Law and Order

“Israeli’s ‘anti-democratic mood’ stems more from the fact that Israeli democracy isn’t delivering democracy’s chief good: enabling the public to influence policy. The only way to change this is by finally letting Israelis elect their MK’s directly.” [Evelyn Gordon – June 9, 2011]

“——a significant disadvantage of the present [Israeli] system is that there is no direct relationship between the elected members and the electors—–the member is only responsible to the party leadership or, worse still, to the party bureaucracy.” [ME Institute, February 1, 2011]

What Evelyn Gordon is referring to is representative democracy as opposed to the existing parliamentary democracy. Interestingly, in Spring 1999, the Tulsa Report on the Judicial System in Israel did not see this as a priority when reviewing the differences between Israel and the US. The given Report lists the 3 main differences ; [1] Israel does not have written constitution. [2] Israel does not have a jury system. [3] Israel does not have capital punishment.

A constitution enshrines the principle that government exists to protect the rights of all citizens, and has no legitimate power to deprive any citizen or class of citizen of their rights without due process of law. The constitution serves as the backbone of the country. In other words, the country is beholden to its citizens and not the reverse.

While it is clearly obvious that Israel would benefit if it had a Constitution, it is not the issue behind this paper. Israel’s political system suffers less from instability than from a lack of accountability. Members of the Knesset [MKs] are not answerable to voters——-Mks are only answerable to their leaders. Why is this important?

In the US, which is the epitome of representative democracy , members of the public can appeal to their Congressman or Senator for assistance in dealing with an intransigent police or court. This one cannot do in Israel with its parliamentary democracy. By way of the “public’s right to know”, consider the following Israeli criminal case.

A police court hearing involving a plaintiff and a defendant, where no witnesses were called. The police willingly accepted statements by the defendant, about the plaintiff and others unchallenged, without the presence of the plaintiff.

The defendant, a realtor, clearly defied the laws pertaining to real estate agents, without being called to account. In addition thereto, a questionable forged signature was not subject to expert scrutiny , nor having finger prints checked.

At the end of the process, the defendant is not indicted since the police allege that they could not find any evidence of criminality! More so, an appeal is refused on the grounds that it was not registered within the allotted time period. In Israel securing a retrial is extremely difficult. MKs will not avail themselves to assist in the given example. Clearly, in the name of democracy, an endorsement for overdue electoral reform.

As Israel is about to go to the polls for the 3rd time, one should understand that this would not happen, had Israel enjoyed representative democracy. Politicians will still not be elected by the people, and the latter may become completely apathetic. Further, there is no explanation forthcoming that the end result will be different.

Israeli politics are notable for their wide array of parties and unstable coalition governments. This too owes its chronic instability to the system of parliamentary democracy. Israel’s low electoral threshold is recognized as a reason why every Israeli government has been dependent on assembling and maintaining fragile conditions.

At the present time, Israel has no electoral districts and there are those who argue against electoral reform to create representative government, because of the difficulties in creating the subject districts. There is truth to this, but in theory such unproven plans do exist. It is a matter of funding and assigning competent staff for the task.

The way voters influence policy in most representative democracies is by the threat that a politician who defies their wishes, won’t be reelected. But, because Israel is one of the last remaining democracies where voters still elect parties rather than individuals, Israelis lack the ability to make such threats.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence is not the equivalent of the US Constitution. Its head of state is a non-executive president; its legislature, the Knesset, is not elected by electoral districts, but by a party list, and thus the MKs represent no-one in particular other than their party leader. Further, the prime minister is subject to no term limits, unlike the US, where the president is limited to 2 consecutive 4-year terms.

In the US, the president and the Congress are elected separately, and each has its roles, powers and functions, clearly designate in the constitution. The president is both head of state and head of government, and as such represents the republic at home and abroad, and runs the government.

As is, Israeli leaders can defy their voters with impunity – and often do. A prime example of this was Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza after campaigning not to do so. And this merely deepens voters’ sense that their vote is meaningless. In reality, Sharon adopted the plan of his electoral competitor!

In fact, the judiciary is a total shambles and an obvious blessing for criminals. There is no serious attempt by the Knesset members to institute electoral reform and the consequence of representative democracy. Why would there be, given that they are free to disseminate their time, however they wish.

ESRA’s Brenda Katten, writing in the Jerusalem Post of 06/12/2019 on “Whither Democracy” raises some good points:
*Unfortunately, our current “democratic” system has eliminated the need for our party leaders to concern themselves with things that concern us.
*Voting for a party rather than an individual, eliminates the necessity for parties to concern themselves with what is of significance to the electorate; improving the education and health systems; ensuring that Holocaust survivors can live out their remaining years in dignity; endeavoring to reduce the cost of housing; the elimination of VAT on food prices, as well as the elimination of the cartel controlling our overpriced food, to mention a few issues that trouble the electorate.
*Our government is subjected to the views of its minority members. Israel’s electoral system results in a situation whereby the “tail wags the dog.”

Katten recalls the Israel Institute placing a full-page advertisement in the Jerusalem Post in which it stated “Do not allow the rule of law to be destroyed just so that politicians can escape justice. This is all very well , but when advertising is shallow, it has little effect. Nor will it, if they fail to engage every day citizens for opinions and cooperation. Indeed various “Democratic” organizations in Israel, are like barking dogs without teeth.

