Israelis agree on few things. But one thing they can all agree on is that the current political system is broken. The need for reform is discussed endlessly by government watch groups, as well as by some of the politicians themselves, but no one has been willing to lead by example.
In part, this due to fear of the unknown. After all, the Knesset is the only parliamentary body we’ve known in recent history. Also, the current system works has a number of supporters who rely upon it for their livelihood. Setting aside the politicians, who probably would find their way into politics no matter the system, the current block parliamentary system provides an inordinate amount of power to “vote-getters” in different regions. Known as kablanei kolot in Hebrew, these activists are the economic lynchpins of their social networks. Keeping the Knesset in place is in their interest because it provides them with power, access to government posts, and money.
A beacon of light in the darkness
Various studies have shown how corrupt the system is, and how dysfunctional. Lest we drown in corruption while the academy studies how the Knesset could be reformed, it is time for a brave leader to build a party that operates differently and returns the power of choice to the people. At this moment, the only leader I believe is capable of doing so is Yair Lapid.
Lapid grew up in the shadow of the political system, and saw its high points and nadirs through the eyes of his father, Tommy Lapid, while developing his own perspective as a media personality. His decision to run for office, depending on who you ask, is either a shining example for how those who have “made it” in the public arena can step up to lead, or a running joke about how star journalists get so comfortable as Monday-morning quarterbacks that they convince themselves that they should be calling the plays.
Obviously, only time will tell. But I believe that Lapid will do much more of a service to Israel if he focuses his efforts on modeling a new politics instead of merely promising to work toward a new political system after his campaign. He could do so by building his party based upon representation by region.
Representation by region in democracies tends to enable stronger ties between representatives and their public, and to ensure that electoral areas — cities, towns, etc — have someone working to ensure their interests in government. Ideology certainly plays into regional politics, as it does in every major city and region in Israel, but a funny thing happens when a country structures its politics around area and not ideology: politics becomes about what brings us together, and not what tears us apart. People are more practical when they are voting for a person who is responsible for what is happening in their own backyard. That is why local politics in regional areas in other countries are generally more tame, while national politics that focus on conflicting ideologies are more extreme.
Constant dialogue with the public
A brave leader of Israel would lead us into a new and more stable future, modeling this sort of new politics by creating a party that had representatives in each of the major regions of Israel. Since Lapid has yet to declare the individuals on his party’s roster, he could decide to list representatives to the Knesset based on the relative number of votes they would bring in by region. These representatives would campaign locally, and would be answerable to their local population for domestic concerns, voting their conscience — and according to their understanding of their people’s will — in matters of foreign affairs. The party would only enforce party discipline for a minimal set of items: government reform, tax reform, and educational priorities. For everything else, the party would require the representative seek out his or her constituency to form an opinion.
If this is done right, Lapid will be building a party that will be in constant dialogue with the public, one that will grow as it proves to that public that it has its interests in heart. Over time, as the base grows, Lapid’s party will be able to weigh the proportional vote from according to the number of able-bodied tax-payers in each region. This could create a paradigm shift in how the Israeli government views citizenship. For too long our country has been enabling individuals who do not pay taxes and who do not participate in the burden of maintaining the State to decide our policies and politics. By working toward the day where a region votes according to its contribution, this party would become the champion of the taxpayer, ensuring that policy priority will be given to those who have contributed, and continue to contribute, to maintaining the country.
A taxpayers party would work to solve the shameful situation where the mayors and regional council representatives of Israel need to call for strikes in order to get the Knesset to take them seriously. It would reflect the fact that individuals live in their cities and villages, and not in the Knesset. It would enable a person in Kiryat Shmona to know who she should call to complain that there is not enough transportation to the North, and someone in Beersheba to weigh in on how the Ministry of Defense’s plans to build mega-bases in the Negev will affect his quality of life.
Anyone can claim that they are carrying the torch of change and fighting for the rights of the taxpayer. But only through a new mode of politics can we build a new country, one that doesn’t rest on the influence of party bosses and tycoons, but rather on the interests of the people. As long as we enable small-minded sectoral parties to have the final say, the ultra-Orthodox will continue to evade service and taxes, and the government will avoid making any bold moves to ensure our future as a prosperous nation. We need a brave leader who is willing to make an example that a change in politics begins with a new party.