Next week I will vote as an Israeli citizen for the first time. After many years of expressing support for Israel from America, I made aliyah last year to add my voice to the diverse cacophony of opinions that make up this nation.
Democracy in Israel is vigorous, vibrant, imperfect, breathtaking, noisy and, above all else, miraculous when you consider the past two millennium of Jewish history. The democratic rights we exercise in Israel today will determine the future of the Jewish nation.
Many supporters of Israel abroad recognize this, but some become preoccupied with what they want the future of Israel to look like, at the expense of our right as Israelis to determine that future. Those who choose Israel’s election season to criticize Israel in their respective countries may think they have our nation’s best interests at heart.
In reality, protecting the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their ancestral homeland is the most fundamental way to ensure that Israel will remain a Jewish, democratic and secure state. Helpful supporters of Israel respect Israeli democracy and do not substitute their judgment – or wishful thinking – for that of Israeli voters.
Israelis are tremendously grateful
Israeli election season is a great time to communicate one of the most fundamental and resonant points that are obvious to us, but little known to others. Israel is a democratic nation composed of Jews, Muslims, Christians, and other minorities.
All Israeli citizens - regardless of race, religion or gender – enjoy equal rights and protections under the law. These rights include freedom of speech, assembly, expression and press; freedom of religion; universal health care; and, of course, the right to vote in fair and open elections. Protections include affirmative action, non-discriminatory hiring, legislation against gender discrimination and a fair and open judiciary.
Is Israeli democracy perfect? Of course not. Nor is American democracy, or Canadian democracy, or any other nation's democracy. But Israel’s accomplishments in this regard, especially in light of the obstacles Israel has endured, are remarkable.
Most people abroad know little about Israeli government or society – and judging from our neighborhood, they could be forgiven for assuming Israel is not a thriving democracy. Explaining that Israelis share the values of freedom, pluralism and rights with Western nations reinforces Israel’s position as a beacon of democracy in an otherwise troubled region. And this Western support for Israeli democracy, in turn, allows Israelis to make the decisions we feel are best for our future.
Israelis are tremendously grateful for the support of America and our other allies. But let’s be clear – our connection to this land stretches back thousands of years, and our modern-day state came through the blood, sweat and prayers of our own people. The will of the Jewish people to determine our own course has sustained us against all odds – and that right must be protected above all else.
Natalie Menaged created the "I Vote Israel" mock voting website HasbaraFellowships.org/ivoteisrael