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The right way to make Israeli politicians more accountable

“The Jews have done more to civilize men than any other Nation. They are the most glorious Nation that ever inhabited the earth. The Romans and their Empire were but a bauble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of Mankind more, and more, happily than any other Nation, ancient or modern.”

  • [John Adams]

However, the self-same President John Adams was given to saying that, “There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide…” suggesting a distinction between the Jewish people and the State of Israel per se.

The title of this paper originates in a Mosaic column of September 9, 2016 by Dr. Emmanuel Navon. In the 2nd paragraph of his essay, Navon makes the key point.

“Israel’s political system suffers less from instability than from a lack of accountability. Members of Knesset [MKs] are not answerable to voters, In parties [such as Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid or Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu], where candidates are selected by the chairman, MKs are only answerable to their boss. In parties that hold primaries [such as Likud and Labor], MKs are answerable to interest groups and to shady deal-makers who determine the results of primary elections. On election day, voters select a party, but not their representatives.”

He continues with describing countries, where voters chose their parliamentary representatives via electoral districts, such accountability exists—-but surprisingly does not see this option realistic for Israel as most MKs oppose them and he sees it probably too complicated for Israel’s geography, demographically and politically to design electoral districts.

However, Navon contends the possibility of a viable option to make representatives answerable to their voters; by enabling voters to influence the composition of the list they vote for on election day.

Instead of just voting for a party, voters can select the candidates they want to promote on the party’s list before casting their ballot. This system, which exists in some 20 democracies around the world, would partially free candidates from corruption and byzantine deal-making that characterize Israel’s current primaries.

Moshe Dann has an interesting piece in the Jerusalem Post of November 9, 2019 entitled, “Is Israel a Democracy?”As his commencement, he informs us that many Israelis believe that judicial institutions, such as the High Court and the Prosecutor’s Office, are not responsive to the citizens and represent a left-wing elite. (Note Rabbi Steven Pruzansky’s article).

Without hesitation, he focuses on the key issue , which seems to elude most Israelis and Americans, who should know the difference.

In a democracy, institutions are meant to serve the people and provide social cohesion. That is the basis of national identity and national unity.

Since Israeli voters have no direct access to Knesset members, they have little or no way of influencing the system and creating a truly representative democracy. As long as Israel’s flawed system exists, elections will end in stalemates, preventing stability and undermining national cohesion.

In jocular fashion, Dann informs us that when he immigrated to Israel approximately hitherto, while preparing to vote for the first time, he was told: “No matter whom you vote for, you get Shimon Peres.”

Israeli elections, one concludes, are meaningless because they are about personalities, not policies; they are superficial, not substantial.

The real government is run by the “deep state,” bureaucrats such as directors general of ministries and professionals “who provide continuity and expertise, but are unaccountable. Politicians who become ministers are usually not experts in the subject of their position; they rely on an experienced staff.”

Government officials and politicians who criticize those who don’t vote are to blame for failing to change this system, or at least acknowledging its faults. It is no coincidence that since introducing higher thresholds without protecting all votes, the percentage of voters has declined.

The failure to form a ruling coalition which represents a majority of voters, however, is the fault of Israel’s political system.

“This distortion allowed Yitzhak Rabin, as head of a Labor Party-led minority coalition, to bribe two MKs from the right-wing opposition in order to pass highly controversial legislation – the Oslo Accords (1993-1995) – by a single vote. Israel’s judicial and legal system did not protest this unethical if not illegal act. The Likud won the election in 1996, but Netanyahu could not change the Oslo Accords that Rabin had signed and implemented.”

Sharon led Likud until 2005 when, in order to avoid opposition to his plan of unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four Jewish communities in Samaria, he left Likud and formed the Kadima Party, supported by the Labor Party – without any electoral process.

Israel’s judicial and legal system did not challenge this unprecedented political betrayal. Israeli voters were neither consulted nor had any possibility of objecting

In conclusion, Moshe Dann recommends as a first step towards electoral reform” a Knesset committee can call for proposals to reform the electoral system. It can hold open sessions to discuss the proposals; short versions can be published in Israeli newspapers. And then, the Knesset can implement changes which would renew and revitalize Israeli democracy. This process can begin now; we have waited long enough.”

Earlier in the year, on April 7, 2019, ex MK Dov Lipman penned “Agenda Item for the Next Knesset: Electoral reform.” As he explains, it was from his role as an MK, he realized that Israel still functions using essentially the same system as the one established under emergency circumstances in 1948 .This is obviously absurd, and the failure to make changes and adapt to new realities is hurting our country.

The changes he considered necessary would be divided into three primary categories: regional representation, raising the electoral threshold, and the separation of powers. “The average Israeli has no say about who represents him, and that’s not only a shame, it’s a failure in democracy” He planned on working with MKs to establish a Knesset lobby for electoral reform, and invited anyone who wanted to join in this effort to email him at knessetelectoralreform@gmail.com. Sadly, there is no evidence of this much needed endeavor having occurred.

The Jerusalem Post published Daniel Tauber’s,”Is This Democracy”: on March 5,2013. He quotes the then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stating, “It cannot be that the country facing the most challenges should suffer from instability and a weak electoral system.” Rather curious, for a man who spent so many years in the US and would know what needed to be done. Tauber follows on with,”…

in all the talk about electoral reform and why it is necessary, one element has been sorely missing. Perhaps that is because it is not an easy truth to admit: Israeli citizens don’t elect representatives and an essential component of democracy is therefore missing.

Daniel Tauber’s conclusion speaks volumes. He explains that there is much more to accountability as an ideal for achieving efficient government. ” It’s about that bond between the lawmaker and the people which makes him their representative. If a lawmaker doesn’t face the public, and more than that, a definite portion of the public, before whom he and his opponents can present initiatives, defend their records and be judged, then there is no bond between them. Not being chosen by public, a lawmaker cannot be said to represent them. And government without representation… is that democracy?” [The writer is an attorney admitted to practice law in New York and Israel.

In the final analysis, civilization has been defined as an advanced state of human society in which a high level of culture, science, industry and government has been reached. In the case of Israel, all has been attained, but one – government.

Source: Alex Rose – Arutz Sheva