Autonomy for Israeli Citizens?

This is the second in a series of posts I’m doing on the Zehut party.  The first one can be found here:

The Zehut Party – Something New Under the Sun

As I mentioned in that post, I speak as a founding member of the Zehut Party, but not as an official representative of the party. Any errors are mine alone.

When we sing HaTikva, we say the words להיות עם חופשי בארצנו.  Lihiyot Am Chofshi B’Artzenu: To be a free People in our land.  But what does it mean to be free?  The simple answer is that free people make their own decisions.  They rule their own lives.  For the first time in two millenium, we have the chance to rule our own lives, rather than being subjects.

But is that what we’ve done?  Really?

Decisions obviously can’t be made by all of the people all of the time.  We have jobs.  We go to school.  So we choose representatives to make these decisions for us.  And that’s a good system, except that the representation – in practice – is a little tenuous.  Given a population of roughly 8 million people and a Knesset made up of 120, we see that each Knesset member represents – in theory – almost 67 thousand Israelis.  I say in theory, because we don’t have a representative system, where each member represents a set constituency of  67 thousand people.  And as a matter of practice, no representative can really attend to the needs of 67 thousand people.

But in fact, we don’t even vote for Knesset members.  We vote for parties.  And even so, it’s not a terrible system.  When it comes to issues of security and diplomacy and national infrastructure, it makes sense for these issues to be decided on a national level, in a body that somehow represents all the people in the country.  But these aren’t the only decisions that are made.

Would it make sense for the Knesset to make decisions about what groceries you buy each week?  How many times a week you wash your hair?  Hardly.  We all understand that a national government should not be making decisions about personal matters.  By the same token, though, a national government should not be making decisions about local community matters.  Even municipalities and town councils, unless they are small towns, are too far removed from the citizens and their needs to be the proper place to make decisions on local matters.

Zehut sees freedom – liberty – as one of its primary principles.  For this reason, Zehut proposes to divide municipalities and towns up into communities, which will be empowered to make their own decisions on a number of local community issues.  Issues that directly affect the people living in any given community, and which should be up to them – not dictated from above.

Here are a number of such areas.  There may be others as well, but these should give you an idea of Zehut’s vision for autonomy.

Noise regulations:
Should the Knesset, or even the city council, decide whether 2 to 4 in the afternoon is appropriate quiet time?  If a community is made up of young people who like to play music after 11 at night, should the fact that there are communities made up of families with young children who want things quiet at night prevent them from doing so?

Shabbat observance:
There are observant communities where the people would like to close off their streets on Shabbat.  And there are non-observant areas where people want to be able to open shops on Shabbat.  Fights of this sort have gone on for many decades, and show no sign of going away.  But if communities are allowed to make these decisions for themselves, these kinds of conflicts cease to exist.

Today, land in Israel is registered with the Israel Lands Authority as being designated for specific types of use: residential, commercial, industrial, or agricultural.  Changing any of these designations is difficult to impossible.  For example, if you want to run a business out of your apartment, you have to request a special permit from the Planning and Building Commission, which they can deny, which can be blocked by your neighbors, even if the business creates no disturbances, and which, even if granted, is only temporary.  Violating these restrictions can expose you to criminal charges.

It makes sense to have zoning regulations, so that no one builds a factory next door to a kindergarten.  But these decisions should be made locally, because it is the property owners in each locality who are best able to decide on the best use of their property.

Local rabbi:
As things stand today, the Chief Rabbinate assigns rabbis to different areas.  Your local rabbi may not be anyone connected to your community.  Does this make sense?  Much of the discontent people have with the Rabbinate is the way they are stuck with a rabbi they didn’t choose.

Throughout our history, local rabbis have been a part of their communities.  They have known the people they deal with personally, rather than being appointees with no real ties to the community.

Zehut supports members of the community choosing their own local rabbi.

Local police:
If you are having a problem, what are the chances that you will approach a police officer or go to a police station?  Most Israelis know better than to get involved with the police in any way.  The “Officer Friendly” model doesn’t exist here.  “To Protect and To Serve” isn’t their motto.  Individual police officers may be good people, but their priorities are to prevent people from doing things, rather than to help people do things.  The distinction is an important one.

Police today have no real ties to the communities in which they operate.  This is one problem with having a national police force.  But even with such a police force, communities should still be able to choose their own police chief.  In this way, the police chief will be obligated to the community, and will communicate that obligation to his subordinates.

When decisions are made for communities by the Knesset and the Chief Rabbinate and the national police force and the like, the people they “serve” don’t really feel like they are being served.  They feel like they are being ruled.  This is the opposite of being a free People in our land.  This is the opposite of liberty.

But even more importantly, when these decisions are made at a level too far removed from the people, it becomes a fight between one community and another.  Family neighborhoods want town bylaws that will suit them.  Young neighborhoods want town bylaws that will suit them.  The same for religious neighborhoods and secular ones; for academic ones and working class ones.  In the real world, these conflicts don’t need to exist.  If we allow communities to make these decisions for themselves (with the obvious limitation that community decisions not violate the laws of Israel), the conflicts go away.

In this way, Zehut’s principle of liberty will empower the Israeli public, and free us from endless sectorial struggles.

About the Author
Lisa Liel lives in Karmiel with her family. She works as a programmer/developer, reads a lot, watches too much TV, does research in Bronze/Iron Age archaeology of the Middle East, and argues a lot on Facebook.