Samech = Shas. Ale Yarok, a single-issue party hoping to legalize marijuana, employs a Kuf and a Nun, the first two letters in the word cannabis. No one wants to overly confuse their voting base.
However, other parties have decided to take a more cognitive approach. The Labour Party uses the letters, Alef, Mem, Taf, which spell out Emet, or “Truth.” Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home Party) chose Tet and Bet = Tov = Good. Kadima is Kaf and Nun, spelling Ken or “Yes.” These letters featured prominently in their “Yes We Ken” spinoff of Barak Obama’s 2008 slogan during the last elections. OK, we get it; each of these parties believes it is the best, but they also hope that the undecided, wayward voter, who blankly stares at the plethora of papers will favor an idea or concept over a random letter. Most won’t take the time to read the fine print, where the full title of each party is revealed, so it’s important to be catchy.
Tzipi Livni’s new party “HaTnua”, or “The Movement,” is represented by a Tzadi and a Peh, the first two letters in her name. Rather than forcing voters to decipher what the letters mean, she has taken a more direct approach. Then again, “vote for me” doesn’t really jive with the whole culture of party politics in Israel
One would think that a multi-party system would frustrate Israelis, but they view the abundance of divergent voices as an expression of their country’s democratic values. As Jewish tradition holds, one can never have too many opinions.