The new Bayit Yehudi Constitution has transformed the party into the most democratic in Israel. Yes, the nationalist party on the right side of the political map with a religious base is now the most democratic party in the entire Middle East thanks to a system of checks and balances.
There are 13 parties in the current Knesset. Most of the Knesset lists are selected by their party leader or by a committee that he or she appoints, such as Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu Party, Tzippi Livni’s party or Shaul Mofaz’s Kadima. Some parties select their lists through a Central Committee such as the liberal leftist parties Meretz and Hadash. Only three parties in Israel choose their leader and Knesset list through primaries: Likud, Labor and now Bayit Yehudi.
The new Bayit Yehudi Constitution improves the fundamental rights that each party member enjoys. Bayit Yehudi members are now able to vote and have their say in the makeup of the party’s four most important institutions. There will be primary elections for the party chairman (leader) and the Knesset list. There will also be primary elections in each city and region electing the local representatives to the Central Committee, which is the supreme party body. There will also be primary elections for the local Bayit Yehudi Party Branches that govern the party’s local municipal affairs. The Central Committee members and the Party Branch members are held accountable to their local constituency because they face re-election in their districts and can be removed if they do not truly represent their voters over the course of their term. (Members participated in the 2012 primaries through the passage of a temporary order; the new constitution ensures future primaries are run this way.)
Another change to the Bayit Yehudi is a system of checks and balances that divides the party responsibility and authority among 13 party institutions: The Party Chairman, Central Committee, Council of the President of Central Committee, Bureau, Forums (party political divisions), Knesset Faction, Secretariat, Director-General, Party Branches, Party Court, Election Committee, Municipal Committee and the Internal Ombudsman. The Central Committee, elected by the party members, elects or approves a majority of the party institutions. The Chairman is able to make a small number of appointments in certain institutions. The balance between the party leader and the Central Committee allows the party coalition and opposition to be represented in most party institutions. This distribution of power is what separates Bayit Yehudi from Labor and Likud, which both have a more centralized internal party institution system.
The biggest critique directed towards the new constitution before it was approved was the ability of the party leader to appoint four of the top 20 slots on the Knesset list. Bayit Yehudi members elected 8 (66%) of the 12 MKs on the current list, due to a bargain struck with Uri Ariel’s National Union. One of the goals of the constitution is to merge the National Union into Bayit Yehudi, so the number of seats Bayit Yehudi voters will be able to elect will grow from 66% to at least 80%, if not more, considering the party leader may not use his reserved slots. The logic behind giving the party leader the ability to choose a few spots is to balance out the list in the case that no olim, or Sephardim or other key population groups don’t make the top 20 in primaries. Both Labor and Likud suffer from the gap between party members and party voters, which at times can keep entire population groups outside of their Knesset lists. This tweak allows Bayit Yehudi to present a more balanced list to the general public which could result in more seats in the general election.
With Israel the only true democracy in the region, Bayit Yehudi’s new constitution makes it the most democratic party in the entire Middle East.
(This article reflects the opinion of the author, not Times of Israel or anyone else)