Catchy, this rhyme written in 1899 by the American poet Hughes Mearns:
Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away…
Men and women who weren’t there on Election Day are having a profound effect on several iconic democracies.
People who had voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, many of them people of color and people of youth, weren’t there to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Had they shown up and again voted Democratic, most analysts say, Donald Trump would never have become America’s president.
One of the main points of Russian propaganda, its social media campaign during the 2016 pre-election period, was to turn off anti-Trump voters, convince them to ignore their citizenship responsibilities to vote. Voter suppression was at the heart of a Trump campaign call for volunteers, vigilantes, some called them, to “monitor” polling places for fraudulent voting which is – every reputable study has shown – virtually non-existent in America.
Few poll-stalkers actually turned up, and it’s hard to know if the threat of their appearance did discourage some people, especially racial and ethnic minorities, from casting their ballots.
All we know is, for a variety of reasons, past Democratic voters playing hookey on Election Day, gave us Trump.
In Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party did more than threaten to lurk at the polls. Likud actually provided party activists with 1,200 hidden cameras “to monitor” Arab polling stations, again asserting they were preventing fraudulent voting, which has rarely been a problem in Israel either. The bullying move was so egregious that Israel’s Central Elections Committee filed a complaint with police.
Is that why barely half the eligible Israeli Arab voters cast their ballots? Certainly, Netanyahu’s familiar thuggery wasn’t the only reason. His principal opponent, former army chief of staff Benny Gantz, campaigned on being civil unlike nasty Netanyahu, but offered little else to Arab voters, and hardly mentioned any possibility of peace with Palestinians, much less a two-state solution. Neither did the peace-oriented parties of the Israeli left exert much magnetic pull on Arab voters.
So, although a coalition government hasn’t been formed yet, it is almost certain that Netanyahu will lead one for the fifth time and that fundamentalist religious and overtly anti-Arab racist parties will be his governing partners.
As our guest today, Associated Press Jerusalem bureau chief Josef Federman asked and answered in the lead to his post-election analysis: “Is the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dead? After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu coasted to another victory in this month’s Israeli election, it sure seems that way.”
Like the discouraged Arab and liberal voters who stayed home on Election Day, the hope for peace has become, in Israeli politics, the little idea that isn’t there.
Josef Federman has been the Associated Press Bureau Chief in Jerusalem since 2014.
Federman had written about and helped direct coverage of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza in his previous role as Jerusalem news editor.
Federman joined the AP as an editor on the international desk in New York in 1993, transferred to Charleston, West Virginia, the following year and returned to the international desk in 1995.
A native of Westborough, Massachusetts, Federman worked as an editor at The Wall Street Journal from 2000 to 2003 before returning to AP as a correspondent in the Jerusalem bureau. He was named news editor in 2006.
Federman has been a chairman of the local Foreign Press Association, an organization that promotes press freedom and safety in Israel and the Palestinian areas. He also has covered assignments in Rome, the Hague, the United Nations, Washington and Cairo and has appeared on U.S. and Israeli media.