(Not) The Israeli Elections (2)

by Maskil on 23 Feb 2009

Israeli Knesset…
Photo by David Silverman/Getty…

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Israeli Knesset Opening Session

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – OCTOBER 27: Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak (R) turns his back on Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (front) and Minister of Pensioner Affairs Rafi Eitan during the opening of the winter session of…

Photo by David Silverman/Getty…

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I’ve tended to not have much to say about the 2009 Israeli elections, mainly because I believe it’s the prerogative of the Israeli citizen and voter to do most of the talking in that regard. I would, however, just like to share a few high-level impressions from where I sit.

Firstly, am I alone in finding that the current Israeli electoral system tends to exaggerate differences, while not reflecting the consensus (where it exists)?

An example of this tendency to overstate differences while masking consensus might be the overriding issue of security. This overarching concern probably led to Likud receiving a plurality (only just) – but nowhere near a majority – of the votes.

That perhaps highlights another issue: Without exception, there is a disconnect between the stated policies of the parties and how they can be expected to behave in a coalition government. The job of the Israeli voter is thus twice as difficult as that of a voter in any other country. It’s not just about the party’s policies, but also about which of them would probably be abandoned or compromised in order to participate in a governing coalition.

Israel’s security situation continues to skew national politics. The most disappointing illustration of this was the failure of any of the Green lists to perform, as well as the fact that a successor to Shinui (or a citizens’ interests party) has still not emerged. I look forward to a time when all parties contesting the Israeli elections can be counted on to let security become a “given”, thereby allowing the debate to centre around the myriad other issues confronting the Jewish State. In the meantime, social justice and related issues will have to continue to be addressed outside of national party politics.

Elsewhere in the world, the greatest threats to the survival or health of societies are Climate Change (“Global Scorching”) and the current global economic crisis. In Israel, however, an even greater threat to survival comes from an irrational Iran equipped with nuclear and other WMDs. From this point of view, it is therefore appropriate that Netanyahu – who identified this particular threat at a very early stage – should lead the governing coalition. I’m saying that as someone who is not a fan of any Israeli leader alive today.)

Looking ahead, it’s becoming apparent that Israel will find it increasingly difficult to confront its greatest challenges until it changes its electoral system and manages to exclude the lunatic fringe (I’m referring specifically to the religious/national far-right) from influencing or participating in the business of government. (And Israel is simply far too vulnerable to rely on divine intervention.)

Which electoral model is right for the unique Israeli situation? I would imagine either direct presidential elections (along the lines of the US), where the president in turn appoints his cabinet, or a parliamentary system where a majority (or all) of the representatives are elected by and responsible to specific geographical constituencies. Either system (or something uniquely Israeli that addresses current shortcomings) should result in a much needed rationalisation or streamlining of Israeli party politics. There must also be as little overlap as possible between the executive and legislative branches of government, with those appointed as ministers being required to resign as MKs and vice versa. (Nobody can do justice to both roles simultaneously.)

At this stage, I’m still hopeful that party leaders will set aside their egos, and that the next Israeli government will be a broad-based “Middle Israel” coalition that intentionally excludes only the anti-Zionist Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties. There will be a coalition. It’s up to Kadima and Labour to decide whether it will be a centre-left coalition that includes them, or a centre-right coalition that excludes them and makes them irrelevant for the next critical half decade.

BTW, I enjoyed the cool graphics on a number of websites, allowing one to slice and dice the election results in a variety of ways. Those appearing on Haaretz and Israel Insider were most useful to me.

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