Michael Boyden

Time for Israel to become a True Democracy

It is high time that Israel changed its electoral system. Everyone knows that it is rotten, but although presidential committees have discussed how to improve it, vested interests ensure that it remains unchanged. There are a number of other options.

What we have in Israel is known as Party List Proportional Representation (PLPR). It ensures that even relatively small numbers of the electorate are represented in the Knesset in political parties such as Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit (6 seats) and Bezalel Smotrich’s Mafdal (7 seats).

However, Israel’s electoral system has a number of serious flaws. Party leaders enjoy a great deal of power and Knesset members are primarily answerable to them rather than to the electorate and any local constituency.

Party members are the ones who vote at primaries that decide the composition and order of national lists, while the population at large has no say on who comprises them.

More serious is the fact that PLPR results in a multitude of parties being represented in the Knesset. Today the 120 seats in Israel’s parliament are filled by no less than 13 political factions. All but two of them won less than 10% of the vote.

It is not surprising, therefore, that any prime minister is beholden to them in order to form a government, and extortion is the name of the game. Were that not the case, the religious parties would not be able to control the purse strings and hold the coalition to ransom.

Two obvious examples of this are the exemption of yeshivah and Kollel students from military service, and the power that Ben-Gvir and Smotrich have in determining whether Israel will end the war in Gaza as the price for bringing the hostages home.

The Single Transferable Vote (STV) is the form of proportional representation that exists in Britain. Although the number of voters is, of course, much larger than in Israel, only 2 parties won over 10% of the vote in yesterday’s election there. Exit polls give them over 80% of the seats in the next parliament.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, who will now become Britain’s prime minister, will be able to form his government without having to turn to any other party to put together a coalition.

The British system, which results in there being just two major political parties, results in a refreshing “ping pong” that has much to recommend it. The electorate gives one of them a chance and then, after a number of years, kicks them out and replaces them with the other. Even the prime minister can find himself no longer having a seat in parliament.
STV ensures that governments understand that, if they displease the electorate, they will find themselves out of office.

Israel could do with such a system!

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.