Dan Cheifetz
Dan Cheifetz

Is Israel really democratic?

Israel is known as the only real democracy in the Middle East. Webster’s dictionary defines democracy as “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections”. But democracy is not limited to governments, it also applies to leadership of institutions. Does a democratic country like Israel require that public based institutions behave according to the principles of democracy?

An association in Hebrew is known as an amutah. An amutah is defined by Wikipedia as ” a corporation (a legal body bound by a number of members, which is established, registered and conducted under the specific law relating to the same corporation ) operating in the public-voluntary sector.

According to the Law of Associations (Law of Amutot) 1980, amended 1996, chapter 1, clause 3 “No association will be registered if one of its goals negates the existence of the State of Israel or its democratic nature. ” Clause 21 states ” At a general meeting each member will have one vote”. Clause 22a ” The decisions of the general meeting will be accepted by a simple majority of the voters, if there is no contrary provision in the takanon (bylaws) of the amutah.” Clause 24 “(A) a nonprofit organization whose members exceed 200 may determine in its takanon that the general meeting will consist of representatives (delegates) chosen by all members; The method of selecting the delegates will be according to the instructions in the bylaws”. According to this system, only delegates, who are chosen by the general membership, get to vote on all matters of importance, including the allocation of positions in the amutah.

The takanon (bylaws) of the amutah are ratified by vote at the general meeting. Any changes to the takanon are also ratified by vote at the general meeting, so they are not necessarily brought before the entire membership.

The Registrar (Rasham) of the amutot is the supervisory authority of all amutot in Israel. It is a department of the Ministry of Justice. All bylaws and changes to bylaws must be authorized by the Rasham Amutot.

George Washington wrote the following in his farewell address of September 17,1796.

“by which cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the

power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government,

destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

The elected leadership of an amutah has the power to change the bylaws without bringing those changes to the membership. If they make changes which are non-democratic, or are to their own advantage and not to the advantage of the general membership, it is the responsibility of the Rasham Amutot to deny these changes. The Rasham is the only check (as in check and balances) on unscrupulous activity by the leadership of amutot.

The Israel Dental Association (IDA) is an Israeli amutah. It had been led by the same chairman, Dr. Yitzchak Chen for almost 30 years. In 1988 Dr. Chen was elected in what I believe were fair and democratic elections by the general membership. By 1990, the IDA, under Dr. Chen’s leadership, had changed the bylaws. Elections were to be held using the system of delegates. One delegate was chosen for every 25 members. There were approximately 5000 members in the IDA, so about 200 delegates were elected. There was one caveat, however. The outgoing members of the National Council, which included all the members of the governing vaad, including the outgoing chairman,(some 60 members) were automatically appointed as delegates. This gave the outgoing incumbent leadership an advantage in the upcoming elections. (60 out of 260 total). This undemocratic change was authorized by the Rasham amutot. The general membership was not informed and was allowed no opinion.

Over the next 10 years, two more changes were made to the bylaws which were ratified by the Rasham Amutot. First, the number of members needed to choose a delegate was raised to 50, thereby reducing the elected delegates to around 100, thereby increasing the electoral advantage of the incumbents (60 out of 160). In 2000, the number of members needed to choose a delegate was raised to 75, thereby electing only 60 -65 delegates versus the 60 incumbents. In the 2016 elections there were 117 delegates total, with only 56 -57 elected. The incumbents had an absolute majority in the elections for positions for the next 4 years. As the membership is now around 4000, it is mathematically impossible to replace the incumbent leadership.

The IDA does not publicize it’s bylaws. They do not distribute them to the membership and they are not available on line. This past year I requested a copy and was shocked to see the undemocratic nature of the election process. I requested from the Rasham Amutot access to the IDA file, and learned, after perusing hundreds of letters , about the changes made to the bylaws over the years. I made an official complaint to the Rasham Amutot about the undemocratic nature of elections in the IDA takanon. I also accused them of negligence in ratifying such undemocratic changes . The answer I received was that as long as the amutah has acted according to their bylaws, they saw no reason to interfere.

The point is that the bylaws are unfair and undemocratic. The authority that has the responsibility to safeguard the members of the amutah against abuse by its leadership is the Rasham Amutot, and they have neglected to do so. This is a disgrace to Israeli democracy. Are there other amutot that have similar stories?

About the Author
Dr. Dan Cheifetz is a graduate of Georgetown University Dental School. He has been practicing dentistry in Israel for 36 years. He served in the IDF as a dentist from 1989-1991.
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