Israel Dental Association: An Embarrassment of Israeli Democracy

Elections are coming, not only for the Israeli Knesset but for the Israel Dental Association (IDA). The IDA is the official representative of Israel’s dentists versus the government and Ministry of Health, and therefore its policies and leadership is of upmost importance for Israel’s dental practitioners. In January, the longtime chairman of the IDA, Dr. Yitzhak Chen, after more than 30 years of running the show, stepped down. He was 3 years into his latest 4 year term when he resigned. He stated that this was planned in advance when he started the term, so he could ease in his replacement smoothly.

This action  necessitated a special meeting of the National Council (Moatza Artzit) to elect a temporary replacement to finish the term, which will end in February 2020. The IDA placed an announcement on its website, about 35 days before the chosen date for the meeting which was February 8. Any member of the IDA for at least 2 years was eligible to be a candidate. Candidates had to register at least 21 days before the meeting.

I decided to run for the position of temporary chairman, and registered in time. I knew I had no chance of being elected, because the 60 members of the National Council, which includes the 19 members of the Central Board, had decided already who was being chosen to replace Dr. Chen. I put my name in the hat in order to experience the “democratic experience” of IDA elections. Around 10 days before the election, I wrote a letter to the IDA, complaining about the improper way they announced the election. No announcement was sent via mail or email to the members.It was only posted on the website. The supervisory authority over non profit organizations in Israel (Rasham Amutot) had reprimanded the IDA¬† in a report it issued after a complaint (by me) about irregularities in the elections of 2016. One of the issues was the lack of sending important information to members in a timely manner. They specifically mentioned the need of sending information by electronic newsletter.

On the morning of February 8th, the meeting of the National Council was convened in the IDA offices in Tel Aviv. About 40 of the 60 members of the council were present, as well as myself and the Legal Advisor of the organization. After some opening remarks, Dr. Chen made some emotional comments, and the floor was turned over to the legal advisor. He started talking about the transparency of the organization and the principles of democracy. He then stated that a member of the IDA had written, claiming that proper procedures were not followed. He then read aloud my letter, and asked that the National Council vote to delay the election by 5 weeks. He said the proper email notifications would be sent out on Sunday morning and therefore elections could only be held 30 days later. I had to control my laughter at the fact that in order to function legally and properly, the IDA needed me to tell them.

While I was in the offices of the IDA, I requested a copy of the constitution. (Takanon). The IDA has never publicized this document. In my 30 years of membership they never sent it to me. It is not available on the IDA website. Most members have never seen it, and in fact have no knowledge of the electoral system of the IDA.

There are today approximately 4200 members. At the National Convention of 2016 there were 117 members who were entitled to vote in the elections for all of the positions in the IDA. These are called delegates. Once in 4 years the 3 different “local branches” of the IDA have elections to pick delegates. Every member of at least 6 months has the right to vote in these elections. According to the current constitution, one delegate is picked for every 75 members. With 4200 total members, approximately 56 delegates are elected. But in 2016 there were 117 delegates. On February 8 of this year I uncovered, upon receiving my copy of the constitution, some shocking information. The 60 members of the outgoing National Council, the governing body of the IDA, are automatically appointed as delegates. The incumbent governing body, has an absolute majority (60 – 56) of delegates before the elections are even held. In this way the incumbents are assured of maintaining their positions ad infinitum, with no chance of other candidates replacing them. This is how Dr. Yitzhak Chen and his cronies have ruled the organization for over 30 years!

Three years ago I complained to the Rasham Amutot about how the administration manipulated every aspect of the elections to gain advantage. The Rasham issued a report agreeing with some of my complaints, ordered the IDA to write an election protocol that fixed these issues. This time around the IDA has followed the protocols for the most part. At the time, I did not complain about the total non democratic nature of the election process as I had not seen the constitution. Four months ago I filed an official complaint with the Rasham Amutot. Unfortunately they claim it takes at least 6 months before they can respond. The IDA has scheduled the elections for the Central Branch for June 21. A group of members have written an on line petition asking for democratic elections in the IDA. It has accumulated over 200 signatures, but the IDA leadership has ignored the complaints.

At least 2 high ranking officials of the IDA have posted messages claiming certain individuals (I am obviously one of them) have been making unsubstantiated false claims with the purpose of harming the organization.

I have in my possession copies of the IDA constitutions from 1990, early 2000 and late 2000. In 1990 delegates were chosen for every 25 members. In early 2000 it was one delegate for 50 members, and in late 2000 it was changed to 1 for 75. We can see how the administration progressively over time has made it more and more difficult for anyone to unseat them, Right now it is mathematically impossible to unseat them, and it has been that way since the year 2000.

Changes in the takanon are not voted upon by the general membership. The National council has the authority to change it with a two thirds majority. I am certain that they approved all of the changes over the years unanimously , as they usually do as they are told. (one third of the council is the central board). The changes were never publicized to the general dues paying membership.

I will report in future blogs about the outcome of this scandalous situation.

About the Author
Dr. Dan Cheifetz is a graduate of Georgetown University Dental School. He has been practicing dentistry in Israel for 31 years. He served in the IDF as a dentist from 1989-1991.
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