Israel's Democracy

Israel is not exactly a new - or even young - country, and yet it would benefit greatly, I think, from carefully considering experience of others - and from learning from her own mistakes, accumulated during her sixty years.

Because Israel's is one of the most bizarre political systems in the free world. Its cornerstone seems to be "consensus" - everyone has to be accommodated; governance can only be achieved through coalition of parties currently enjoying majority in the Knesset; executive and legislative powers are not separated - in fact, one cannot be a cabinet minister without first being a member of the Knesset, and cannot be elected to the Knesset in his own district on his own merits - his party wins sits during the voting, and gives them later to the party bosses. Obviously, all appointees are of necessity "political appointees" - with all the connotations of incompetence in the specifics of the particular areas of governance allotted to them. Member parties of the ruling coalition freely, openly and regularly blackmail their prime-ministerial partner into accepting their pork-barrel, or worse yet, political demands. 

The results are, at times, grotesquely anti-democratic. In the 2000 presidential elections, we voted 50-50 - and got a president. Israelis held their elections some 3 months later, with Mr. Sharon running against Mr. Mitzna of the labor party. Mr. Sharon won by a landslide - 75-25, and the next day all political pundits were scratching their necks, wondering whether Sharon would be able to form a government. As we wondered what the heck was that supposed to mean, up comes Mr. Mitzna and tells Mr. Sharon that if he wants to govern, he's got to get the labor into the coalition - and that can only be on the condition that Mr. Sharon's government would strictly follow Mr. Mitzna's policy suggestions! The political platform rejected by the popular vote had to be followed if the government was to function at all. Is that democracy? 

Back than, Mr. Sharon managed to maneuver out of the need to form a coalition with Mr. Mitzna by enrolling other and smaller parties, but after the latest elections in May of 2006, the new Israeli prime-minister, Mr. Olmert, did not manage to escape the gentle embraces of Mr. Mitzna's successor, Mr. Peretz - who allowed Mr. Olmert to jump into his political bed only at the price of being made Israel's defense minister. Given his total absence of experience (earlier, he was a trade union leader), this was an enormous price to pay; and it was paid - though not by Mr. Olmert, nor by Mr. Peretz, but by a million Israelis hunkering under salvoes of Hezbullah's rockets, with well over a hundred dead and thousands wounded, and hundreds of thousands displaced. Israeli political system did not serve Israelis well when it forced on them a thoroughly incompetent defense minister.       

And all that - for what? For more freedom? Not really. Israelis are certainly not any less free to move, to express themselves, to build wealth than are the Americans. But they have much less ability to influence their lawmakers - because Israeli members of parliament are not elected individually, but are appointed by their parties, they are, as a result, are not accountable to the people. Every American has "his" senators and "his" congressman to whom he can turn for help, or put on pressure. Not in Israel. Can an Israeli name "his" member of the Knesset, on whom he has the leverage of a "constituent"? No way. And Israelis have much lesser ability to get elected to the Knesset - they cannot run as independents in their districts, because votes go to the parties, not to specific individuals.

Americans also benefit greatly from being able to have different parties run the legislative and the executive branches. The more criticism, the more thinking, the more discussion, the better-off is the country. Israeli political system does not allow that to happen - with the result that the government is under much lesser pressure to perform well.

Net result: less freedom, and less stability (Though I have no statistics of how many prime ministers Israel had in its 60-year history, I would not be surprised if it comes close to the number of presidents that America had in her two centuries and a quarter.)

It is not always bad to imitate others. Best practices should always be adopted, even if they were first developed abroad. What is true of technological procedures, is also true of political systems. Israelis would not sacrifice one iota of freedom, but gain many tons of it, were they willing to learn from the experience of others and adopt the American political system. And not only would they gain in freedom, but their state-ship would gain much political stability too. This is a win-win course of action - and Israelis owe it to themselves to modify their thoroughly inadequate political system.

