Reaffirming faith in democracy

This is a republication of an original article written by Akiva Futter, in the Diamondback on Wednesday, January 23, 2013.


While one election cycle came to an end in the United States with the recent inauguration of President Obama, a different election came and went in the Middle East. You may be taken aback by that statement. Yes, the Middle East! Not only that, but it was in a country that has been democratic since its inception and has had consistently peaceful transfers of power.

Of course, the country I am referring to is Israel.

On Jan. 22, Israelis took to the polls to elect representatives to their parliament, the Knesset. Unlike in the U.S., where the legislative and executive branches are separate, in Israel, the government is made up of a parliament and prime minister. Israelis elected members for the 120-person Knesset, choosing from more than 30 parties. (Israelis vote for parties instead of people and the seats are distributed based on the percentage of votes received.) These parties represent an incredible diversity of political views. While initial projections showed the majority shifting more to the right, in a surprise turn of events, the vote shifted more toward the center, with the seats nearly evenly split 60-60 between the left and right camps, according to the newspaper Haaretz. It appears likely Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will remain in office, but as part of a more centrist coalition.

How was this news received in Israel? Some were thrilled, some disappointed, but all reacted peacefully. Once again, democracy was the big winner. Readers are all familiar with the hype surrounding elections in the U.S. and how surprising the results can sometimes be. Yet no matter how close results are in the U.S., people do not riot and there are not violent attempts to intervene in the natural course of the democratic process.

What is amazing about Israel is that despite it being surrounded by neighbors who are highly undemocratic, Israel directly embodies the American spirit of democracy. Israel has shown its commitment to these values time and time again over the course of 19 election cycles since the country’s founding in 1948. In Israel, every adult is given equal voting rights and the summer 2011 tent protests over the country’s high cost of living were prime examples of Israelis’ right to free speech.

When one looks at the democratic transfer of power in comparison to the U.S., it comes as no surprise — it happens here all the time. But look at Israel in its regional context. In Iran, gays and lesbians are punished and persecuted. In Saudi Arabia, not only are religious minorities not recognized, but women are not even allowed to drive cars. In Syria, it is punishable to speak out against the president, Bashar al-Assad. It may come as a surprise to readers, but not only are there full voting rights for all of-age citizens in Israel, but minorities, such as the large Arab population, have parties that represent them in the Knesset.

There is a great deal of turmoil in the Middle East. Many groups in the region want to see Israel wiped off the face of the map. From terrorist cells in Gaza to the current leaders of Iran, Israel’s safety and security is threatened time and time again. As a fellow democracy, it is our responsibility to stand by Israel, and help ensure that its citizens can continue to live with the freedoms and liberties we value as the hallmarks of democratic societies.


About the Author

Akiva Futter is a freshman computer science major and the legislative coordinator for Terps for Israel. He can be reached at akiva.futter@gmail.com.