Back on November 17, 2005, Caroline Glick writing in the Jerusalem Post on “Israel’s Judicial Tyranny, provided an entire insight which would have validity today. In the body of the Op-Ed, she discusses how Supreme Court President Ahron Barak literally went to war against Hebrew University law professor and human rights activist Ruth Gavison, when she was nominated to join the Supreme Court.
In public remarks, Barak launched a stinging attack against Gavison for what he referred to as her “agenda”, noting that it was “not good for the Supreme Court. Glick then reminds us that Gavison was a fellow secular leftist from his university and wondered how he would have reacted when confronted by a religious, right-wing jurist. Her conclusion , “Until the judiciary is brought to heal , Israel’s status as a democracy is questionable.

This appeal for an authentic democracy is by no means new. In a Ynet opinion peace entitled, “Israel needs a major electoral reform” by Arsen Ostrovsky, published on 12/10/2014, he introduces the subject by acknowledging that the current system of government may have been appropriate in 1948 at the founding of the modern state. Now, which is long past its use by date, “—–no less than a paradigm change will suffice—-“”in light of the myriad of national security and forthcoming security and domestic challenges.”

Ostrovsky highlights the key item for Israel’s dysfunctional government. “Israel’s electoral system, which is based on nationwide proportional representation, also has one of the lowest electoral thresholds in the world. ” The low electoral threshold is recognized as a reason why every government has been dependent on assembling and maintaining fragile coalitions.

Among the root causes that go to the heart of the systematic deficiencies with Israel’s electoral and government system, Arsen Ostrovsky lists a lack of accountability, with individual Knesset members elected, based on their position on a party list, and not directly by the constituents, at first.

He also points to the resultant self-serving politicians who care more about staying in power and, more elected officials willing to put their own interests ahead of the nation. His ultimate summary desire is a call for a nationwide grassroots campaign to highlight the importance of change and to raise awareness of the need for reform among the subject politicians.

The Jerusalem Post published Lior Akerman’s “Is Israel a true democracy” on May 15, 2014. Sadly, he answers that no one cares.

In studying the given subject on several Israeli government websites, what he found was that the State of Israel defines itself as a parliamentary democracy. In studying the latter, he learnt that it is a democratic system of government in which all the citizens choose their representatives for parliament according to their political affiliation and then the political parties choose their leaders. Back then, no one thought it was important that Israel be a true democracy.

Political leaders are still not democratically elected by the people, and the latter have become completely apathetic. The police is underfunded and as a result is too weak to deal with “price tag” offenders or growing corruption.

Lio Akerman’s summation – Is Israel a democracy? Maybe it is an oligarchy, or an aristocracy, or some sort of anarchistic monarchy?

On February 2, 2019, The Jerusalem Post published Daniel Samet’s ,”It’s Time for Electoral Reform in Israel.” He joins a similar refrain in advocating MKs to once again raise the voting threshold in the interest of a functional state as they did previously . A higher threshold would strengthen big-tent parties, reduce political fragmentation, and deliver more effective governments.

As reported by Judy Maltz in Haaretz on December 03, 2018, according to a poll conducted by the Israeli Democracy Institute, close to 50% of the respondents thought that Israel’s leadership was either “quite” or “very” corrupt. Perusing back issues of the media tends to confirm this opinion.

The World Israel News, November 21, 2019, by Batya Jerenberg, “Poll: Israelis Mistrust Police as claims of improper conduct pile up in Netanyahu investigation” being topical serves as a useful conclusion. The referenced poll shows that a third of the public do not trust the justice system. At the end of the day, one has to wonder whether pragmatism will prevail over law.

Typical references to the prevailing issues:
*The Jerusalem Post: Israelis’ level of trust in the judicial system at 17-year low, report finds [Sara Rubenstein 11/06/2018]
*Kohelet: A Detailed Proposal for a Feasible Electoral Reform [September 17, 2017]
*Times of Israel: Corruption in Israel – how it got so bad [Marc Schulman, The Blogs 12/31/2014]
*Times of Israel: Israel’s descent into corruption as seen by Eliad Shraga, “national plumber” {David Horovitz 9/4/2018]
*The Jerusalem Post: Investigate the police [Editorial 08/25/2018]
*Haaretz: Government Ineffective at Fighting Corruption, say 86% of Israelis [Lior Dattel 07/06//2009]
*Times of Israel: Israel law enforcement woefully lax, says study by Chief Economist [Simona Weinglass 9/02/2018]
*Haaretz: More than 90% of Complaints Against the Police not Investigated, Ministry Says [Yaniv Kuboviich 9/24/2014]
*Times of Israel: 9 in 10 Complaints Police Missed , Watchdog Finds [Marissa Newman 5/4/2017]*+972: Selective Prosecution: In Israel, not all Citizens are Created Equal [Lisa Goldman 4/17/2014]* Times of Israel: Looking for a Super cop : Who can save the Israel Police from itself? {Judah Ari Gross 9/7/2015]

About the Author
Alex Rose was born in South Africa in 1935 and lived there until departing for the US in 1977 where he spent 26 years. He is an engineering consultant. For 18 years he was employed by Westinghouse until age 60 whereupon he became self-employed. He was also formerly on the Executive of Americans for a Safe Israel and a founding member of CAMERA, New York (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America and today one of the largest media monitoring organizations concerned with accuracy and balanced reporting on Israel). In 2003 he and his wife made Aliyah to Israel and presently reside in Ashkelon.