Web site lets students vote in Israeli parliament election

By Marc Larocque

Israel may be far from Boston, but students with opinions on Israeli politics can weigh in on the upcoming Israeli parliamentary election using the Internet.

An international project at www.vote4israel.com will allow Northeastern students, along with those on over 120 campuses around the world, to cast their votes in an online mock Israeli election.

Candidates from a variety of political parties will be running for seats in Israel’s 17th Knesset, or parliament. The vote follows an agreement between resigned Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the new leader of the Israeli Labor party, Amir Peretz.

“The big conflict going on is if that land belongs to the Jews or to the Arabs in the area who are calling themselves the Palestinians,” said Gordon Dale, president of Students for Israel at Northeastern (SFIN). “People are very much as divided in Israel as they are here.”

Currently, the Hamas and the Israeli governments do not recognize each other. In Israel, one of the main points of contention is whether to cooperate with Hamas or not recognize them at all.

Sulma Khalid, a junior political science major and a supporter of Palestine, said Hamas needs to be recognized.

“Whoever the new elected leader is, whether he be an Arab or a Jew, should put the Arab-Israeli conflict on the forefront of issues by recognizing Hamas as a legitimate governing body of the Palestinian people,” Khalid said. “Cooperation on both sides is imperative, and understanding historical circumstances will help leaders to appease both sides of the conflict.”

The mock election will allow students of all backgrounds to experience democracy in Israel and voice their opinion on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Dale said. The site explains the government and political system in Israel, as well as its history, political parties and candidates participating in the upcoming elections. The Web site was created by Upstart Activist, a Jerusalem-based activist training venture.

SFIN emphasizes the difficulty Israel has as the only democracy in the Middle East, but Dale said the group encourages all students to vote, regardless of their political leanings.

The party with the most seats in parliament determines who will be the next prime minister. Recent polling in Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s largest daily newspaper, has indicated the winner of the election will be among Peretz, Ehud Olmert of Kadima or Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party.

As Israel has about 781,350 Arabs, all of whom constitute about 17.8 percent of the country’s population, there are candidates for such parties as the National Arab Parties and the United Arab List.

Other parties include the Green Leaf Party, which is dedicated to the legalization of marijuana and is expected to receive two seats in Knesset. Green Leaf candidates are also saying they will try to cooperate more with Hamas.

All students are invited to come and have free food and monitor the results from a live broadcast of the election at a party sponsored by SFIN on Tuesday from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. in 435 Curry Student Center.

“We are not trying to sway opinion and we are not enforcing anything on anyone,” said Stephanie Kavana, vice president of social programming for SFIN. “We really don’t want people to say we are not going because they are not pro-Israel. It is just about awareness of what is going on is Israel.”

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