Ori Epstein
Ori Epstein

Direct Elections – Change for the Worse

Direct elections are a power grab by Netanyahu, but even aside from that, deeper issues remain. If Israeli elections must change, they must be changed the right way.

In my earlier blog, Israel’s Odd Election Math, I spoke about the ills of Israel’s current election system and the need for change. I said that, “while I am not here to endorse any plan, some change is undeniably needed.”

Perhaps I must eat my words. 

Though I will not endorse a particular plan, there are certain plans that I believe we must reject; any plan intentionally designed to give any party a political advantage is unworthy of serious consideration. 

Recent talk has revolved around Netanyahu’s plan, officially submitted by Shas, to have a direct election for Prime Minister rather than have the majority of the Knesset decide. The plan is nothing more than a desperate political power grab designed to benefit Netanyahu at the expense of all others. The election would theoretically take place in the next few months to ‘solve’ the current gridlock in the Knesset.

In the 1990s, Israel experimented with a direct vote for Prime Minister before reverting to the original legislature-only elections when the experiment proved to be a failure. Voters decided to split their votes making the Prime Minister’s party was weaker than ever, leading to even more unstable coalitions.

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, surely going back to a system that has been tried and has failed seems irrational. As such, I strongly disagree with the notion that direct election may work – but only after Netanyahu goes. The system itself is flawed and just getting rid of Netanyahu will not fix its more serious flaws.

Many American readers may be more comfortable with this idea as they themselves vote directly for their head of government. However, they must understand that the parties in Israel are not fit for such a system, and Netanyahu forcing one upon the other parties is akin to asking Manchester United to wake up one morning and play American football in the NFL. 

Netanyahu knows that he will be, in all likelihood, unable to form a government in the traditional manner and wants to take advantage of vote-splitting amongst the opposition in a direct vote. Furthermore, the plan will allow a Prime Minister to be elected with only 40% of the vote, essentially leading to minority rule. Simply put, the issue is that Netanyahu’s direct election gambit changes the rules mid-race to ensure he wins. [For more details on the plan and various issues surrounding it, I strongly encourage readers to take a look at the linked article.]

There is, however, a right way to make electoral changes. If the system is to be changed, it should require broad, multi-partisan agreement. A good rule of thumb is to ask who benefits most from the changes, and if those who benefit most are the ones pushing the changes, it is probably unwise to adopt them. The system also should be one that has proven to be successful, unlike the direct vote for PM.

Any plan to change the entire election system should not be rushed through Knesset with little time to study the changes and make amendments. All parties, both large and small, should have equal say to make sure no party is disadvantaged. Parties and independent political experts should have ample opportunity to provide suggestions and input. Solomon tells us that “plans laid in council will succeed,” (Proverbs 20:18) but we must have a fair council that is not acting in self-interest to be truly successful.  

A lengthy transition period will be necessary to allow parties to change their strategies, communication styles, and internal procedures to prepare for the new election system. The similar-sounding Hebrew words: savlanut (patience) and sovlanut (tolerance) accurately explain what would be desperately needed, patience to make sure we are not hasty, and tolerance for all parties to ensure that, instead of working only in our or Netanyahu’s self-interest, we work in the interest of good governance and fair elections.

About the Author
Ori Epstein is a Grade 12 High School Student at a Jewish school in Toronto, Canada navigating the transition between high school and university. Interested in politics, Tanach and law, Ori will be studying next year at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Ori holds dual Israeli-Canadian citizenship and had the privilege of attending the International Bible Contest in Israel in 2019.
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