Insider's View

Whether in U.S. or Israel, voting is vital duty

Amir Eden

Some of our community members and lay leaders are involved in the Nov. 6 elections. As an American citizen, I plan to cast my ballot, as voting, in my eyes, is one of our important civic duties.

I had my first political experience in the Israeli general elections campaign of 1977. Like all of the 10-year–olds, I was approached every day at school during lunch recess by some of the older students. They came to each student, took hold of his collar, and asked, “Begin or Peres? Begin or Peres?” If you dared answer “Peres,” they would tighten their grip until you cried out “Begin!” The teachers on duty pretended not to see, or maybe it just seemed that they suppressed their smiles and walked away as our political “education” took place. Small wonder there were not too many “Peres supporters” in Be’er Sheva in 1977.

On May 17, 1977, the Likud Party led by the late Menachem Begin won for the first time after almost 30 years of rule by the left–wing Alignment Party and its predecessor, Mapai. A phrase was coined by TV anchor Haim Yavin when he announced the election results live on television with the words: “Ladies and Gentlemen — a revolution!” In Hebrew, Gviroti veRevoti — Mahapakh!

Both leaders went on to successful careers and won their honorable place in the Israeli pantheon. Begin, who won the election, was the first prime minister to sign a peace treaty with an Arab State, Egypt, in 1979, for which he won the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Begin authorized an attack on the Osirak nuclear plant in Iraq in 1980, and the invasion of Lebanon to fight the Palestinian Liberation Organization strongholds in 1982. The operation “Peace for the Galilee” became the first Lebanon War, and not only impacted the Israeli economy but also brought death to many Israeli households. Begin had become deeply disappointed with the situation as he hoped to establish peace with Lebanese president-elect Bashir Gemayel, who was assassinated. As the “Peace Now” movement held an unprecedented anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv, and many families demonstrated outside of his house, public pressure on Begin mounted.

Depressed by the death of his wife, Aliza, in November 1982, while he was on an official visit to the White House, and also by the war’s casualties, Begin gradually withdrew from public life until his resignation in October 1983. He died in Tel Aviv in 1992, followed by a simple ceremony and burial on the Mount of Olives. He asked not be buried on Mount Herzl, where most Israeli leaders are laid to rest, but instead asked to be buried beside two of his friends who died during their service in the Irgun, a paramilitary group, before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The IDF had a partial unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 1985, and ended its military stay in Lebanon in 2000.

The late Shimon Peres served as Israel’s president and had an impressive career as well. During his political experience of 70 years, he was prime minister (twice), a member of 12 cabinets, the minister of defense, the minister of foreign affairs, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the first former prime minister to be elected as president of Israel. In November 2008, Peres was presented with an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II. Peres died on Sept. 28, 2016.

Like the rest of us, I hope that all candidates, regardless of the outcome, will use their talents and leadership skills to better our country.

The elections are around the corner and the competition is intense. I hope that all our candidates will focus on what they can do and will do for our country and not on what their opponents will not do. I trust that the outcome of our election process will produce the right leaders, not only the popular ones.

Above all else, we want them (as well as ourselves) to agree that it is OK to disagree without pulling on each other’s collars.

Amir Eden is director of the Weintraub Israel Center.