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      Paula R. Stern is CEO and founder of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company offering documentation services and training seminars. She made aliyah in 1993 when her oldest son was 6 years old. In March 2007, her son Elie entered the Artillery Division of the Israeli army and Paula began writing about her experiences as A Soldier’s Mother. The blog continues as Elie begins Reserve Duty and her son Shmulik is now a soldier. She recently opened a publishing house, helping other authors fulfill their dream to publish.

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      Shevat 11, 5773, 1/22/2013

      My Vote - As Israel Speaks


      ...in the truest democratic sense of the word. We are choosing from no less than 32 political parties (I think I even heard 34). You can't say we aren't diverse. We have several religious parties, several secular and even anti-religious parties. We have several Arab parties, nationalist parties - left wing and right wing. We have a party promoting the legalization of marijuana and parties that focus on social issues.Someone asked me if Israelis were forced to vote or they had a choice...we so have a choice and we choose to vote. Pick your issue - and there is a party for you. Our government is formed by the party with the most votes - its leader will be our next prime minister.

      Of course. that isn't a given. The President - mostly a figurehead, has the power to choose another party with less votes if he thinks they have a better chance of getting a majority of the other parties to agree.This time, it is almost a foregone conclusion that Bibi Netanyahu will win big enough to remain in office. But it is also assumed he doesn't have a chance of winning big enough not to have to deal with smaller parties. Some of the smallest parties may not cross the minimum 2-seat threshold. It's exciting; it's fun - it's Israel at its best. Today, people are urging each other to vote - no matter who - make your voice known.

      I've been debating who to vote for - which party to support. Ideologically, I'm limited to about 2.5 parties. I came to Israel with the firm belief that Likud was Israel's best choice. As soon as I moved to Israel, finally having the right to vote here - I joined the Likud party.

      Although technically, I left them a few years ago, they had long since abandoned their own mandate and beliefs. It is with great relief that I never even bothered thinking, never mind regretting, that I would not vote for Likud this time around.

      Yesh Atid, run by Yair Lapid, is a party that I detest. I am smart enough to know that the anger I feel towards them is present at a level higher than they deserve. I was urged to listen to Yair Lapid speaking before an audience of Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Kiryat Ono. I found him insulting, patronizing and obnoxious. Oh, sure - he's handsome and charismatic - but he is so filled with himself, it's hard to see that Israel will ever have a greater place in his mind than his own opinions. No vote for Yesh Atid.

      Shas is one of the Ultra-Orthodox parties that Yair Lapid detests - and his endless attacks added to the dirt of this election. Sadly, he isn't completely wrong. Shas has engaged, once again, in a disgusting campaign of negativity. Their spiritual leader, a great rabbi whose words are often taken out of context...often speaks words that shouldn't be said. Shas does some amazing things at the community level - if only they would spend more time promoting the good things they do rather than attacking others. If I ever considered voting for them - which to be honest, I never have - two remarks would have cost them my vote this time around. The first was when Rav Ovadia Yosef said that if there is a forced draft - he would tell his followers to send their children out of Israel. This concept of not serving while benefiting from the state bothers me no end. His second comment was that those who support Bayit HaYehudi are not Jews. I don't need Rav Yosef telling me who is a Jew but I've wasted enough time on a party known for its corruption and rationalizing political positions based on the money for which it can sell its support. No vote for Shas...HaTnua, Labor, Meretz, Kadima - I'll throw them all together and I'll throw them all out easily. They are, for the most part, ignorant or ridiculously naive when it comes to Israel's position in the Middle East. They demand social justice but have no real platform and more - when they had power, the situation wasn't any better so they have no right to claim they know how to improve the situation.

