American Jews sing praises of Israeli elections, Israelis sing the blues

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Sometimes you just have to laugh at the gap between Israeli and American Jews, especially when it jumps up and slaps you upside the head. Take this press release from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) on Tuesday’s muddled Israeli election.

The release starts by praising “Israel’s open and free electoral process” and goes on to talk about the country’s “vibrant democratic tradition, as reflected by the 33 political parties that appeared on the ballot in the election. JCPA is proud of Israel’s democracy and the smooth, non-violent transfer of power from one government to another.”

Well, yeah, democracy is cool and all, and it’s nice that government changes in Israel are accomplished with voting machines, not AK-47s,  but take a quick gander at the Israeli press; in the days after the election, when it looks like the guy who came in second will be prime minister but nobody knows for sure, the papers have been full of stories bemoaning the sorry state of the country’s electoral system.

Woes abound, including a nutty system for picking prime ministers; the proliferation of those same tiny parties that JCPA praises and the disproportionate power they wield; the fact nobody seems able to form a government with enough of a mandate to finish its term, much less make bold moves on critical domestic and foreign policy issues; the horse trading and sometimes outright bribery that goes into the creation of every ruling coalition; the fact the most recent election took place with almost no debate about things like issues.

All of these are sources of great angst in Israel and extensive debate in the press  — but you’d never know it listening to American Jewish groups, which offer Israel as a model of electoral sophistication, the latest election as something Thomas Jefferson would kvell over.

All comedy aside, you have to have some sympathy for the press release writers for these U.S.-based organizations.  What can they say about an election that on Tuesday produced two winners, millions of losers (see this week’s Jewish Week editorial)  and probably won’t produce a stable government?

And when push comes to shove, the underlying point they are trying to make – that at least there IS a democracy in Israel, in contrast to the Arab states run by assorted dictators and despots –  is accurate.

But you have to figure some folks in Israel are having a good laugh at the expense of pro-Israel groups here who are singing the praises of their electoral institutions while Israelis are singing the blues.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.