@Haviv Retti Gur and others have been calling for an Israeli Constitution.
I’ve written one.
Israel isn’t like other countries. You can’t draw nice district lines, the ideological splinter lines are truly multi-faceted, and most importantly – Israel’s various factions all subscribe to some form of an ‘achdut’ political ideology. In other words, they think everybody should agree with them and, only when they do, will Israel realize its true potential. These barriers make writing a Constitution tremendously challenging.
Let’s start with the Achdut political ideology:
Human history has shown that ‘achdut’ ideologies spell disaster for human societies. The classic metaphors are that we should all be parts of a body under command of a brain or parts of an orchestra all playing from the same collection of sheet music. That is not actually how successful societies – or bodies – work. Organisms are actually made up of innumerable competing systems that reach a sort of homeostasis, a highly reactive stability through competition. The competition is what makes the body so adept at managing change, from changes in temperature to a fever. Recent research has suggested that non-human cells actually outnumber human cells in the human body. In other words, bodies are like ecosystems and they thrive when there is a culture of competition and constant adaptation. On the other hand, when one part of a homeostatic system takes too much control (as it does with diabetes) the system as a whole can suffer catastrophic failure.
Despite this history, many subsocieties in Israel want to see their vision for society – whether it is progressive or Hasidic or Islamic – be more fully realized. They recognize that others subsections of society want the same thing and so each of them justifiably feels threatened by the others. When I presented my Constitution to key influencers in two very different communities, I received essentially the same answer from them: “we don’t need that, everybody will end up agreeing with us.” The fact that they both believed that meant that they could not possibly come to an accommodation.
I believe this desire to live very distinct social visions is why so many communities in Israel just ignore the State. Whether formally or informally they have established their own institutions and they often rely on them, and trust them, more than they trust the State itself.
Any Constitution for the State of Israel needs to take into account this desire to live the various social visions more fully – while also protecting different communities from the visions of others.
My Constitution accomplishes this through a unique innovation. I call it the ‘Thread’. People can sign up for a Thread, which very much resembles a Kupat Cholim, but for government. A Kupat Memshala. The Thread has some taxation powers and provides welfare, education and civil law services. All other government services – such as roads, defense, police forces, criminal law and the management of civil disputes between members of different Threads -would be governed by the State. While Threads can also be governed in any way their members choose, they do have one critical limitation: their members can leave at any time and without penalty. Threads create ecosystem-like competition – in civil law, education, welfare and taxation.
At first, this might seem like an incredibly complex idea, but we already have competing school systems and welfare systems that are applied irregularly across different sectors of society. When people sign up for brokerage services, they often agree to parallel court systems – it doesn’t create untoward complexity. Furthermore, distinct formal and informal systems of civil law already exist in different sectors. This model formalizes these systems and brings them under a clear Constitutional umbrella. Yes, having 6 different grocery chains is more complex than having one State grocery chain – but the creations of competitive options for the consumer more than justifies that complexity.
Most critically, Threads enable people to more fully realize their own visions for society while not imposing on others. If you are secular, and belong to an ardently secular thread, you don’t need to worry about religious education being imposed on your children or your tax money going to pay for Kollel students – even if you don’t have a democratic majority in the nation as a whole.
The number one objection to this approach is that it will drive people apart. This is where the second innovation, the Knots, come in. Currently you can appeal to a narrow band of the population and be elected to the Knesset. It has proven to be a very effective strategy: fear of other groups drives voter engagement. As we have seen, this encourages more extreme parties on the national level. It also ends up with vast coalitions, endless numbers of Ministers etc… etc…
My Constitution changes that equation by forming districts that have to be won by individuals. But these districts – or Knots – are not purely geographic districts.
The process of forming districts starts with looking at the national makeup of the population based on Threads they belong to. If 10% belong to a Red Thread, 20% to a Blue Thread, 30% to a Green Thread and 40% to a Purple Thread, every Knot would have the same makeup.
How? Let’s say a Thread is centered on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. It will grab the closest 10% of people who are Red, 20% who are Blue and so on. If Tel Aviv is 100% Red, the Thread will not include any of them once its Red quota is filled. It will be populated by the nearest people who can fill its ideological quotas. The result is that districts will geographically concentrated, but that they will also overlap. And, of course, every district will be representative of the nation as a whole.
Because Israel has so many well-established ideological camps, this will force politicians to run as big-tent politicians. In order to win a district, they have to win the most votes. In order to win the most votes, they have to build a local coalition that is as broad as possible. Instead of driving people apart (as our Knesset do now), politicians would be a key force in bringing people together. To win, they would have to speak and build bridges across communities. Chilunim and Hasidim and Datiim and Arabs would have to relate with one another in order to form effective coalitions on the local level. If you decide to run against a particular sub-section of society – say Haredim or Arabs – you’ll find yourself facing competitors who can easily pick up those votes and quite possible extend their appeal more broadly.
Because of these factors, instead of being Red or Purple, politicians will end up lightly-tinted. They will be the sort of milquetoast, namby-pamby, ideologically-shifty politicians we see in other countries. If you want strong ideology – you’ll be able to find it safely contained in your Thread.
Our State politicians and our politics would thus form a key mechanism in knitting our society together instead of driving it apart. Out Thread politicians would be focused on enabling us to live the fullest version of our own ideologies.
The Constitution thus achieves two seemingly contrary ends. It enables people to live more distinct ideologically-driven lives within the governments of their Threads, while also pulling people together to form the State government through the Knots.
In this system, different ideologies would compete for Thread members. Like a healthy ecosystem, the different political groups would struggle not for the destruction of their opposite numbers, but towards some sort of homeostatic balance. It would be all they could hope to achieve.
This Constitution would turn down the temperature on our internecine ideological warfare, and provide a stable playing field on which our future politics can be based. It could rewrite our future, ending the thousands of years of historical self-destructive conflict that have regularly accompanied Jewish self-government.
The Constitution of Threads and Knots isn’t just a few ideas. The document is available on IsraelConstitution.org.il and I’ve just started a podcast in which I’m delving into its various aspects in far more detail.
We need a Constitution, but we also need fundamental Constitutional innovation.
I believe the Constitution of Threads and Knots gives us the tools we need to kick off a truly constructive debate.