Michael Boyden

Time To Save Israel’s Democracy

No democratic system is perfect. The United States has a Republican president even though the Democrats won nearly three million more votes than they did in the 2016 elections.

The voting system in the UK, which divides the nation into constituencies, favours the larger parties at the expense of minority interest groups. The Liberal Democrats only returned eight of the 650 Members of Parliament in the 2015 elections in spite of attracting 7.9% of the vote.

Back in 1947 Winston Churchill quoted the well-known saying that “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.

However, Churchill was unfamiliar with Israel’s form of democracy, which would make anyone despair!

Having gone to the polls twice this year both in April and September, pundits are already suggesting that there could well be further elections early next year. However, as we all know, no amount of elections will change the make-up of Israeli society, which is both tribal and fragmented. Another vote is unlikely to change the balance of the right and left-wing blocs from which any future government must be constituted.

In a sense, the stalemate following Israeli elections is not dissimilar to that found on the tennis court or the football field when neither side is able to predominate. In tennis the matter is resolved by means of a 12-point tiebreaker. In similar fashion, when two football teams tie, penalty kicks are used to determine the outcome.

Perhaps Israel needs to adopt a similar procedure when neither side is able to form a coalition of at least 61 Knesset Members. The party with the largest percentage vote would choose the prime minister. Of course, the situation could result in a hung parliament, which would be difficult to manage. However, if the prime minister was automatically appointed as a result of such a mechanism, it would concentrate the mind and perhaps some of the political maneuvering that we have witnessed over the past few weeks could be avoided.

As a first step, the election threshold should be raised considerably, thereby putting to an end the proliferation of parties and the disproportionate power that they currently exercize. It would force smaller interest groups to find their home in the major parties and would make coalition building that much easier.

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.
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