On April 23, 2021, JNS published “Amid ongoing political deadlock, is it time for Israel to consider electoral reform?” by Josh Hasten
By way of an introduction, Hasten informs us that a recent study showed that two-thirds of the Israeli public believes the Israeli democratic system is in grave danger.”Ironically, a similar proportion considers Israel a good place to live.”
We are reminded of Israel’s holding its 4th legislative election in the past 2 years on March 23, voting 120 members of the Knesset into power as representatives of the 24th Knesset since the establishment of the State.
As such, according to the Israel Democracy research center, with 11 elections over the past 15 years, Israel has held more national votes than any other parliamentary democracy in the world since 1996.
It is shear falsehood to look upon this as an indication of true democracy as viewed by some. Realistically for others, the failure to form a working government clearly demonstrates that “Israel’s political system is in need of a major overhaul going forward.”
Apparently, JNS learnt from Yoram Ettinger, a former minister for congressional affairs at Israel’s Washington embassy, an expert on US-Israeli relations that the subject political system “is a dysfunctional and self-destructive system from its inception.”
Ettinger understands as long as we have the same system, “we are going to have similar outcomes with the potential for a 5th, 6th and 7th election within months. “Further, he feels that even if a party head is successful in putting together a 61 plus member coalition, “it is going to be short lived.”
He understands the deficiency in a system that lacks accountability of Mks to their constituents. Presently they are only accountable to their party leaders. Thus “the existing system disarms voters completely and renders them irrelevant between election campaigns.”
It is apparent that Ettinger is fully conversant with US and UK parliamentary procedures. Consequently, he envisions a system in which the country would be divided into 120 geographical districts, having the citizens select candidates who will directly represent their interests in the Knesset. Subsequently, a second election should be held for the role of prime minister, resulting in a complete separation between the executive and legislature.
Interestingly, he explains that his ideal system would be similar to the “Mosaic Covenant” recorded in the Torah given by G-d to the Israelites in the desert.”When the Jews left Egypt, they elected governors. There was a separation of power between the priests, the Levites and the heads of the tribes. This minimized the threat of a tyrannical executive and enhanced the power of constituents through the accountability of legislators to voters.”
Ettinger stresses the absolute need for “a system of checks and balances where the legislature has the power to independently, and not under threat, examine the executive branch. He also notes the desirability of term limits for the executive branch.
Josh Hasten has suggested variations by Avi Bell, professor of law at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, a senior fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum and Assaf Shapira, director of the political reform program at the IDI.
Michael Oren, American born and educated in the US, Israel’s former Ambassador to the US, who also served as an MK, likewise informed JNS that the current reality proves “that the system is clearly not working.”In recommending a bicameral house, similar to the US House of Representatives and the Senate, he advocates setting limits on how long a prime minister can serve in office. Further, he is of the opinion that Israel should raise the electoral threshold to prevent small parties from being elected.
He also agrees that candidates should be elected representing local constituencies on a regional as opposed to a national level to best serve their interests while in Knesset.
One has to wonder why the current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, having spent so many years in the US, did not engage in and advance electoral reform in previous years. It may have aided him during difficult times.
Further, given that Josh Hasten has drawn attention to the sizable Israeli public having an interest in reform of the country’s democracy, one has to wonder why the Israel Democracy Institute did not make it happen.