Revisiting Israel’s Flawed Democracy

“Criminal Procedures do have built in formal legal mechanisms that allow the review of a case. Trial process represents a forum in which official abuses of power often occur, therefore, appellate review represents both a safeguard for individual accused [or plaintiff]and an opportunity to elaborate on the rights of the individual, or the possibility that an error has occurred somewhere along the process.”

[The Sanctity of Criminal Law – Thoughts and reflections on wrongful conviction in Israel by Arye Rattner PhD., The Center for the Study of Crime, Law and Society]

The February , 1996 issue of Outpost {AFSI] featured an opinion piece by Haifa Professor Steven Plaut entitled, “The Assault on Israeli Democracy.” However, the content suggests that terms “flawed democracy” would have been more appropriate.

Plaut informs us that Israel has never developed any checks or balances on the powers of its government, constitutional or otherwise. “Power is more centralized in Israel than in any other democratic country. “He commences his essay with several leading statements, as follows”

[a] Imagine a country where government leaders increasingly demand censorship of the media..

[b] Imagine a country in which dissidents quoting old statements by the Prime Minister himself or who quote from the Bible could be arrested on charges of engaging in incitement or rebellion.

[c] Consider a country in which secret police agents are employed as agents provocateur in a campaign of Watergate-style “dirty tricks” designed to discredit the leaders of the political opposition and dissidents.

[d] Imagine a country in which a university is subject to vilification and government retaliatory sanctions because it contains a large number of dissidents who disagree with governmental policies.

[e] Consider a country where virtually all the electronic media are controlled by the government and are used and manipulated in order to prevent open discussion of a major scandal involving the misuse of misbehavior of the security forces; and where the government leaders stonewall all questions about that scandal in Nixonian manner.

[f] Consider a country where people are afraid to express their political opinions for fear of being overheard by informants and where people look over their shoulders before daring to speak candidly.

[g] Consider a country in which people are arrested for expressing criticism or dissent, even if it is in a casual conversation in a cafe, a bank or a barber shop.

[h]Consider a country where religious Jews cannot walk down the street without being insulted and called “murderers” and other foul names by passersby.

[i] Consider a country in which rabbis are vilified openly by the leaders of the state, where politicians, journalists and professors call for the wholesale arrest of rabbis and religious dissidents, where scores of rabbis are interrogated by the police for “incitement.”

[j] Consider a country in which members of the government coalition constantly and openly accuse dissidents and the leaders of the democratic opposition of being the worst sort of criminals , including murderers – with immunity from being sued for slander or libel ; where government cabinet ministers demand that the leaders of the democratic opposition be stripped of their democratic rights and their freedom of speech and expression.

Professor Plaut questions whether all the above describes the Hapsburg Empire during the worst Franciscan repressions of the early 19th century? Or maybe some totalitarian country before the fall of communism? Perhaps some Orwellian-style fictional political novel?

In fact, he says the above is an exact description of Israel one month after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Every single sentence refers to actual events that have occurred in Israel in the aftermath of that murder.

When one studies the mayhem which materialized following the assassination of Rabin and compare it to that of President JF Kennedy, what comes to mind immediately is electoral reform. Separate and distinct from this determination an specific case, independently a former MK is advocating the given requirement.

On April 7, 2019, writing in his TOI Blog, ex-MK Dov Lipman, comments, “—analyzing these elections as an ‘—–‘outsider, has given me the space and objectivity to realize just how badly Israel needs electoral reform. That Israel still functions using essentially the same system as one established under emergency circumstances in 1948 is absurd.” He notes that the failure to make changes and adapt to new realities is hurting our country.

So, what is he proposing? His answer demonstrates that he truly understands the issues. Lipman points to 3 primary categories ,regional representation, raising the electoral threshold and the separation of powers. Only, the first is the subject of this paper. He confronts it boldly and accurately, as he should given the only the comparatively small English speaking public has experienced it.

Lipman states, “—-people throughout Israel do not have their own Knesset representation beholden and accountable to them means that the Knesset doesn’t truly represent the will of the people.” Thus the average Israeli has zero say regarding who represents them in the Knesset, which is not only a shame but represents a failure in democracy.

Yet another recent awakening to the given problem appeared in the Jerusalem Post on February 2, 2019. Authored by Daniel J.Samet and titled, “It’s time for Electoral Reform in Israel” it is concise, but meaningful.

