Israeli Election System


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Passive or Powerless?

By Prof. Paul Eidelberg

Ever since the Oslo or Israel-PLO Agreement of September 13, 1993, Jews in Israel have been an object of reproach by various opponents of that disastrous agreement.

Why, ask critics, have Jews been so passive? Why have they tolerated the truncation of their homeland? Why did they not bring the country to a standstill when Jews were being reduced to human debris by Arab terrorists? Why, having elected Benjamin Netanyahu to stop the Oslovian rest-in-peace process, did they support his continuation of this process at the Wye Plantation Agreement of October 23, 1998? Above all, why do they tolerate a knave like Ariel Sharon, who campaigned against unilateral withdrawal from Gaza only to become its champion?

Let me try to set the record straight and defend the honor of Israel's maligned Jewish population.

First, most Jews in Israel vote right, but their votes don't count. In the 1992 Knesset elections, the nationalist-religious camp won 59 seats while the Labor-Meretz coalition won 56 seats which, together with the five seats of the Arab parties, enabled the Left to prevent the nationalist-religious parties from forming a government. However, the Left would not have won 56 seats had not the late Yitzhak Rabin deceived the electorate by promising he would neither recognize nor negotiate with the PLO nor withdraw from the Golan Heights. But for a lie, Oslo would never have happened!

Second, while Rabin was prime minister, hundreds of thousands of Jews demonstrated against the suicidal policy of his Government, to no avail. The Likud-led opposition parties never led these demonstrations, for that would have resulted in a revolution. As should now be obvious, the Likud is nothing more than the right-wing of the Labor Party.

Third, prominent Israeli citizens submitted a well-crafted petition to Israel's Supreme Court challenging the legality of the Israel-PLO Agreement, in vain, if only because the Court is dominated by left-wing judges.

Nevertheless, in May 1996, despite a left-wing dominated media, almost 56% of Israel's Jewish voters elected Netanyahu as prime minister: Netanyahu, who, notwithstanding his disclaimers, said NO to Oslo. The Jews voted right, but for another con-man.

What would their critics have them do? People have to work and provide for their families, and no one of stature represents their inmost convictions and concerns. The majority support the "peace process," but most have no illusions about Arafat and the Arabs. Our critics may say: "But if Israelis know the Arabs will not give them peace, why do they say YES to pollsters of the peace process? Why do they perpetuate this mendacious and murderous peace process and thus make liars and cowards of themselves? Why don't they just say NO!?" One American Israeli has said: "The politicians, as liars and cowards, doth make liars and cowards of us all!"

Be this as it may, the critics fail to understand how the mentality of Israelis is affected by their political system.

Israelis are far more politically active than the citizens of most democracies despite the fact that they have little faith in their ability to affect the political system. Their sense of powerlessness has worsened through the years. Political scientist Asher Arian writes: "In 1969, 51 percent reported that they had little or no power to influence policy; by 1981, those pessimistic responses had risen to 61 percent. When asked specifically about influencing security policy in a 1988 survey, 75 percent answered they and people like them had little or no power to do so." And further, the higher their education (hence sophistication), the more aware they were of "the essentially closed nature of the Israeli political system."

What makes that system closed and Israelis powerless is that members of the Knesset—hence cabinet ministers—are not individually accountable to the voters in constituency elections. They are compelled to vote for fixed party list in a single countrywide election -- something unheard of in the democratic world. As any political scientist knows, fixed party lists means party dictatorship. Needless to say, the politicians in Israel have a vested interest in preserving this oligarchic system. Which means there is a fundamental conflict between the politicians and the people!

Those who smugly reproach Israelis as politically apathetic are ignorant of the facts. More than 80% of these Jews turn out in Israel's general elections. In December 1998, the Education Ministry, together with Bar-Ilan University, conducted a poll among 1,050 high school students studying communications technology. 61% said they read a newspaper every day; 98% said they read one at least once a week; and last but not least, 91% said that the media tilt to the left!

Israelis are not suffering from passivity but from powerlessness. And as this writer has repeatedly said, the most expeditious way of changing this undemocratic state of affairs is to press for personal election of Knesset members in multidistrict elections.


from the July 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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