Rivlin (center) at pro-voting conference
Rivlin (center) at pro-voting conferenceKobi Gidon/GPO

President Reuven Rivlin hosted at his residence a conference with around 100 citizens who had declared they were not intending to exercise their right to vote on Tuesday. The conference, entitled "Don't give up – elect to vote", was chaired by Modi Bar-On, and was addressed by pollster Dr. Mina Tzemach.

Modi Bar-On opened proceedings by saying, "Unlike my mother, I was born in a free country, and I have been active in democracy since elections for the decorations committee in kindergarten.  For me, elections are a clear matter – whether for the Knesset, for the municipality, or for Big Brother (reality television series).  And I'm afraid that with all the elections I also understand your position, our democracy is indeed getting worn out from use, the pace of successive elections, and the minimal changes that they actually bring, causes even me to shrug and say - maybe it really is not that important. Maybe my vote doesn't really impact.  But then I remember my mother, for whom the right to vote was one of the greatest gifts she received in her life, for whom voting in the elections was such an important part of her identity and whom at her last elections, when ill health made it difficult for her, still declared – "I voted, therefore I am."

Dr. Mina Tzemach, explained to the attendees, electoral trends over the years and the impact of voter turnout on the results.  "The first cause that arises from the polls as to why people do not intend to vote is despair and a desire to protest," she said. "There is a protest whereby one places a plain white paper in the ballot, but when it comes to counting there is not category for white papers, so your protest goes to waste, as it is counted as a disqualified vote.  Those who don't vote feel they are getting back at parties who have not contributed or not acted, but in Israel, in 1996, there were less than 26,000 votes between the winner and the loser, and 400,000 people who didn't vote at all."

Participants in the conference had responded to the President's Facebook post about the conference, and written to him about the reasons they intended not to vote.  The first to respond out of the hundreds who did, were invited to the conference this evening at the President's Residence.

At the beginning of the evening, a number of the attendees addressed the President and the audience.  Na'ava Itali, 38, a mother of five from Moshav Tarom, said, "There is a difficult sense, that this election is dealing with marginal issues and corruption, and is not attempting to offer answers – I have not heard one candidate offer hope for change."

Student at Sapir College, Yakir Cohen, 25, from Moshav Zimrat, less than ten kilometers from the Gaza Strip, said, "The decision not to go to the polling station is a result of a crisis of confidence I have had with the state for a number of years.  I live near the Gaza Strip, and since Operation Protective Edge, there is a sense of a sand-glass counting down to the next round of violence.  There are no security, economic, or policy prospects.  There is no change, on the Right, Left or in the Center.  It doesn't matter for whom I vote, my vote will move no one.  We will get up on the morning of March 18th, (the day after the elections) and the country will continue to be run exactly as it was previously.  I am only 25, I have had the right to vote for only 7 years, and yet I am able to vote already for the third time.  Something here isn't working."

Ronit Vardi, 26, from Ashdod, explained that she felt the elected officials belittled her, and did not fulfill their duties.  She said, "We were in the bomb shelters and stairwells, and we dream of being able to buy an apartment.  We see the candidates move from place to place around the country, talking with everyone, yet from the 18th on March, we will see them only in the background and ask again, where did we err?"

Kobi Gidon/GPO

The President listened closely to the words of the speakers, and then addressed them and all those attending.  He stressed that it was not his intention to preach to them to go and vote, and that the goal of the conference was to pay attention to, and perhaps shed light on, the reasons they perhaps had not considered, which may lead them to change their minds and vote.

The President said, "I did not invite you here today to preach to you, and certainly not to ask for your vote.  I have invited you in order to listen to you, to hear you, but also to share with you the concern that too many of our citizens are led by apathy and despair.  From what I have heard and indeed and read from you, I understand that today, there are many citizens who feel a lack of faith in the political system.

"But friends, I must ask you sincerely.  If specifically you, whom understand the problems of the current political reality, believe that not voting will lead to a better or worse situation?  Would there be more or less corruption?  Would there be more extremism or more moderation?  Would the political system be more or less stable?  How would Israeli society look if we all stopped voting?  Would there be greater vision and hope?  Or less?

"My dear friends, I fear that refusing to vote is an own goal.   A low electoral turnout is an incubator for social deterioration. It only widens the dangerous gap between the elected officials and the public; it empowers extremist, violent groups, which endanger all of us.  Therefore, I have invited you here today, in order to say, despair and apathy, are not the solution.  The solution does not begin with doing less, but doing more.  To be more involved.  To be more observant.  To be more untied.  To demand more.  My friends, go and vote!"

At the end of the event, one of the participants, Abdallah Zoabi from Sulam, asked to speak, "I came to represent the other side of the argument.  Impact comes only through voting, we have no other way.  Is there a chance to influence if we all stay at home?  Is there some way of voting if we didn't go and vote on Election Day?  We can bring change, and I wish to utilize this platform to address the Arab community from which I come.  For years, we have fought for our rights, but this is not contradicted by exercising the rights we do have.  I do not want to be a marginal citizen, and I have this ability, and therefore we all need to be an integral part of the decision making process."

The President closed the event with the hope that even if there were those who remained unconvinced to go and vote, at least he had caused them to reflect on their decision, and consider further for the week till the elections.  "After all," he said, "a lot can happen in a week."

Kobi Gidon/GPO