The key statement is found in the centerpiece of the article, reading thus. “Another route of reform is to implement a district-based electoral system.” Samet points out that currently, Israel has no electoral districts, meaning voters select parties based on national considerations. The Israeli system is unlike that of the United Kingdom, and even more so the US, where candidates run in specific districts and are directly accountable to the constituents they represent.

Dating back to January, 2017, Abraham Diskin and Emmanuel Navon produced an exhaustive study for Kohelet Policy Forum entitled, “Improving the Accountability and Stability of Israel’s Political system. A Detailed Proposal for a Feasible Electoral Reform.” According to them, the proposed reform is aimed at achieving overall goals in which [a] make MK’s accountable and answerable to their voters and [b] to improve government stability. In other words, to enfranchise citizens. In addition, they went to great lengths to assure viability.

As a further example of Israel’s flawed democracy, Outpost [AFSI] includes an October, 1995 piece by David Isaac on “Another Victim of Police Violence.” AFSi sponsors a tour group named Chizuk mission to Israel, specifically in support of Zionists “settlers” in the “occupied territories.” Amongst the group that year was a 64 year old man, Paul Shneck, a long time member. On July 17, while in Jerusalem, Paul and his friends learned that yeshiva students from Hebron were in custody at the Russian Compound, Jerusalem’s central prison and police station.

Available information suggested that the prisoners were denied food, water, and even prayer books. Consequently Paul and his friends decided on visiting the compound to determine in what manner they could be of assistance. Upon their arrival, they were searched and led to a crowded corridor. A request to bring the prisoners water was denied. Paul witnessed police beating participants of his group and ultimately was also a victim of brutality.

Upon leaving the prison, a journalist from Yediot Ahronot, interviewed him. It would seem that this was the singular act pertaining to democracy during the entire disgusting affair. It reminded Paul of a time 51 years earlier when walking on a street in Vienna where he was severely attacked by a member of the Gestapo. Hence, while being reminded of Nazi brutality, his reaction to the same vial treatment in Israel made it significantly worse.

Indeed, Caroline Glick’s ultimate words in her Jerusalem Post essay of November17, 2005, ‘Israel’s Judicial Tyranny’, serves as valid advice.”Until the judiciary is brought to heal, Israel’s status as a democracy is questionable.”

By way of a conclusion to this troubling subject, a surprising source. The topic, “No true democracy without justice: Tunis Conference on Transitional justice.” [ 4/14/2011 ].

In sessions dealing with transitional justice mechanisms including criminal justice and the reform of security sector, international experts and their regional counterparts agreed on the “importance of justice as the foundation of democracy.”

In fact, Abdelbasset Ben Hassen, president of the Arab Institute for Human Rights, opened the conference by saying that the political transition to democracy in Tunisia will be incomplete if “justice is not one of its main elements.”

The theme throughout the conference was one of acknowledging the importance of democracy and justice. Taieb Baccouche, Minister of Education in the Transitional Government of Tunisia asserted that political will to implement transitional justice mechanisms exist. In his words:

“There must be political desire, objective to achieve justice, to seek truth and restitute civil rights and peace to people so that they are ready to turn the page and face the past. Other countries can inspire us , but models cannot be copied. Tunisia needs transitional justice——–”

History is freely acknowledged as a learning process. As stated by the learned and wisely Rabbi Berel Wein, ‘—-students without knowledge and a sense of history are doomed to be poor citizens and shortsighted in their political and national assessments and decisions. That is why I am disturbed by the lack of knowledge of history of our people which is, unfortunately, prevalent in all sections of our society.”
Indeed, the choice of parliamentary democracy over representative democracy, is an example of the “—heavy price for this historic perspective”, Wein is alluding to.

“When public men indulge themselves in abuse, when they deny others a fair trial, when they resort to innuendo and insinuation, to libel, scandal and suspicion, then our democratic society is outraged, and democracy is baffled. [ J. William Fulbright ]

” I don’t want to be a dictator, because it is contrary to my own conscience. I am a democrat, but I don’t desire democratic liberalism. On the contrary, I want a guided democracy. I have a conception of my own, which I will put at the disposal of the party leaders, if required. ” [ Sukarno ]

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.