The Origin of Israel’s Faulty Democracy

“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.”
– Winston Churchill

The Inquisitr published “Organized Treachery vs. Organized Hypocrisy a 35 year study” by Dr. Paul Eidelberg on October 24, 2017. It took the form of an interview.

The salient issues follow.

Wolff Bachner: Paul, I would imagine that people would be stunned to discover that  Israel does not have a Constitution. How has the state of Israel managed to function as a democratic nation for 65 years without a Constitution?

Paul Eidelberg: Any authentic constitution affects the relationship between the rulers and the ruled. But for the ruled – the people – to effect public policy – they must have a majority party that represents them in the Legislature. Israel has never had anything close to a majority party. The people have been fragmented by the seemingly democratic principle of Proportional Representation with a low electoral threshold [today only 2%]. This multiplies parties like mushrooms. Each of the last 2 elections fielded 33 parties!

Wolff Bachner: Didn’t you also draft a proposed constitution for Israel. What became of that project?

Paul Eidelberg: I drafted a Constitution for Israel in 1994 on my own initiative. Zionist organizations get money from donors who believe that Israel is the “only democracy” in the Middle East. Along comes Eidelberg, a fairly well known University of Chicago political scientist, who tells audiences that Israel is not a genuine democracy. That’s enough to close the door on Eidelberg.

Wolff Bachner: What are some of the most serious flaws in Israel’s political system.

Paul Eidelberg: In the March 2009 election, Netanyahu, without Knesset or public debate [and contrary to his own Likud Party’s constitution], endorsed the creation of an Arab Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, the cradle of Jewish civilization. So much for Proportional Representation , exalted as one of the blessings of democracy—

The truth is that 65 years of this “system” has engendered the shoddiest politics. In the 1999 elections, 20 Knesset members hopped over to rival parties in order to obtain safe seats! Israel’s “political system” is a disgrace as well as a disaster, and only the ignorant along with self-serving politicians want to preserve it!”

Wolff Bachner: What specific changes should be made to Israel’s political structure?

Paul Eidelberg: Replace Proportional Representation of parties by making its members – hence MKs -individually elected by and accountable to the voters in constituency elections.

Professor Eidelberg’s highly acclaimed book, “Jewish Statesmanship, Lest Israel Fall” published on February 2000, seeks to provide a sound political structure, rather than restore one, because it is his view that that the state’s structure has been flawed from the beginning, and he cites in this regard 2 aspects of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

Eidelberg notes it is those he considers the ideological heirs of territorial nationalism [as opposed to Torah nationalism] who have themselves been abandoning Judea and Samaria, land central to Jewish history and culture.

Citing various polls, he shows that the Jewish masses in the Land of Israel, while not all Orthodox, are significantly attached to Jewish tradition, and so one infers that over time, given principled and strong Jewish leadership, a transformation of the state to a Torah-based commonwealth is possible. This forecast falls rather short of what we observe today.

The book proposes far-reaching reforms of the political system, even providing a draft constitution near the conclusion. Professor Eidelberg recommends a presidential system [with only a Jew eligible to be president] so that a strong focused policy can be pursued]. This would ensure the independence of individual Knesset members. He also advocates raising the threshold from the current 1.5 percent of the vote to at least 5% for those seats that will be assigned proportionally to party lists. Amongst other consequences, these combined proposals, the author believes, will reduce the number of parties in the Knesset and thus make a unified government following a stable, coherent policy more likely.

Perhaps the least understood of Professor Eidelberg’s book is Chapter 10, “A Jewish Democratic Constitution for Israel”. In the pursuit of Jewish National purpose, only a Constitution can:

[1] provide the mechanism for Jewish statesmanship and the pursuit of Jewish national purpose,

[2] overcome the divisive forces of Israel’s existing political and judicial institutions,

[3] ameliorate secular-religious discord, and,

[4] enable statesmen to deal effectively with the Arab demographic problem.

Finally, he is of the opinion that such a constitution can transcend the conflict between normless democracy and Judaism.

“Israel’s Election System Is No Good” by Princeton Professor Emeritus Bernard Lewis appeared in the Wall Street Journal of April 1, 2009. To him, in a sense, the creation of any sort of working democracy in Israeli is a remarkable achievement. This statement reflected the past, but could have been a forecast for the future.

Lewis’s expressed opinion at the time was one of it becoming increasingly clear that electoral reform of some kind was imperative if Israeli democracy was to survive. He notes that it had been discussed before and even attempted in 1992. Professor Lewis’s despondency at that time was expressed as Israel, despite having the worst electoral system in the Free World, had succeeded, with true Jewish ingenuity, in doing something he would not have thought possible– finding a way to make it even worse!

After describing in full Israel’s form of “nationwide proportional representation”, Lewis makes the crucial point. A significant disadvantage of the existing system was one of the citizens being responsible to the party leadership, or worst still the party bureaucracy. This is clearly not a healthy system, and can encourage corruption among many other deficiencies. With it, there is no direct relationship between the elected members and the electors. In the Anglo-American system, every elected member is directly answerable to the citizens he represents.

Over the years, in an erratic effort the media has drawn attention to this vital lack of Israel’s governance. A few news headings serve as an example.

[a] Tablet Jan 02,2020: “Want to save Israel from another meaningless election? Change the way the country votes” by Neil Rogachevsky.

[b] The Washington Post Jan 23, 2013 : “The Secret Behind Israel’s Dysfunctional Political System” by Dylan Matthews.

[c] YNet News -Opinion 12.10.2014:”Israel Needs a Major Electoral Reform” by Arsen Ostrovsky.

[d] Jewish Press 20/03/2019″ Judicial Dictatorship in Israel is not Democracy” by Ariel Natan Pasko.

[e] The Israel Democracy Institute March 15, 2021: “Israel’s Political System is Broken. Here is How to Fix it” by Yohanan Plesner.

Considering [e], if he knew how to fix it, why has nothing changed? After all, he leads a major organization!

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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