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Israeli President: 'Don't give up, elect to vote'


JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israeli President Reuven Rivlin hosted about 100 visitors at his Jerusalem residence Tuesday evening to talk about national elections and encourage them to vote on March 17. 

The president chose the first 100 people who responded to a Facebook post in which he asked Israelis not planning to vote to explain why. 

Israeli author and actor Modi Bar-On opened the event, telling participants he understood their apathy.

"Our democracy is indeed getting worn out from use, the pace of successive elections, and the minimal changes they actually bring causes even me to shrug and say, 'maybe it really is not that important. Maybe my vote doesn't really impact,'" Bar-On said and then remembered his mother.

For her, "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."

The last time she voted, despite poor health, he remembered her words. "I voted, therefore I am," she said.

Pollster Dr. Mina Tzemach spoke about electoral trends and the impact of voter turnout on the outcome.

One way to protest is to put a blank piece of paper in the envelope, which is counted as a "disqualified vote," she explained before telling of an election in which the non-voters could have made all the difference.

In the 1996 national elections, less than 26,000 votes determined the winner and there were 400,000 eligible voters who didn't go to the polls.

Several people spoke openly of their frustration.

"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," Yakir Cohen, 25, a student from Sapir College, not far from the rocket-battered town of Sderot, said.

"I live near the Gaza Strip, and since Operation Protective Edge, there is a sense of sand-glass counting down to the next round of violence," he said. "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 18 and the country will continue to be run exactly as it was previously," he continued. "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."

A 26-year-old woman from Ashdod spoke of living in bomb shelters and stairwells during rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and dreaming of buying an apartment.

"We see the candidates move from place to place around the country, talking with everyone. Yet from the 18th of March, we will see them only in the background and ask again, 'Where did we err?'"

When President Rivlin got up to speak, he told attendees he had no intention to preach to them and certainly not to ask for their vote. Rivlin is a longtime member of Likud, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party.

The president said he wanted to listen to them and to share "the concern that too many of our citizens are led by apathy and despair…who feel a lack of faith in the political system."

"But friends, I must ask you sincerely.  If specifically you, who 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?" he asked.

"A low electoral turnout is an incubator for social deterioration," he continued. "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 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," Rivlin said.

"My friends, go and vote!"

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