      As for security and Shaul Mofaz of Kadima, a former Chief of Staff of the army - I can only assume delusional is a better word for the weakness he would have us show to our enemies. Or, perhaps like the others, interest in his own sense of importance makes him willing to risk Israel's future for political gain? Whatever the truth - no vote for these parties.I could go on - as I have over the last few weeks - or make it simpler. There remain two parties with whom I agree - Bayit haYehudi (Jewish Home Party) and Otzma L'Yisrael (Strength to Israel). I would vote for either (or both, if I could). I have to choose one and so I went and I listened, I read, I thought.Bayit HaYehudi will work to pull Bibi Netanyahu to the right; to force him to remember and answer to his supporters, the bread and butter of the Likud party. They are also likely to get a large number of votes - currently as many as 12-14 seats in the Knesset. But...by being in the coalition, they will be forced to support measures I don't agree with - measures they don't even agree with.

      More, I've been betrayed by Bibi Netanyahu and the Likud more than once. The first time was when Ariel Sharon promised me security for my vote and then took my vote and used it to implement the so-called Disengagement Plan that resulted in our expelling 9,000 Jews from more than 20 beautiful communities. The unilateral move, which Bibi Netanyahu voted for, brought us the Lebanon War and that in turn, brought us the Cast Lead War. My son knows war because Likud (and then Sharon's new party Kadima) showed weakness and stupidity.I don't want my vote used, abused, betrayed. And I want to vote this time for a party that won't promise ridiculous things to get my vote. Okay, Bayit HaYehudi, to its credit, didn't promise ridiculous things.

      By contrast, I got a call from Bibi (okay, it was a taped spam message that I have to assume Likud inflicted on as many phone numbers as they could get). Bibi told me he was going to deliver security and lower housing...yeah, I believe him...not.By contrast, Aryeh Eldad jokingly said he was "a lousy politician because I can't promise peace, gas will be free, birds will fly backwards...and there are no taxes on words."But the first crack in my supporting Bayit HaYehudi was when I realized that they will get what they will get from Bibi whether they have 12 votes or 14. And to go against Bibi, they need a party to the right, an alternative, a warning. Betray me and I will go to this other party, we can say to Bayit haYehudi...if there is a party to go to - Otzma L'Yisrael.I want to finally vote for a party not based on politics but belief.

      Otzma L'Yisrael - Strength to Israel - is comprised of people who simply are. There is no pretending and little grandstanding. They will not shift with the wind, float to the left.They are against a Palestinian state for the simple reason that they believe, they understand, that a Palestinian state will be used as a launching ground for phase 2, the complete destruction of Israel. They are not trying to deny Arabs the right to pray at the Dome of the Rock, nor do they call for its destruction - they simply demand that Jews too have a right to pray at their holiest site.They are not racists when they declare that Israel is a Jewish state; nor are they racist when they say that Israel is not an Arab country. There are 20 other Arab lands; this one is not. Their leaders have introduced petitions for important laws on the social front. Aryeh Eldad is a doctor by trade. He has petitioned to allow us to choose our doctors, our surgeons. I voted. I went to vote in the only real democracy in Israel. I waited in line for 20 minutes - everyone in a jolly mood simply because we are enjoying our freedom.

      As I left, there was a young woman from Channel 10 doing a poll. She asked who I voted for and I told her - I voted for the strength of Israel, for the strong. I voted so that Bibi won't betray my vote. I voted because I live in a land I love, a free, democratic country and to keep it that way, we need a spectrum in the Knesset. We need a counter as strong on the right as there is on the left. If Arabs can have their seats in the Knesset - and they do, we too can have a voice. As I drove home, I saw a friend's son putting out fliers for Shas. Seriously? I asked him and he made a face. "How much are they paying you?" I asked him. "Forty shekels an hour," he grumbled.I smiled back and said - here, give me three fliers - I'll throw them out when I get home. He smiled and handed them to me. Shas, you are SO in the wrong neighborhood. I live among those who are religious Jews, proud Israelis.

      We are the Dati Leumi - the national religious. When I was 13 years old, I read a book and fell in love with Israel, the wonder of our return to this land. I read, I learned, and as I did, I decided there are two parts to being a Jew - Torah and Israel. To fulfill the truest meaning of both parts, to be whole inside in heart and body - is to combine these.Today, among friends and neighbors, in more joy than you can imagine, I voted. I voted for Israel to be strong. Otzma L'Yisrael.