US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger famously said in the 1970s that "Israel has no foreign policy; it only has a domestic policy." In other words, it's all local for us. That is not to say that we are all egocentric (though many surely are). Kissinger only meant to say that world events and our foreign policy are all viewed ultimately through the prism of how they affect us here, at home.
This assessment of Israelis' world view is not far off the mark. Forty years after Kissinger said so, our challenges have changed but we continue to look at the world-from Iran's nuclear program to European Anti-Semitism, from US elections to unrest in Egypt-only as far as they affect us, our security and our people's survival.
It is therefore surprising to see the low turnout in Israel's recent municipal elections. If it is all local for us, one would expect Israelis to come out in large numbers to determine their Mayor for the next five years. After all, local politics are closest to us and have the biggest influence on our day to day life. Sure, the Iranian threat looms above our very future, but a city's Mayor and Council have a far more immediate effect on our quality of life-they run our schools, our water and sewer systems, our garbage collection, and the quality of the pavements in our roads. We encounter City Hall's actions (or inaction) literally on a daily basis, while Egypt's unrest may be of great importance to our military-but has little or no immediate consequence for the average Israeli.
How to explain, then, the high turnout in Israel's general elections (to choose a Prime Minister) and the very low turnout in local elections? In the recent municipal vote, roughly half of eligible voters went to the ballots. That is a low turnout by any standard.
One explanation could be the fact that Israelis are simply weary of local politicians. A recent spate of indictments against incumbent Mayors has made many of us resent local politics and politicians, seen as corrupt and self-interested. Although government Ministers and Members of Knesset have been indicted in the past, somehow local politics are perceived as being more corrupt and local politicians less worthy of our confidence-and our vote.
Another explanation is that many Israelis believe that at the end of the day, there is not much difference between the candidates for Mayor. Sure, there are differences in personality, charisma, and beliefs, but there is a limit to how much those characteristics can come into play in City Hall. Many Israelis have simply lost hope of a knight in shining armor conquering the Mayor's office and really making a change.
And maybe Israelis are not turning out for municipal elections because we simply don't bother to actually read all the fine print in their shiny flyers that litter our streets, describing their program for our city.
Whatever the explanation, even hotly contested races such as the ones in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv did not manage to draw serious crowds of voters on Election Day. Maybe it is just another example of how different Israel is from other countries. We all care about municipal issues, but we consider ourselves real experts on strategic ones. Or as someone once said, we are a nation of eight million Prime Ministers.
Maybe when events in Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Washington all carry so much influence over our lives and our futures, we simply care less about how often the garbage gets picked up in our street.
Ofer Bavly is the director general of the JUF Israel Office.