Israel Needs Systemic Reform

To my fellow Israelis (specifically targeting those immigrants hailing from traditional democratic countries. Not the ones who don’t live here but feel nothing says “I love Israel” to their communities more than a full-page ad in the local Federation annual dinner journal, however as that can be cost prohibitive, an Israeli ID is a close second. While we thank you for investing in our real estate ensuring entire neighborhoods are void and empty most of the year (smell the sarcasm), and planting all those trees (wrong trees, people), this conversation needs to happen with people who call this country home and vote here. Being home to all Jewish people, some might feel that this is a broader conversation and perhaps they’re correct, but we live the unsanitized and unspun version of Israeli life and politics each day and see the dysfunction and should know better.) —

So, my fellow Israelis, you know there is nothing more entertaining than the national election cycle, here. The first few years living here it was thrilling to watch, and baffling as to how archaic the election system is in the start-up nation — I mean, envelopes and cardboard boxes? However, as time went on, the truth became apparent, it’s not entertaining — it is downright outrageous and it wouldn’t make a difference what method of voting as regardless of who wins, the entire system is flawed.

Did you know that there is no constitution? There was supposed to be but Ben-Gurion kicked it down the road for others to worry about. That’s right — Israel, the democratic beacon of light has no primary rules. We do have something called the Basic Laws, which is a hodgepodge of laws throughout the years that deals not with what our rights as citizens are, but bureaucratic process and structure. Every free culture has a set of rules defined that focus on the rights of the citizenry — look at the first Magna Carta in 1215 – right after the preambles about loyalty and allegiance to God it goes into specific laws protecting citizen inheritances.

The US Constitution after a preamble and primary governmental structure in which is described in great detail as to how the separation of powers works, it immediately spells out the freedoms of the people; speech, defense, prisoner-rights, rights against illegal search, due-process, rights against self incrimination and a host of personal rights. In Israel, aside from the charade that is the elections, there are no personal rights guaranteed by any document. No freedoms all citizens share, and as difficult as it is to admit – no two people are treated the same in Israel – many of the stereotypical stories of “it’s who you know” in Israel are true — even when dealing with governmental agencies.

In Israel, if you have a problem with a government agency, there is no direct representative you can go to. You can call your friend who has a cousin who knows someone who works in the Knesset, but you can’t just call an MK or walk into their local offices, they have none as they don’t work for you — they represent the party first, a little Stalinist it seems and it is very much so. The system is so bad that you can vote for a party with expectations of voting in someone who is on the party list, but the party can change the list at any time. So that guy you despise and would never vote for, you end up voting for because again, you have no say.

The parliamentary system Israel has chosen has never worked — there are far too many elections; too many parties leading to polarization of the voter base; Knesset members are not beholden to the people, ministers don’t require experience and there is no check and balance on what the government does. We live in a country where our parliament is trying to strip the Supreme Court of its ability to challenge what comes out of the Knesset chambers. We live in a country where our Justice Minister has zero legal experience. We live in a country where our prime minister is communication, foreign, defense and health Minister as well — a total conflict and farce. Did I mention the Interior minister who was arrested and jailed for corruption the last time he held that post? Yes, our interior minister is a convicted felon and gets out of prison and goes right back to his job (where of course, he is back to his old ways and is on verge of being arrested again).

The problem is NOT Bibi (OK, part of it is). The problem is a system that encourages corruption. A system that is not built to govern the people, but to dictate over them. It looks democratic, but make no mistake it is not. After 13 years here, the same people governing us when we arrived are still here, give or take a few, but the main ones are. Term-limits protect the people from entrenched politicians with unchecked power running the place for decades. Yes, Gantz’s speech was wonderful, he’s good looking, former Army Chief and says the right things, but he doesn’t solve the problems Israel has – the only one who really can are the people.

Israel needs serious reform. We need laws not based on Ottoman, British or Talmudic law but based on what we decide is important. We need civil marriages. We need a total separation of religion from our government, as it stands Israel as a state empowers the ultra-Orthodox and neglects most of the Jews in its society. Israel must have term limits. We must have direct representation and that means restructuring the way things are. Revolution you say? No, evolution. The founders of the modern state left the decisions to us, it’s time we as a nation spoke up and made this country the beacon it should be — on all fronts. #IsraelConstitution; #IsraelTermLimits; #IsraeliExceptionalism

About the Author
Jay Engelmayer is a husband and father of four. Professionally his focus has been digital marketing and business development for commercial products. A proud and unapologetic American-Israeli Zionist, he enjoys cooking and yelling at television screens. Some consider him argumentative in nature, although he prefers the term "purposeful cynic" when describing his disposition. Living in Israel, he hails from New York City and is glad he left before it became the 1970's redux it is today.
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