Sarah Idan on October 31, 2022
On Nov. 1, Israel will go to the polls. Election Day in Israel is a nationwide public holiday, where even essential service employees are legally guaranteed an opportunity to cast their ballot.
Thirty-nine parties are participating in this election, hoping for a chance to represent Israel’s voters in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Any party that earns just 3.25% of the vote clears the electoral threshold and returns Members of Knesset (MKs) — a lower barrier to enter the national legislature than any peer democracy except the Netherlands and Denmark.
Nor is this a musty and long-forgotten memory, but a strongly-felt lived tradition, in the words of the Haggadah: “In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he had left Egypt: for [G-d] did not redeem only our ancestors, but even us as well.”
Long after the Roman oppressors expelled Jews from their precious homeland, during the long dark night of foreign persecution in the Middle Ages, they maintained their faith in ultimate redemption. In the words of modern Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence: “After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.”
Freedom means more than merely political independence, but defines the democratic culture of the state. The Declaration guarantees that Israel “will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”
Every Israeli citizen who is at least 18 years old has the right to vote, regardless of religion, race, or sex; every Israeli citizen who is at least 21 years old has the right to be elected.
Israeli political parties represent the diversity of the Israeli nation, including a party founded to represent Russian-speaking immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and multiple parties representing the Israeli Arab community, with 10 out of 120 MKs, and another 4 Arab MKs representing multiconfessional factions.
With a 3/4 majority of 90 MKs, the Knesset can also expel any member for incitement to racism. Women have had the right to vote in Israel since before independence and at all times since, and Israel produced one of the great female leaders of the 20th Century with the American-raised feminist hero Golda Meir, one of the most iconic prime ministers.
With these robust protections and traditions, it is no wonder that modern Israel has thrived throughout its young history as a committed democracy. Democracy monitor Freedom House notes that Israel “is a multiparty democracy with strong and independent institutions that guarantee political rights and civil liberties for most of the population … the judiciary is comparatively active in protecting minority rights.”
The best guarantor of these rights, a free press, remains vigorous, with Freedom House finding that the “Israeli media sector as a whole is vibrant and free to criticize government policy.”
Israel’s election is a reminder that its partnerships with the U.S. and other leading democracies, from the Americas to India to Europe, remain grounded in this basic commonality of values — the crucial understanding that nothing matters more than our freedom.
Sarah Idan is a secular Muslim who represented Iraq in the 2017 Miss Universe pageant. After posting an Instagram photo of herself and Ms. Israel during the pageant, she received a torrent of death threats. She and her family were forced to flee Iraq, and since then has spoken out on Middle East policy.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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