Today, April 30, 2019, is the first day of the 21st Knesset. The media will make a big deal about the opening of the Knesset’s new session, no doubt, an exceptional day for the new Knesset members and their families. However, the reality is that beyond the immediate families and friends of the latest cohort of legislators, along with a few political reporters, and perhaps a handful of political party activists, nobody cares. Most members of the Knesset are unknown to the general public. They either competed solely on their party list, or were appointed by their party head, in an undemocratic fashion, and will serve in the Knesset only because their party was lucky enough to receive a sufficient number of votes to earn their Knesset seat.
Each Knesset member will have given a nice speech detailing how they intend to represent ALL the people of Israel; while in reality, they have no power, other than to do the bidding of the head of their party. MKs might also be responsible to their party members, but that is where their individual influence ends. In most cases, Knesset members have no power to vote how they wish — as their decisions are largely dictated by how the government, or the opposition tell them to vote. Moreover, and worst of all, Knesset members have no real contact with the public over the course of their term.
In my youth, when I first made aliyah, there seemed to be a real thirst for electoral change in Israel. During my army service, I was modestly involved in a party called “Dash,” led by Yigal Alon. After Alon entered the government of Menachem Begin, the thirst for change receded. Despite the fact that due to the structure of the Israeli coalition system, the will of the majority on many issues — especially regarding matters of Religion and State — are repeatedly ignored.
Although there are many, I do not want to go into all the reasons why the Israeli political system needs change. I was 20 years old when I first reached this conclusion. With my 65th birthday not far over the horizon, I do not expect any significant transformations to occur in my lifetime. Nevertheless, I want to propose a more limited modification, one that would require no revision of law, no overall metamorphosis of our system. This suggestion could even be put into practice by the opposition parties on their own — although the governing parties are welcome to join in too.
What I suggest is simple — I call on the Blue & White party to divide up their 35 Knesset members (yes, including their party heads) to 35 locations throughout Israel and open small district offices. Once a week, on Sundays, when the Knesset does not meet, each MK would go to their assigned office and meet with the residents of that area. Those same residents would have an address and phone number of a Knesset members’ office dedicated to them. That Knesset member, together with their staff, would be assigned to make special efforts to help the residents of their designated district to solve their governmental problems, in the same way members of the US Congress provide constituent services.
The advantages of this approach would be manifold. First, it would create a sense among the Israeli public that someone actually cares about their needs. Second, it would allow MKs to interact with a broader range of people than they usually do— and not merely when they are out on the campaign trail. Third, the party that implements this proposal first, would be poised to build extensive grassroots support outside their regular strongholds. Finally, it is possible such an overture could serve as the first step toward a modest adaptation in our electoral system, which could conceivably provide a springboard to promote Knesset members running locally, instead of on National lists, as is currently the case.
While it is feasible for any party to carry out this suggestion, this idea should have a special allure for the Blue and White party. It is a perfect antidote for a party considered a bit too elitist. It is also an ideal way for a party that lacks a robust local infrastructure to systematically build one. Moreover, whoever adopts this recommendation would be raising their party’s visibility and political capital, along with the public profiles of their party’s members — while most importantly, taking decisive, targeted action to improve the lives of broad and diverse groups of people living in this country.