As Israel appears to be hurtling towards a fourth election in just over a year and a half, one can almost hear the audible sounds of exasperation emanate from around the country.
While our politicians are jockeying for position and paying attention to every new poll, they should be focusing on the most important result in recent surveys. According to a recent poll, 64 percent believe Israel shouldn’t go to election at this point in time and doing so could be harmful to the national interest.
It seems almost trite to say that another divisive election that could bring about another unclear result is terrible for our country socially and economically. We are in the middle of a second wave of the Coronavirus, with experts saying the worst wave is yet to come, possibly in the middle of the campaign period towards the end of the year.
Our nation is facing the worst economic downturn in its history with unemployment hovering over 20 percent, with whole industries crashing before our eyes.
Added to this is the fact that our northern border is heating up with our defense officials readying for Hezbollah to make good on its promise to retaliate for the killing of one of the organization’s fighters during an airstrike in Syria. With these, and numerous other issues looming large, Israeli citizens need political stability more than ever to navigate these unprecedented times. While it easy to blame one politician or a political party or the other, it is time for a bipartisan conversation about the real culprit: the political system.
Israel’s political system was an understandable reaction to the situation the newly established state faced in 1948. It had people arriving from dozens of countries, with differing backgrounds, religious and political outlooks, and a strong Arab minority. The founders of the political system wanted to ensure that as many citizens as possible found a political home in the Knesset, so the closed-list method of party-list proportional representation was chosen and the threshold was set extremely low.
What was vitally important then has by far outgrown its usefulness, and we are now facing political paralysis precisely at a time when we need strong stability and governability.
We need a system like many Anglo Israelis experienced in the U.S., the UK, Canada and even Australia. In these nations, governments do not fall regularly and are not frequently threatened with elections by smaller parties or those with narrow interests, and in the case of the U.S. have very precise election dates known years in advance.
This familiarity with other more representative, stable and governable systems allows us to contrast and compare better than most, and those of us who experienced politics abroad throw our hands up in even greater frustration because we know that our system can and needs to be better for all Israelis.
Traveling around Israel, meeting with people from the English-speaking community to understand what unites this community and how we can use our experiences and capabilities to make improvements to Israeli society, one of the most frequently stated issues has been the political and electoral system.
This is why, at the Anglo Vision, we have come up with a plan to help improve Israeli society by coalescing as a community, in much the same way as other communities do to get their voices heard.
In most of the English-speaking world, the political systems are based on representative democracy, the principle of elected officials representing a particular group of people, usually geographically based. This ensures that every citizen has a directly elected official to turn and be accountable to. Israel’s political system is based on proportional representation, which is arguably more representative but less directly accountable.
The State of Israel could adopt a mixed-member proportional representation electoral system, used in countries such as Germany and New Zealand, meaning that the voter will cast two ballots, one for a representative for a single-seat constituency, and another for a party list. The numbers are then adjusted to ensure a particular party receives the number of seats proportionate to its national tally. This would mean that each community or voting bloc would remain the same size, but each Knesset member would represent a specific regional area and would be directly accountable to the voters in that district/constituency.
This allows politicians to be directly accountable to the people and not necessarily their party leaders. This would mean that a public can punish a candidate if they were seen as acting against the local or national interest.
In New Zealand, the system ensures that elections are not called every couple of years, and this stability might be one of the reasons behind its country’s strong response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
We need a leadership that is able to make decisions that are in the best interests of the nation and leave politicking to one side until an election campaign comes around. We need greater governability and stability that helps our elected officials choose the best decisions knowing that they can be personally replaced. The Anglo community can become a force to introduce alternatives to our political system that can ensure the last year and a half is never again repeated.
The writer is founder of the Anglo Vision and founder and Dean of The Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics and Community Development, an organization dedicated to building Israeli society one community at a time by successfully bringing Diaspora models of community building to Israel. To contact us TheAngloVision@gmail.com.