Vel Nirtist writes mainly on the role of religion in fostering terrorism. He is author of The Pitfall of Truth: Holy War, its Rationale and Folly.  His blog is at www.rootoutterrorism.com

Israel is not exactly a new - or even young - country, and yet it would benefit greatly, I think, from carefully considering experience of others - and from learning from her own mistakes, accumulated during her sixty years.

Because Israel's is one of the most bizarre political systems in the free world. Its cornerstone seems to be "consensus" - everyone has to be accommodated; governance can only be achieved through coalition of parties currently enjoying majority in the Knesset; executive and legislative powers are not separated - in fact, one cannot be a cabinet minister without first being a member of the Knesset, and cannot be elected to the Knesset in his own district on his own merits - his party wins sits during the voting, and gives them later to the party bosses. Obviously, all appointees are of necessity "political appointees" - with all the connotations of incompetence in the specifics of the particular areas of governance allotted to them. Member parties of the ruling coalition freely, openly and regularly blackmail their prime-ministerial partner into accepting their pork-barrel, or worse yet, political demands. 

The results are, at times, grotesquely anti-democratic. In the 2000 presidential elections, we voted 50-50 - and got a president. Israelis held their elections some 3 months later, with Mr. Sharon running against Mr. Mitzna of the labor party. Mr. Sharon won by a landslide - 75-25, and the next day all political pundits were scratching their necks, wondering whether Sharon would be able to form a government. As we wondered what the heck was that supposed to mean, up comes Mr. Mitzna and tells Mr. Sharon that if he wants to govern, he's got to get the labor into the coalition - and that can only be on the condition that Mr. Sharon's government would strictly follow Mr. Mitzna's policy suggestions! The political platform rejected by the popular vote had to be followed if the government was to function at all. Is that democracy? 

Back than, Mr. Sharon managed to maneuver out of the need to form a coalition with Mr. Mitzna by enrolling other and smaller parties, but after the latest elections in May of 2006, the new Israeli prime-minister, Mr. Olmert, did not manage to escape the gentle embraces of Mr. Mitzna's successor, Mr. Peretz - who allowed Mr. Olmert to jump into his political bed only at the price of being made Israel's defense minister. Given his total absence of experience (earlier, he was a trade union leader), this was an enormous price to pay; and it was paid - though not by Mr. Olmert, nor by Mr. Peretz, but by a million Israelis hunkering under salvoes of Hezbullah's rockets, with well over a hundred dead and thousands wounded, and hundreds of thousands displaced. Israeli political system did not serve Israelis well when it forced on them a thoroughly incompetent defense minister.       

And all that - for what? For more freedom? Not really. Israelis are certainly not any less free to move, to express themselves, to build wealth than are the Americans. But they have much less ability to influence their lawmakers - because Israeli members of parliament are not elected individually, but are appointed by their parties, they are, as a result, are not accountable to the people. Every American has "his" senators and "his" congressman to whom he can turn for help, or put on pressure. Not in Israel. Can an Israeli name "his" member of the Knesset, on whom he has the leverage of a "constituent"? No way. And Israelis have much lesser ability to get elected to the Knesset - they cannot run as independents in their districts, because votes go to the parties, not to specific individuals.

Americans also benefit greatly from being able to have different parties run the legislative and the executive branches. The more criticism, the more thinking, the more discussion, the better-off is the country. Israeli political system does not allow that to happen - with the result that the government is under much lesser pressure to perform well.

Net result: less freedom, and less stability (Though I have no statistics of how many prime ministers Israel had in its 60-year history, I would not be surprised if it comes close to the number of presidents that America had in her two centuries and a quarter.)

It is not always bad to imitate others. Best practices should always be adopted, even if they were first developed abroad. What is true of technological procedures, is also true of political systems. Israelis would not sacrifice one iota of freedom, but gain many tons of it, were they willing to learn from the experience of others and adopt the American political system. And not only would they gain in freedom, but their state-ship would gain much political stability too. This is a win-win course of action - and Israelis owe it to themselves to modify their thoroughly inadequate political system.

Vel Nirtist writes mainly on the role of religion in fostering terrorism. He is author of The Pitfall of Truth: Holy War, its Rationale and Folly.  His blog is at www.rootoutterrorism.com