Jonathan Kohan

The Israeli legislature is too powerful

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The State of Israel was created during an existential multi-frontal war. Many of the key elements necessary for a stable functioning state were pushed to the side and slated to be completed sometime in the future. Therefore, a state was created without a constitution and insufficient separation of powers. There are simply not enough coequal branches of the government. As a result, the legislature has become too powerful. That at its core is the problem Israel is facing today.

Currently, there are functionally only two branches of the Israeli government: the legislature and the judiciary. In addition, these two branches are structurally unstable. Courts require constitutions or long precedents on which to base their authority. Without a constitution, court rulings will always be suspect. Furthermore, the Israeli parliament consists of only one branch, which is a rarity among nations. Finally, the parliament dominates the executive branch to such an extent that the executive branch might as well be considered a falsity.

In the 18th century a French philosopher Charles-Louis de Secondat coined the term “separation of powers”. The idea is that each branch of the government should check one another to ensure one does not dominate the other, and then use that power to terrorize the population. In Israeli society there are simply not enough independent branches of the government to check one another and maintain stability.

The judiciary is too weak, there is no real independent executive branch, and the legislature is too strong. The way in which the institutional systems were created was always going to lead to a situation in which the legislature would attempt to aggregate too much power. It just so happened that this crisis reached a boiling point in the year 2023. If judicial reform was introduced in a more structurally sound governmental system, it would quite simply not be as large of an issue. The problem arises in the structural deficits of the Israeli state.

Solutions to the Problem:

The electoral system a country adopts should depend on its individual characteristics. The largest threat of tyranny to the Israeli people comes from external foes and internal division. Therefore, the electoral system should be oriented towards extinguishing these threats. That is best established through a unitary governmental structure with three independent co-equal branches: the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive.

The Legislature:

Very few democracies around the world have legislatures with only one chamber. Unicameral legislatures are dangerous as they can quickly devolve into tyrannies of the majority or, as historical evidence shows, they could vote to dissolve themselves. To combat these problems a second chamber should be added to the Knesset.

The exact functioning of this chamber is a matter of internal debate for the Israeli people, but it should generally be oriented for long term planning. For example, the secondary chamber could emulate the British House of Lords- a chamber with veto power with members appointed by the president for life, or the secondary chamber could emulate the American Senate- a chamber with legislative power with members elected by different regions of Israel with long terms. What is important is that the legislature should be split to naturally reduce its power and maintain greater stability.

The Executive:

The state of Israel is located on the most contentious land on the entire planet. Dozens of countries have some emotional claim to the land. Foreigners will always want to invade and conquer it. Therefore, it is important to have a strong united central government to rally the populous and to repel invaders whenever they appear. This is particularly important given Israel’s style of multi-party democracy.

One of the more recent visible negatives of Israel’s electoral system is that there have been five elections since 2019. This has been incredibly unstable as there have been many months of paralysis, creating at times an executive with no real authority nor legitimacy. While past governments have been able to come together during crises, there will inevitably come a time when a government will be unable to do so. This could prove fatal to the Jewish nation.

In a stronger executive system, there will always be a clear chain of command. If the parliament reaches a state of paralysis, which is common, there will be no major ramifications. The country will continue to operate and there will be a clear chain of command for the security apparatus.

There are multiple different ways to create an empowered executive. For example, the executive branch could simply be transferred to the presidency. Another example could be the direct popular election of a prime minister for a set term. A third example could include run off’s in the prime minister’s vote so that a prime minister is elected after each parliamentary election. The point, however, remains that the executive branch should become independent to serve as a check on the legislature and serve as a source of stability during times of parliamentary paralysis.

The Judiciary

The judiciary needs a constitution. In most western countries the judiciary remains the most powerful sovereign – the branch that has the final say on matters of constitutionality and law. That said, their powers are normally limited and guided by a constitution. Israel needs some form of constitution to be a logical check on the power of the judiciary. Furthermore, a constitution would also empower the judiciary by giving it greater legitimacy.

At the present time, the minority has called for a constitutional commission, and it is speculated that the various Knesset parties are attempting to draft a constitution. I pray for their success. That said, Israel is suffering from gross parliamentary division. In the event the constitutional committee fails, the Israeli government should look to alternate routes to create a constitution. For example, the judiciary or the presidency could draft a constitution and place each line item for referendum. The point, however, remains that a constitution is necessary for a functioning modern court, and a popular constitution would represent a new fraternal covenant for the Israeli nation.

In conclusion, the Israeli governmental system is too fragile. Israel has too many enemies and does not have the luxury of having an unstable governmental system. The creation of an independent executive will ensure that there will always be a clear chain of command. The creation of a secondary chamber in the legislature would serve as a check against short term impulses and prevent the potential tyranny of a majority. The creation of a constitution would empower while simultaneously limiting the judiciary. Implementing these suggestions could prove to be a better way to govern and ensure Israel’s viability. May the Israeli people remember that they are brothers and come together to create an ever more perfect union.

About the Author
Jonathan Kohan is currently a student at Cornell Law School. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania. Jonathan is interested in comparative politics, political procedure, and morality. He is currently writing a book discussing religion in the 21st century.
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