A very strange thing happened in the Israel elections. Eighty thousand people voted for Itamar Ben Gvir's Otzma party, which failed to pass the threshold.
It's not strange that Otzma failed to pass the threshold. That was completely obvious and predictable. What's very strange is that all these people voted for Otzma, even though it was completely obvious and predictable that they wouldn't pass the threshold.
Getting into the Knesset requires about 140,000 votes. In 2013 Otzma ran independently and received just 66,775 votes. In the previous elections, just a few months ago, Ben Gvir was running along with Smotrich (Ichud HaYemin) and Peretz (Bayit Yehudi) and received 160,000 votes. In this election, Otzma was running without Ichud HaYemin and Bayit Yehudi. How on earth did they think that they were going to more than double their numbers and get another eighty thousand missing votes?!
Yes, there were some polls that showed them clearing the thresholds. But polls are based on a very small sample size and are notoriously inaccurate, with a margin of error that makes all the difference. The numbers just weren't sufficient. Zehut and Noam, showing a rare streak of realism, pulled out, and Otzma had hopes of getting some of their votes; but there was no way that Otzma was going to get all or even most of those voters, and Noam probably had very few to begin with.)
In the run-up to the elections, I saw a lot of Otzma voters say the most absurd things. In response to people pointing out that they just didn't have the numbers, they replied "You think you're a prophet?! God decides!" No, I don't need to be a prophet; I am reading the past and present, not the future. And no, God doesn't decide which party people vote for. They made entirely irrelevant claims like, "If everyone who is sympathetic to our cause votes for us, then we will get in!" They seemed to be unaware that the point is that there aren't that many people who are sympathetic to their cause, and even with those who are, the fact is that many of them are not actually going to vote for Otzma. It was a complete detachment from reality. Today, many of them are saying that they would have gotten in, were it not for the fact that so many people didn't vote for them. Well, yes. That's how it works.
Some Otzma voters claimed that they didn't care about whether their party would get in or not. Some said that it was just about showing the public how many people are passionate about this cause. Well, they showed the public that there aren't very many!
Several others, some of whom I know to be very fine people, said that they regardless of Otzma's low (I would say zero) chances of getting in, they wanted to "vote their conscience." Very noble. Very admirable. Except that it's completely ridiculous.
Throwing away your vote in order to "vote your conscience" is just silly. The only reasonable excuse for ever encouraging people to throw away their vote is if the election results are truly insignificant either way, which is rarely anyone's perspective. The value of democracies is that you can influence the direction of the country. You can bring about good and prevent evil. You can encourage wise decisions and discourage bad ones. Yes, you have to compromise some of your values and work with people that you disagree with. But by doing so, you are able to exert influence on the bigger issues. You can prevent people from making well-meaning but foolish mistakes that can have absolutely catastrophic consequences. This is real life. Catastrophic consequences can mean thousands of people get killed.
Now, in the previous elections, I also voted for a party that did not pass the threshold (Yamin HaChadash). But Yamin HaChadash learned the lesson that they just didn't have enough numbers (even though they had far more than Otzma) and so they pulled out. Even Zehut and Noam pulled out. So why didn't Otzma pull out? And why are they still not giving up? What pushed me to write this post was a comment that I saw this morning. Incredibly, an Otzma voter said that next time, they will have even more people and they will get in! Why are their voters so blind to the electoral reality?
The answer appears to be that these are people who are accustomed to ignoring reality. Otzma voters are ideologues whose entire political worldview is one that is based on ignoring reality. The Israeli Left ignored reality during the Rabin/Peres years; most of these people have since learned from their mistakes and left the Left. The extreme right is still ignoring reality.
You can talk all you want about how this land is rightfully ours and about how the Palestinians are our enemy and about how nations have historically always conquered and expelled their enemies and about how God helped the Maccabees. But the reality of today just doesn't work that way. (And it's also the case that not every Palestinian is evil!) No, Israel can't just carpet-bomb Gaza. Israel can't fight wars "without negotiations, without concessions and without compromises” (to quote the Otzma platform). Israel cannot do whatever it wants. There are other countries in the world, there are political realities, and Israel has to live with them. (For those who need convincing of this point, I strongly recommend reading Yehuda Avner's book The Prime Ministers.)
It's not nice to gloat over people whose party didn't do well and rub salt into the wound. But in this case there is an important lesson that they should learn. The only people willing to ignore reality and throw their votes away are people who vote for a platform that ignores reality. It's foolish, it's irresponsible, and it's morally wrong.