Blank Ballot – Yes or No?

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On Sunday evening, a public debate on the subject “Blank Vote � Yes or No?” will take place at Tel-Aviv’s Eretz Israel museum. The question is not a rhetorical one. Ten days before the elections, there are still hundreds of thousands of citizens, both Jewish and Arab, who are tormented by this question, afflicted by doubt, vexed and worried. So am I.

This is a moral and practical decision, one of the toughest we have faced for years. We cannot evade it.

As I am due to chair the discussion, I have decided to put some order into the arguments by listing them in two columns, pro and con, like a banker listing assets and liabilities.

I have left out some items. We must not think about revenge or punishment for dashing our hopes and making false promises to us. Neither does the character of Ehud Barak concern this discussion, unless it touches the subject. This is not a beauty contest or a choice of Mr. Israel. Neither is it a tea and sympathy party.

All the arguments pro and con must be political, practical and to the point. The decision is too fateful for us to allow emotion, love and hatred to guide us. In the column “Barak” I have listed the arguments against the blank ballot, in the column “blank” the arguments for it.

Barak: A blank ballot is a vote for Sharon. Sharon is a dangerous person. He has already proved many times (not only in the Lebanon affair) that he is a ruthless, irresponsible adventurer, a man who tends to solve problems by the indiscriminate use of brute force. He is quite unpredictable. He is capable of terrible acts of cruelty. It is highly probable that he will push the situation towards a general war, in which weapons of mass-destruction, missiles, poison gas and whatever will be employed.

Blank: It is true that he is unpredictable, but an unpredictable person like him can also take an unpredictable peace initiative. Remember what you said about Begin on the eve of his election in 1977.

Barak: Dangerous as Sharon is, the people around him are even more so. Think about Liberman. Think about Ze’evi. Given the present composition of the Knesset, Sharon will be dependent on every small faction.

Blank: Sharon will not want to be dependent on every whim of Liberman and Ze’evi, nor on those of Sharanski and the Gerer rabbi. Therefore, he will set up a national unity government. Barak himself has created this situation by his weird decision to resign without dispersing the Knesset, so that in the best case he will be exactly in the same situation he is in now.

Barak: Don’t count on Sharon not to set up an extreme nationalist religious government. He will be exposed to massive pressure by the settlers. The education ministry may fall into the hands of Livnat, the interior ministry into the hands of Shas, the police ministry into the hands of Liberman.

Blank: But Barak, too, would, if elected, set up a national unity government. With the present Knesset he will hardly have a choice.

Barak: Even in a national unity government, there will be a difference between a government led by Barak in which Sharon would be minister of defense and a government led by Sharon in which Barak would be minister of defense.

Blank: What’s the difference? Even without Sharon in the government, Barak has violated his promise to make peace. He has destroyed the chance of making peace with Syria, because he was afraid of dismantling the settlements on the Golan. The ridiculous story about the 100 meters from the Kinneret shore served only as a pretext. In the Palestinian case, he did the same thing. He pretended to move forward, to “turn every stone”, but in the end presented “red lines” that made any agreement impossible: Not to turn over to the Palestinians the sovereignty over the Haram-al-Sharif (Temple Mount); Not to return a single refugee to Israeli territory, apart from a few thousands within the framework of family reunification. He speaks about the annexation of 5-10% of the West Bank, but in reality he wants to annex at least 25%, leaving the Palestinians in four or five enclaves, isolated from each other, with each one surrounded by settlers and soldiers. Why is this better than Sharon?

Barak: With Barak, there is at least a chance that he might slowly soften, step by step. With Sharon there is no such chance. He will bring war.

Blank: But Barak has already brought war! How can a person, whose every word and every move expresses loathing of the Palestinians and Arafat, convince the Israeli public to make peace? Last week he said that he proposes “a divorce, not a marriage; separation, not love”, and confessed that “it is not a pleasure to sit with Arafat”. This means getting the public to hate the partner. If Arafat is so terrible, what peace can we make?

Barak: Barak can learn. Even if we accept that during the last year and a half he has made many mistakes, he can draw conclusions and take a new path in his second term of office. Rabin was a failure in his first term (1974-1977) and when he came back in 1992, he became a quite different Rabin.

Blank: I wouldn’t count on it. There is no sign of it. If we vote for him, we shall bear the moral and political responsibility for all he does. The Arabs and the world may view this as the end of the Israeli peace movement. If there is a massive use of blank ballots, it will at least be clear that it’s not the peace movement that lost, but only Barak himself.

Barak: Who will know? Blank ballots are just invalid ballots. They will not be counted.

Blank: That’s not so. What will appear In the final report of the Election Commission is: the number of citizens who have the right to vote, the number of actual voters and the number of valid votes. The percentage of citizens who usually do not take the trouble to vote is well known, and so is the usual percentage of invalid votes. If this time there is a much higher percentage of these two categories, everyone can work out for himself how many people abstained. That will be a demonstration of power.

Barak: In 1933, the German communists helped the fascists to gain power. In Iran, the communist Tudeh party supported the Ayatollah Humeini and helped him to carry out his revolution. Think about it! Don’t repeat these mistakes!

Blank: Our first duty is not to betray ourselves. Our democratic duty is to vote for the things we believe in, and in the present situation this means voting with a blank ballot.

Barak: Really?

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