Democracy Has No Kings

The municipal election season in Israel is winding down now.

Yokneam elected the sitting mayor for a seventh straight term in office. That’s not a typo. And that means that no one else has EVER led the city. Yokneam has grown and prospered under his leadership for sure. I simply think that change is healthy, natural, and valuable, and particularly vital in leadership roles.

Any form of leadership has its limits; the mantle of responsibility must be passed on to others. At a certain point the nature of leadership stops being about the specific role, and instead becomes wholly about the person. The final result will be a period of weakness or even failure when the individual does move on.

While the reelection of the sitting mayor was not such a surprise to me, or to anyone else here really, what did surprise and dismay me came in the local papers a few days after the election. The headline in two of the three free, local papers was “King of Yokneam”.

After throwing in my hat to run for city council, and still a bit raw from not winning enough votes to be elected, these Friday morning headlines caused my stomach to turn. At first I thought it was mere hyperbole at play in low quality headlines that are really propaganda and not actual journalism. Then I began to think more deeply about what was being said and I skimmed (that was all I could bring myself to do) the articles. The tone continued through the entire article.

In contemplating the veracity of the headline I got to thinking about what a king did.

A king ruled his kingdom and over his subjects with total control. There was no option to elect a different leader. The only route to changing leadership was through force or death which typically brought about the same kind of leadership.

A king had total control over the kind of dwelling his subjects could inhabit – both in allocating who could live where as well as the size and condition of the dwelling. Those closest to the king received larger properties with more land at better terms.

A king controlled the food supply – deciding what to grow, what to sell, when to have market days, household land allocation, taxing the produce of the land. A king controlled the diet, health, and growth of his subjects, potentially impoverishing the poorest with additional taxes and fees related to crops and produce.

A king had total control over his citizens’ movement – even potentially closing the gate to the kingdom at night, ostensibly for safety. Roads were built and maintained per the kings’ wishes. Access to different parts of the kingdom could be regulated as well.

A king provided or didn’t provide for the education of his subjects – thereby controlling social mobility. Those in the elite could obtain education, could learn to read, could afford books. Schools were built and maintained for the upperclasses. The rest were left to fend for themselves.

Those who objected to their living conditions or the unchecked power of the king came face to face with the closest supporters of the king who at the least intimidated and the worst, well, let’s not go there. The only way to achieve anything, or obtain any service, was to ingratiate oneself to the king in order to find favor in his eyes.

The similarities disturb me when I think of the condition of older neighborhoods in towns or areas where those of lower socioeconomic status reside. Availability of reasonably priced food, access to public transportation, maintenance of public facilities and schools – we can see the parallels in all of these areas and more. And certainly not just in Israel.

Headlines where a Democratically elected mayor refers to himself as a king set off warning bells for me. I live in a democracy not a monarchy.

About the Author
Rachel Gould made aliyah in 2010 to Haifa and now lives in Yokneam. She is a PhD Candidate in Public Policy at TAU focusing on environmental and population policies. She was a candidate for city council in Yokneam on the Mekomi list in 2018.
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