Jonathan Kohan

The Knesset is hurting the war effort

The Knesset in session (Rafael-Nir/Unsplash).

Former American legislator John Dingell (D-Mich) would say: “I’ll let you write the substance … you let me write the procedure, and I’ll screw you every time.” In Israel, it is the procedural law, or rules of democracy, that nearly brought the country to civil war over judicial reform, and these same rules have created paralysis in the war cabinet. The most significant defect of the structure of the Israeli government is that the prime minister of the State of Israel is a slave to the Knesset. If Israel wants to survive as a nation, the executive branch must be liberated from the legislature.

There are few countries in the world which require there to be an operative coalition in the legislature for the executive office to function. These countries are usually found in Europe, where there is no imminent danger of destruction from foreign powers. Israel does not have such a luxury. Israel needs a functioning and stable executive branch.

While Israel did for a time directly elect the prime minister via a 1992 Basic Law, this change did not create a stable executive office. This is because the threshold to remove the prime minister and trigger new elections remained a 50% majority no-confidence vote. This kept in place the dynamics which made the executive branch defunct, as the Knesset could vote the prime minister out too easily.

Israel has a multitude of options to create a more stable executive branch, but two simplistic solutions are to either move the executive branch into the presidency, or raise the threshold for a no-confidence vote.

This style of reform would solve MANY of the problems of the Israeli government. For example, if the prime minister of Israel was secure in his position, the judicial reform would likely not have happened. Netanyahu and many members of the governing coalition did not really want the judicial reform. Members in Likud, in conjunction with the religious zionist parties, saw weakness in the coalition, and used it to forward their judicial reform demands. If the prime minister’s office was separate from the legislature, Netanyahu could have ignored the judicial reform fringe and carried on with his governing responsibilities. The procedures of the Israeli state forced Netanyahu to go along with judicial reform. Otherwise, he would have been voted out by a no confidence vote.

Similarly, the prime minister being a slave to the legislature is now hampering the war effort. Netanyahu cannot take decisive action as he must simultaneously appease every politician in his coalition in the middle of a war. This is not a right or left problem, this is a national problem. The prime minister needing to constantly keep every coalition member happy is what brought down the previous “left wing” government as well.

For the sake of the Israeli collective, the prime minister’s office must be liberated from the Knesset. Knesset members should introduce Basic Law legislation so that the executive branch is actually independent. If the Knesset chooses to put its own institution’s power over that of the executive branch, they may just be sacrificing the long-term existence of the Israeli state for their own short-term political gain.

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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