The Israel’s Media Failure

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” [Anonymous]

Indeed, could there be a greater truth to the given quotation when reflecting on the 3 bankrupt successive Israeli elections. Particularly so, when considering how this event could have been avoided. Over the years, there were individuals who pointed to the only realistic solution, but were ignored.

Back on March 5, 2013, Daniel Tauber writing about Israel in the Jerusalem Post, posed the question, “Is this democracy?” In his commencement remarks, he references a Jerusalem Post columnist David Newman bemoaning the fact that due to the Israeli electoral system “our government formation process has made Israel a ‘laughing stock.” Tauber’s emphasis is essentially one of drawing attention to the fact that there is no bond between MK’s and individual citizens.

Apparently, at the time, even then PM Netanyahu complained about Israel having “a weak electoral system”. But what pray did he do about it? He, off all, lived in the US for many years, where he was able to observe representative democracy in practice. Tauber expresses the view that it is not an easy truth to admit Israeli citizen’s do not elect MKs, an essential component of democracy.

Daniel Tauber specifically points out that not being chosen by a citizen, a member of the public, an MK cannot be said to represent citizenry. And government without representation—-is that democracy? Stated differently, the vast majority of Mks will only have achieved their positions by virtue of their party or party leader. The problem then manifests itself in lack of accountability as an ideal for achieving a much more efficient government.

On November 19, 2013, Professor Paul Eidelberg’s, “Organized Treachery vs. Organized Hypocrisy: A 35-Year Study of Israel’s Dysfunctional Government was widely published. It is as relevant today as the day of its initial appearance. Eidelberg’s reputation is widely known in both Israel and the US and over 3 decades has been able to speak with absolute authority on the given subject. Sadly, his has been “the voice of one crying in the wilderness”, while imploring Israel’s leaders to draft the nation’s first Constitution and to replace the prehistoric current system of Proportional Representation with individual elections for each member of the Knesset.

When questioned as to how the Israeli system of government compares with the US, Eidelberg informs one at the outset, the 435 members of the US House of Representatives are individually elected by and accountable to the voters in district elections. Thus, any incumbent seeking reelection is “open game” for a rival candidate, who can readily expose the incumbent’s past record – his faults or his failure to keep his campaign pledges. Eidelberg emphasizes no such possibility exists in Israel. He then explains how it adversely impacts many situations, using precise examples.

Asked what specific changes should be made to Israel’s political structure to prevent elected officials from betraying the will of the electorate and to restore sanity and stability to the various institutions of government, Eidelberg answers categorically. “The only way to do this is to replace Proportional Representation of parties by making its members – hence MKs individually elected by and accountable to the voters in constituency elections – the practice [in my last study] of 80 out of 84 democracies.”

He is equally demonstrative about the Justices of the Supreme Court of Israel “who have become a law unto themselves.” Accordingly, he regards the foregoing as a flawed political institution along flawed politicians, operating in an environment where “everything is negotiable.” Dr Eidelberg drafted a Constitution for Israel in 1994 and travelled to the US in 1995 to rally support from Zionist organizations.

In his own words he failed because Zionist organizations obtained money from [ignorant] donors who believed that Israel is the “only democracy” in the Middle East. These useful idiots seem to think that judgments are made on the basis of the lowest denominator. Learning from Eidelberg that Israel is not a genuine democracy does not adhere uninformed Jews to him. Hence, his advocacy to make Israel more democratic by Jewish means, and more Jewish by democratic means failed. His paper is exhaustive and jam packed with established history.

Tablet ran a feature article on Jan. 02, 2020 entitled, ” Want to Save Israel from Yet Another Meaningless Election?” Change the Way the Country Votes by Neil Rogachevsky. This is by no means outdated, since what the writer advocates continues to be relevant, whether the recently appointed government fails to runs its allotted time or we have to await the next election. Fact remains, had the advice been accepted, we would have been spared a 3rd election and would now be enjoying true democracy.

He commences by recognizing that the upcoming election could prove as inconclusive as the first two. He then wisely pinpoints the principal cause of the crisis in the founding form of Israeli elections: proportional representation, or PR, a system in which different parties gain seats in proportion to the number of overall votes they have received. Throughout the ensuing years, PR has damaged the ability of the country to achieve stable and strong governments.

The core idea is the allocation of power or seats in a parliament to a party or candidate in direct proportion to the absolute number of ballots received. As Rogachevsky rightly observes, the politicians who will fill the banks of parliament do not directly face the voters at all. The number of representatives each party gain is simply determined by the absolute vote. Each party can determine its own way of who attains a seat and why. In Israel, this is the infamous “ordered party list” often created at party primaries
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“PR typically leads to weak, chaotic or non-existing governments, as has often occurred in Germany, Italy, and now Israel.”This is hardly a recipe for unified, intelligent, coherent government. In PR systems, therefore, “big tent” parties such as they exist in the US, Britain and elsewhere are impossible. Further, members of the party are accountable mainly to party bosses, power brokers, and lastly party members who ultimately decide whether those on the list will even be able to maintain their inclusion.

