J.J Gross
J.J Gross

Direct Elections? Absolutely! But not for the prime minister

We Israelis live in a remarkable country. After a mere 72 years of statehood, our GDP is among the world’s highest, and would be higher still except for the abnormal fact that a significant percentage of our population either doesn’t work at all, or grossly underreports its income. Indeed, if we were to remove those who are willfully poor from the statistics, the degree of poverty in Israel would be among the world’s very lowest.

As well, we have wonderful people at the helms our defense forces, government departments, and volunteer agencies. Israel is a very high-functioning society with a powerful defense system, an enviable standard of living and a majority of citizens who gladly shoulder enormous defense responsibilities, tax burdens and volunteerism, and give charity generously.

At the same time, this diminishing (percentage-wise in the population) majority is forced to carry an enormous burden of dead weight — the growing minority that refuses to be gainfully employed, refuses to do anything in terms of defending the nation, and divorces itself hermetically from any participation in the nation’s culture and remembrances.

Still, we can take enormous pride in our State’s accomplishments — achievements that, increasingly, have little to do with our political echelon. Indeed the circus that poses as our national government is a disgrace and a laughing stock. And it is evident to even the least gifted among us that the games our leaders play have far less to do with what is in the interests of the citizen than they do with their own self-interest and power plays.

To call our national government a disgrace would be quite the understatement. Hence all the more credit to the professional bureaucrats who keep the machinery of state humming along. They do so successfully despite the game of ministerial musical chairs which pretty much guarantees a cabinet of political cronies, hacks and fringe party horse traders lacking any of the expertise needed to manage their portfolios, and hardly sufficient time to ramp up their expertise before they rotate to another ministerial sinecure.

Plus, of course, there is the absurd spectacle of insiders who have no portfolio at all while enjoying the salary, perks and prestige that accrue to the title of minister, thereby further draining the coffers funded by actual taxpayers.

Now, after four failed recent elections, our indicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has attempted an end-run that might ensure his continued grip on power, namely direct elections for the office of prime minister.

At first blush, direct elections for PM might seem positively democratic. But this is not his intent, nor would it be the accidental result of such a self-serving dance. Bibi knows that he has every likelihood of winning such an election. Yet, such a victory would not be an acknowledgment of his rapidly dwindling merits, so much as the absence of both merit and gravitas on the part of his likely opponent.

Emerging victorious from such a shameless ploy would further consolidate Netanyahu’s grip on power. It would free him from any accountability to even his own party, let alone the Israeli everyman and woman.

Indeed, the very last thing Israel needs — especially under its current electoral system — is direct elections for the prime minister. And yet, what we desperately need are direct elections for members of the Knesset.

The direct election of MKs would immediately yield the huge benefit of accountability to the voter. No longer would we be voting for a slate of candidates accountable only to their own party — candidates whose actual place of residence plays little or no role in their candidacy. Rather, direct elections would empower the citizen to choose a representative concerned with local issues as well as national ones, and whose performance in Knesset would determine the longevity of his or her tenure.

This is hardly a novel discovery. It is both elementary and obvious. That it has not yet happened is a persistent disgrace anchored in the totalitarian socialist ethos of Israel’s founding political echelon. The country continues to be hobbled by this inherently self-serving and corrupt system because it is in the personal interests of every single MK to keep it that way. Direct elections would mean sayonara for the overwhelming majority of today’s MKs.

Further — but not much further — down the road, the direct election of MKs would yield a far, far greater benefit to society as a whole. It would effectively pave, nay bulldoze, the way to a virtually two-party system. This would mean a majority government that would be allowed to govern for a full term without the ever-present sword of Damocles threatening a fragile coalition, not to mention a coalition in which the tail invariably wags the dog.

Direct elections will yield a two-party system for the simple reason that the voters would understand that it is in their own best interests to avoid sending a fringe party candidate to Jerusalem. The effectiveness of a fringe party Knesset member would be negligible at best, and the voters’ interests would remain unaddressed.

It would take no more than one or two election cycles before most of the marginal parties would either fold themselves into one of the two main contenders, or disappear from the political map entirely.

With an effectively two-party system, we could kiss goodbye to ministerial musical chairs. We would see the elimination of a half dozen or more meaningless ministries. We would witness an end to the endless blackmail being paid to Haredi parties in exchange for their willingness to rubber-stamp policies of national concern that have no direct impact on their rabbinically controlled constituents. Indeed, it could very well spell the end of rabbinical domination of the Haredi voter’s behavior in the ballot booth. Such voters soon discover that they, too, have civic interests that are not being served so long as they remain beholden to the diktats of their Torah sages and Hasidic chieftains.

Shifting to a system of direct elections for MKs could save our society, and radically improve our overall quality of life. It would result in lower taxes as we would not be saddled with the burden of financing those who shirk work. It would provide us with the opportunity to vote for capable and ethical men and women who actually care about our interests. And it would put an end to the circus that makes us a laughing stock rather than a light unto the nations.

About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.
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