A little slice of Israel on election day

Thanks to mobile technology, I tuned into Galei Tzahal, Israel's freewheeling and wildly popular Army Radio, while riding the Metra from Central St. Evanston, near where I live, to downtown Chicago, where I work. Streaming Internet radio put me right in the heart of a little slice of Israel on a hot election day, even as I rode the rails through deep-freeze Chicago.

What I love about Galei Tsahal is what I love about Israel and her vocal citizens: No topic seems taboo, at least as far as this rusty and rudimentary Hebrew speaker can determine. People talk about everything and aren't afraid to express their feelings, just as we do here. But Israel is a tiny country with a tiny population, so there's something even more intimate about the Israeli discourse-and Galei Tsahal brings that intimacy right into my smartphone headphones. 

For 20 minutes this morning, I listened to a talk show host speak to callers who were declining to participate in the election, trying to convince them to vote for someone, anyone, and for any reason, because the basis of democracy is participation. (Some 66.6 percent of Israelis cast their ballots.)

The callers I heard listed litanies of why they wouldn't vote for any of the "fools" and "liars" running. Rifka, a 30-year old from Holon, spoke of her intention to leave Israel, of her despair of ever experiencing positive change.

"Are you a reader? Are you interested in literature?" the host asked.

"Of course," she answered.

"Well, I have Yoram Kaniuk on the line," he answered. "Maybe he can give you a reason for voting."

Kaniuk, now in his 80s, is one of Israel's most celebrated writers. He began to speak to Rifka of her obligation.

"You haven't left the country yet," he began. "As long as you're here, you have to realize that you have a voice, and it must be heard so that we don't create a vacuum for other voices-voices that might be extremist. You are still part of the crisis of this country."

Next the host enlisted Etgar Keret, the iconic literary voice of Israel's younger generation, to counter the complaints of Erez, a caller who seemed to be opting out of voting due to laziness more than deep disaffection (though perhaps I missed his point due to my limited Hebrew). Keret goaded the caller, with the help of the host, to just "get yourself to the polls and vote for anyone. Is there a candidate whose smile you like better? Vote for them!"

Despite Rifka's dose of disillusionment, the listening experience warmed me up on this frigid morning, the day after our own, American celebration of democracy. Of all our allies Israel remains one-and the only one in the Middle East-where the democratic discourse crackles, on Army Radio no less, and where great writers talk intimately with alienated citizens, if only to try to get them back on democracy's jostling rails.  

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