David Fine
David Fine

The ‘Third Rail’ in Israeli Politics

The Anglo community should be leading the drive to end electoral reform as the “Third Rail” in Israeli politics

Israel’s fourth elections in under two years shows that it could well be another major challenge to try and form a government from the disparate parties. During this campaign, the issues have been more about personalities and “brands” than policies to present the people of Israel.

Unfortunately, the one issue that really needs addressing is barely on the political or campaign radar.

It could easily be argued that the “Third Rail” of Israeli politics, the issue of government and electoral reform has become even more untouchable just when it is needed most.

“We are splitting into little parties, none of which can lead the state, and this problem is getting worse,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a campaign speech in January 2015. “This has cost us billions, not just in election costs but as a result of the economic uncertainty and the lack of governability.”

These prescient words were the preamble to a pledge to make electoral reform the heart of his agenda.

Nevertheless, that was the one and only speech Netanyahu gave on the need for electoral reform. One can imagine that any number of the Likud’s satellite parties or “natural allies” had some harsh words for the prime minister, and no sooner had the issue been raised it was subsequently dropped.

This is deeply unfortunate, because at the root of many of Israel’s greatest challenges, whether security, economic, housing, health or foreign, is the short-term tactical thinking that is necessitated by a lack of governability and the knowledge that a government can fall any day.

Anglo-Israelis tend to come from systems with much greater stability and governability.

Many nations, like the U.S., have set terms, and others, like UK, Canada and to a lesser extent Australia, have systems which make it very difficult for a leader of government to fall. This means that the president or prime minister knows they can look further than tomorrow when embarking on a policy strategy.

Many have asked what Anglo-Israelis can contribute towards our nation and its society, and perhaps our greatest gift is that of experience.

From the beginning of the state, and before, Israeli immigrants brought with them many features from abroad, whether it was the socialism of Eastern Europe, or the Aliyah from the FSU in the 1990s which powered the hi-tech boom which remains the foundation of our economy.

Anglos came deeply committed to making Israel a better place for all, and this can be seen clearly by the number of organizations created or headed by someone from an English-speaking country across the ideological and religious spectrum.

This passion to making a difference and a feeling that the status quo does not need to be permanent is one of Anglo-Israeli’s great drivers. If we see an issue or a challenge, we don’t just shrug our shoulders and say there is no way it can be changed.

Thus, it is time for the Anglo community in Israel to take on its greatest challenge.

Sabras are not overly enthused about the issue because they have no experience of a more stable system. We need to inform the general public that there is another, and the system which was so important at the beginning of the state to ensure that each community was represented, has outlived its usefulness and is actually taking the State of Israel to political paralysis.

This can and should be the Anglo community’s greatest contribution. We can not afford a situation where we have elections on average every six months or even a year, and that is where we are at the moment.

The future sustainability of Israel is at stake and we need to step up and create the conversation for change and reform.

We have seen during these elections how political parties have undertaken unprecedented outreach to the Anglo community. They understand our political weight and how to reach us when they want to.

Now, we have to throw the ball back in their courts. We should ensure that every political party that seeks our support in future elections addresses the elephant in the room.

Political and electoral reform should no longer be the “Third Rail” of Israeli politics, because our nation can no longer afford it, economically, socially or in terms of stability.

Together, the Anglo community should put our electoral weight behind this vital policy and see the change we seek. The power of hundreds of thousands of Israelis seeking a change and reform of the political system will ensure that it is firmly placed on the national agenda.

About the Author
Rabbi David Fine is the Founder and Dean of the Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics in Modiin, Israel. He was a pulpit rabbi in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Overland Park, Kansas before making Aliyah in 2008.
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