“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
Reading through David Horovitz’s “The weakening of Israeli democracy” of February 27, 2018, brought to mind an earlier piece by Dylan Matthews, “The secret behind Israel’s dysfunctional political system,” which was featured by The Washington Post on January 23, 2013. The acknowledgement of “—the efforts to weaken our already overstretched and troubled police force, and the discrediting of our judiciary” serves as a confirmation that the issue is understood by some in the media.
A key item in any democracy concerns its electoral construction. Put simply, it has to do with the methods how voters participate in the appointment of the ruling body. The two primary forms of democracy amount to a choice of a parliamentary democracy or a representative democracy. Israel, unlike 20 other declared western countries, has the former type of democracy. This translates to citizens voting for a list or slate in national elections.
Thus, one finds that Israel’s political system suffers more from lack of accountability than instability. With representative democracy where voters chose their parliamentary representatives via electoral districts, citizens are able to influence the composition of a party list and enjoy a relationship with members of the national government.
In this day and age, efforts at contacting MK’s invariably result in receiving an acknowledgement without further action or an excuse for participation or no answer at all. What is forced to recognize in this that MK’s feel no obligation to citizens who cannot vote for them directly. Thus, it would appear that the parliamentary system of democracy is hardly democracy.
As noted by Matthews, proportional representation, with the country designed as a single district, strengthens the role of the party in elections and policymaking while undermining the relevance of individual candidates. In other words, the system is bankrupt. His paper touches on hyper-democracy, power of the religious parties and personalization of politics to round off his arguments in support of his titled essay.
In an earlier editorial by David Horovitz and Simona Weinglass on July 1, 2018 “Don’t let Israel become a promised land of impunity for crooks and fraudsters”, they provide an in-depth study of “big” crime. It is not a subject for this particular paper. However, certain statements apply equally well.” Israeli law enforcement may have good intentions, but due to lack of funding and neglect over many years, the police and other enforcement bodies here have deteriorated to a point where they barely tackle crime at all.” “Only one in five suspected criminals is prosecuted in Israel, compared to three in five in other developed countries, according to a recent study by Israel’s Finance Ministry.
“With a handful of notable exceptions, the Israel Police was and remains strikingly unhelpful and unavailable to reporters trying to obtain information about enforcement efforts concerning financial fraud. Senior police officers, from the police commissioner on down, refuse to give interviews on the issue.”
“The Times of Israel has heard from countless Israeli victims of crimes large and small, in all manner of fields, who received a letter several months after filing a police complaint that their case had been closed because ‘the perpetrator could not be identified” or because there was a “lack of interest to the public.” This suggests that the police consider the public at large to be sub-normal.
From Haaretz May 8, 2013 “Israel’s Dying Democracy” by Yitzhak Laor, we learn that” Our representative democracy never developed. On the contrary : It is Dying or nonexistent.” In this he is partially correct, since it did not exist to begin with.
He makes the point that the parties are appointed and controlled by their bosses.”For them this is democracy. Representation from above.” He also recognizes Israel’s lack of a constitution, in whose absence, the majority “can do almost anything it wishes.”
Lion Akerman writing in the Jerusalem Post, posits the question “Is Israel a true democracy?” in a May 15, 2014 Op-Ed. Several of his statements confirm prior observations.
“The police is underfunded and as a result is too weak to deal with ‘price tag’ offenders or growing corruption among government leaders. Political leaders are not democratically elected by the people, and the latter has become completely apathetic.”
Akerman concludes with a rhetorical question, “Is Israel a democracy? Maybe it is an oligarchy, or an aristocracy, or some sort of anarchistic monarchy? What I do know for sure is that no one actually cares.” A rather curious observation for a former Brigadier-General who served in the Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency].
Jerusalem Post June 21, 2017 – Eliyahu Kamisher, “State Comptroller: Thousands of Complaints Against Police Mishandled”. In this Op-Ed, the journalist takes the Justice Ministry to task for failing to properly handle thousands of complaints and to act on them. ”
In a September survey by the Central Bureau of Statistics, only 39% of the general public assessed police performance positively.” Apparently, thousands of cases opened due to complaints of varying degrees of severity do not receive disciplinary treatment or organizational treatment.
Yet another Times of Israel Investigative Report, “Is Israel becoming a Mafia state?” by Simona Weinglass on September 11, 2017. It is in her concluding remark that we find thoughts on what could remedy Israel’s recognized ailment i.e. corruption.
“This could change if more ordinary Israelis get involved in the battle to fight corruption. While the system shows signs of being broken, most Israelis are decent people, emphatically deserving of a society in which the rule of law is enforced and criminality is relentlessly faced down and uprooted.” This expectation could only materialize was the country to introduce representative government.
Common failures on behalf of the Israeli police and prosecution, which have been reported include:
[a] No witnesses interviewed.
[b] Ignoring certain unlawful acts by defendant.
[c] Failure to fully check fraudulent documents.
[d] Perjury ignored.
[e] Failure to indict is a common practice.
[f] Ignoring trustee permissibility.
[g] Falsifying trustee appointment.
[h] “No criminal culpability ” assigned, despite the facts.
Bottom line, a nation cannot survive without a proper judicial system. Without faith in the justice system, society would descend into utter anarchy. The pursuit of justice is the core to Jewish tradition. Imagine how revolutionary these ideas were 3,000 years ago, and how pertinent they still are today.
Haile Salassie: ” Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”
Alexander Hamilton: ” I think the first duty of society is justice.”
The importance of justice in a democracy cannot be understated. The tendency to distinguish “small” crimes from “large” crimes cannot serve a true democracy. And if democracy is ignored, justice will not prevail.
By way of a conclusion, Arsen Ostrovsky of Ynet seems to have captured most of Israel’s democracy problems and offered definite solutions. In his, “Israel needs a major electoral reform” published on October 12, 2014. A few gems follow.
Ostrovsky rightly recognizes that we need less self-serving politicians who care more about staying in power and more elected officials willing to put the interests of the nation ahead of their own.
These are his fundamental assessments of the existing democracy problems:
* A lack of accountability with individual Knesset members elected based on their position on a party list and not directly by the constituents
* Insufficient separation of powers between the various government branches, which results in a lack of checks and balances and the absurdity of having MK’s as part of the very legislature tasked with overseeing their own performance.
* Cabinet ministers appointed on the basis of back-room coalition deals instead of on their skills and expertise in the field.
Arsen Ostrovsky recognizes that, “In Israel’s case, a stable government is not just a goal to aspire to but an absolute necessity for our long-term future.”