With representative democracy, citizens are able to call, email, or tweet their respective representative [MK] and be attended to, since that individual is directly answerable to the citizen, whose vote counts. Neil Rogachevsky recognizes the difficulty of securing the desirable electoral reform as the bureaucrats and party bosses of the big parties would stubbornly resist a move that would rob them of their power. The smaller parties would also complain about an “anti-democratic” coup. However, in reality the move would ultimately benefit the larger parties, positioning them to absorb the smaller parties.

The largest advantages would undoubtedly be to the public interest itself. Israelis would be spared the unhealthy drama of frequent elections, and would gain strong, confident, more effective governments for a reasonable tenure of time.

Noting that PM Netanyahu is well aware of the benefits of a true democracy, having discussed this with British writer Charles Moore earlier in the decade warning him against the adoption of PR, Neil Rogachevsky feels that for Netanyahu, this would be a pre-retirement parting gift to his countrymen, cementing his legacy. He added, “The current paralysis in Israel demonstrates that PR has become a clear danger to the long-term health of Israel. Now is the time to push for such reforms.”

Upon reflection, for Benny Gantz, it could advantage him for a future beyond the poor image of the “Gatekeepers.”

TOI Blogger and former MK Dave Lipman’s piece, “Agenda Item for the next Knesset: Electoral reform” appeared on April 7, 2019. His introductory statement, “The average Israeli has no say about who represents them, and that’s not only a shame, it’s a failure in democracy ” speaks volumes. It should have been a show-stopper.

He notes that Israel still functions using essentially the same system as the one established under emergency circumstances in 1948, recognizing its absurdity in failing to make changes and adapting to new realities , thus resulting in adverse effects on the country. The revisions he proposes that are needed, can be divided into 3 primary categories [a]regional representation [b] raising the electoral threshold, and [c] the separation of powers.

Lipman categorically states that the fact people throughout Israel do not have their own KM beholden and accountable to them means that the Knesset does not truly represent the will of the people. He informs us that even in parties which have primaries, the MKs are only accountable to a relatively small group of citizens whose support will insure their continued presence on the party list. Thus, the average Israeli has zero say regarding who represents them in the Knesset, and that is not only shameful, but represents a failure in democracy.

Dov Lipman provides a detailed explanation for [b] and [c] which can be viewed on his blog.

A Word From “Officialdom”, April 11, 2020: Former Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav Calls for Electoral Reform. What follows is a summarized account, which appeared on Sheri Oz’s TOI Blog, originally published by Haaretz in Hebrew, as a letter to the Editor. Apparently, the ex-Mayor was motivated by the “current national political debate.” He initiates his letter with a reference to efforts at reform which commenced during PM Ben Gurion’s time and continued through Yitzhak Rabin’s reign. The latter commissioned Gad Yaakobi with the task of recommending revisions through a special committee.

Essentially what was proposed was to have half the Knesset elected by the current system and the other half by elected by regional elections. According to Yahav, had this system been accepted, the “current spectacle” would not have occurred. In the event of a national unity government, he felt that during the ongoing Corona virus, it would be worthwhile to once again tackle a new electoral system. For without it, “we will continue to see unrelenting rounds of elections.” More so, had the impending unity government become a reality, it would not be stable and not be capable of adopting significant legislation of long-term significance. Yahav stresses Israel’s major problem caused by regarding the entire country as if it is a single constituency.

Sheri Oz then moves onto an Op-Ed by Benjamin Kerstein, editor of the Algemeiner, who addresses the need for electoral reform. His arguments are largely motivated by the undue influence of small sectorial parties over representatives of the majority population. Ms Oz’s Blog is worth reading as she traces the full history of attempts at electoral reform.

Following the announcement on the new Netanyahu – Gantz government both the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post published highly critical analyses of its composition. The titles provide a clear insight into the contents.
[a] TOI – Exploiting, not serving, the people: Israel’s shamefully inflated new government. [17May, 2020]
[b] Jerusalem Post – Israel’s largest-ever government: Over top, excessive and indulgent. [17 May, 2020]

One can readily agree with both professional and explicit editorials, while considering criticism too late for any consequential impact. A short review of the 1973 Code of Ethics of the American Society of Professional Journalists proves helpful in making the point. It informs us that the public’s right to know of events of public importance and interest is the overriding mission of the mass media. The purpose of distributing news and enlightened opinion is to serve the general welfare. To that end, good faith with the public is the foundation of all worthy journalism.
Rather than complaining about the electoral situation, and in consideration plus recognition of public support necessary for reform, the media could provide active assistance in the promotion of a special committee, as recommended by Yahav, to revise where necessary and to complete the work previously prepared.

Moshe Dann, is yet another outstanding journalist who questions,” Is Israel a Democracy?” [Jerusalem Post, Nov. 9, 2019]. Not surprisingly, he says, “As a 1st step, a Knesset committee can call for proposals to reform the electoral system”. It can hold open sessions to discuss the proposals; short versions can be published in Israeli newspapers. Subsequently, the Knesset can implement revisions, which would renew and revitalize Israeli democracy. “This process can begin now; we have waited long enough.”

He adds, “An excellent analysis of the problem and a plan for comprehensive reform was proposed by Prof. Paul Eidelberg in his ACPR Policy #79, ‘Making Votes Count: They Don’t in Israel !”

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.
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