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September 05, 1986 - Image 35

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-09-05

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aking Up The System

A movement for Electoral Reform is
underway in Israel, a plan to establish
constituency responsibility over the
current coalition politics


Special to The Jewish News


nknown to many
Americans, there's a
movement in Israel
which, if successful, could
revolutionize Israel's posture
both at home and abroad. It
is Electoral Reform.
The need for electoral re-
form in Israel is not a recent
inspiration. Indeed, in 1966
David Ben Gurion said in an
address to the Knesset, "Be-
cause of the strange electoral
system in Israel, the entire
political system is not only
undemocratic from the bot-
tom up, but it endangers the
development of the state as
well. It undermines the
state's position in its domes-
tic life and foreign policy."
Although Israel's form of
democracy guarantees all the
freedoms by her Declaration
of Independence (Israel has
no constitution), her electoral
system is not at all similar to
the U.S.'s two-party system
with constituent responsibili-
ty and accountability.
Israel's system, known as
proportionaly representation,
was created shortly after
statehood, the result of the
great debate on whether Se-
curity or Democracy should
prevail. Surrounded by ene-
mies sworn to destroy her and
harboring a built-in "fifth col-
umn," Israel's leaders at the
time argued that if Security
had priority, many liberties
would vanish. There would be
limited freedom of movement,
government control of the
press and education, military
surveillance of all inhabitants
— in short, a virtual police
state. They rejected that form
of government and opted for
In their zeal to guarantee
that as many citizens as pos-
sible have a voice in govern-
ment, the leaders established
the low threshold of one per-
cent — France's is five per-
cent — meaning that any
group which could muster at
least one percent of the elec-
torate would be entitled to a
seat in the Knesset. Conse-
quently, numerous parties
emerged, espousing individ-
ualized platforms which
would appeal to their respec-
tive supporters.
Because of the splintering
among voters the two major
parties, Labor and Herut/

Likud, have not been able in
any Israeli election to capture
the necessary 61 (out of 120)
Knesset seats needed to form
a government. The result:
coalition. A major party, to
gain a majority, makes deals
with the smaller ones, which
in turn demand shares of
power. If the governing party
threatens to renege on the
coalition agreement, the
small party/parties could
withdraw from the coalition,
crippling the government
which would fall, necessitat-
ing a new election. Thus, the
government is held hostage to
small minorities, critics say.
In addition to that impedi-
ment, which has plagued Is-
rael since inception, the pres-
ent electoral system deprives
people of a basic democratic
right: to hold the government
accountable. Israelis do not
elect individuals to the Knes-
set. They elect parties. Prior
to each election, all the par-
ties running are required to
publish their lists of politi-
cians who would be cata-
pulted into Knesset seats,
depending on, the propor-
tionate number of votes the
party wins.
"And once they're in, they
turn their backs on the peo-
ple. There is no constituency
responsibility. They are
obliged to show unwavering
allegiance to the party. Other-
wise, they will be removed
from the list, and so end their
political careers," said Zelda
Harris, director of Committee
of Concerned Citizens (CCC).
Formed in 1980 with Israel's
current president, • Chaim
Herzog, as its first president,
CCC mobilizes volunteers to
improve various areas of
Israeli life. CCC carries the
banner for Electoral Reform
by lobbying in the Knesset,
staging demonstrations,
launching letter writing cam-
paigns, and scheduling dis-
cussions with Knesset mem-
bers (MKs) and party leaders.
Most party executives are
not receptive to changes in
the government structure.
Under the present system,
loyalty starts at the top with
the Cabinet ministers, and en-
compasses all levels of mana-
gerial and clerical jobs. An in-
cident related by an AmeH-

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