Friday, 16 January 2015

Israel's Pyramid Democracy and the Forthcoming Elections

1. Netanyahu with typical arrogance declared after the last meeting with President Obama that he is the Prime Minster of the Jewish People! How? Who elected him? Who empowered him? The way Primaries work in Israel create Pyramid Structures which give the public the illusion of a democratic process while in fact they subvert true democracy. When Netanyahu made that declaration his Party, Likud had only 18 out of 120 MKs in the Knesset (Yesh Atid Party had 19 MKs !)  He was elected Likud Leader by less than 50,000 votes of fee paying members in the Likud Primaries. Later on in the last General elections Likud secured as a Party some half-million votes out of a total of 3.8 million voters, itself out of an electorate of 5.7m. Does that pyramid qualify Netanyahu, or indeed any other successor, to be the Prime Minister of the Jewish People let alone allowing him to exercise presidential powers sidestepping the Knesset? 
2. After the last elections Netanyahu formed a Coalition supported by 68 MKs out of the total of 120 MKs. A coalition is a contract for a government program between a number of parties, in this case 5 Parties.  But Netanyahu governed and behaved like a dictator ignoring these 5 Parties whose members and ideologies are far apart.  That reflects the dysfunctional democracy in Israel. All the 120 MKs, Coalition and Opposition alike were content. Why?! They were happy with salaries higher than their counterparts in Western Democracies. Each MK is equipped with an air conditioned office suite with private washroom in the Knesset building complete with a political assistant, a secretary and a private chauffeured limousine. Definitely 5 Star conditions, status and accommodation!, the envy of any MP in the UK.  Can you imagine any fool wanting to interrupt such privileged conditions until he secures the assured pension thereafter!?  So they acquiesce resting to enjoy everyday of hopefully a "Long Parliament with nobody dare telling them for God's sake go!"
3. Netanyahu on every occasion asserted that his government would last all the 4 years term. It sounded plausible because by then he could see Obama and Abu Mazen off and emerge triumphant addressing a Republican President and Senate. So Israeli politics went into a slumber. Yesh Atid Finance Minister Lapid convinced himself that by the end of 4 years he could sort out the country's finances as the Gas revenues from the Mediterranean would start to fill the coffers. Justice Minister Tsipi Livni thought by the end of 4 years she might agree with Abu Mazen a peace plan. The Opposition Parties were warring inside their ranks and had no time to prepare programs or plans to challenge and replace the Government. They all thought they had plenty of time for the next general elections. In Israel the citizens vote for a Party. Therefore an MK is not accountable directly to the voters So Governments and Prime Ministers can only be weakened not by the pressure of the Opposition but from within their own Party.
4. Oppositions in Israel are impotent. Amongst other reasons they never prepare themselves to be the alternative governments because they rely on the absurd period of 3 months to prepare between dissolution and reconvening of the Knesset. In the UK this period is hardly 3 weeks! So the Parties hold Primaries which are the most corrupt and corrupting of the electoral systems there. In the New Speak world of Israel they call them Democracy! The Parties waste the 3 month hurling invectives at each other whilst throwing out every possible dirty linen in public; and the Media eggs them on with daily polls and theoretical constructs and deconstructs of possible outcomes of the Knessets' results and possible coalitions until the electorate, or some 40 per cent of them, get so disillusioned, they give up on the idea of voting altogether leaving the rest confused not knowing Left from Right.  In the end Tel Aviv Cafes' regulars allied with the gated wealth in its suburbs bring new groups and parties that are here today gone tomorrow. History and ideologies are thrown to the wind. So the last Elections of 2013 produced only 19 MKs for Likud (Jabotinsky/Begin) and 15 for Labour (Weitzman/Ben Gurion)!!
5. Netanyahu, a super tactician understood all that well and exploited Israel's dysfunctional political system to the full using demagoguery and rhetoric. And after years at the helm he started to view with derision and contempt other leaders in Israel and often for good measure even those abroad. With the slogans of the dangers of Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah he can always rely on his speciality of raising fear to bolster his popularity. And who dares question or even suggest that his policies themselves are actually inviting and perpetuating these dangers while converting the Arabs inside Israel into fifth column and the Arabs outside into potential suicide bombers; Shahids, fuelling hostility and anti-Semitisms abroad. But away from the suffering peripheries and the porous borders, Israelis in the State of Tel-Aviv feel secure and forget that Jews in Israel are a tiny minority in a sea of 350 million Arabs all, after years of frustration wish them ill. Size does matter! Netanyahu supported by Republican Senators and some wealthy American Jews felt invincible. "Why man, he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus, and we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about to find ourselves dishonourable graves"  And sadly some of our best Jewish lads and many young Palestinians do end in those graves in a continuous tragedy of useless violent confrontations and wars.
6. And the Jordan flows on to the Dead Sea and all is quite on the Al-Sissi Egyptian Border. Suddenly all fell apart when Netanyahu's co-habiting partner Lieberman, Leader of Yisrael Beytenu Party dissolved their merged Partnership of Likud-Beytenu. Netanyahu lost his composure and nerve and any reason or rationale left in him were thrown to the wind.  He lashed out against all, right and left, in Israel and abroad: Samson-like against all: Obama, Europe, Abu Mazen, his ministers, his coalition partners. Then he was brutally reminded of Hamas and Gaza that he himself had left alone to build their missiles and dig their tunnels undisturbed during his premiership and he woke up to wage a war that was overdue while he was fighting the world.  Apart from few MKs on the Left and the Arab MKs who were predicted to raise legitimate voices of protest and dissent he calculated that other Jewish Parties would not dare raise theirs' at a time of war when national unity and the endangered existence of Israel are at stake. This has been the order of the day. But lo and behold! some did dissent, not from the Opposition but from his own Party and Coalition and even from within his Defence and Security Inner Cabinet. Panicked! What does Netanyahu do? He did not pursue the Gaza War to a positive conclusion while appealing to the Gazans over the heads of Hamas. Such course could have opened the door for a permanent solution to the continued pressure cooker of the 1.8 million in Gaza while helped miraculously by Al-Sissi in Egypt. Instead, Netanyahu turns on his own Coalition Partners to save his worn out premiership that was leading Israel nowhere.  And he misused every rule and convention riding rough shod on the Coalition, the Knesset and all its members.
7. In terse letters he dismissed  Finance Minister Lapid, the leader of 19 MKs and Justice Minister Tsipi Livni of another 6 MKs. Remember he himself had only 18 MKs! He dared and gambled on all the bank and amazingly against all the odds  he came  up on top. Why? Simply because the leaders of all the Parties were taken by surprise unprepared for a considerate response having been lulled by Netanyahu to think that the Coalition would serve the full 4 years. With all the Mks, Coalition and Opposition having settled on a four years uninterrupted term they were stunned and caught unprepared with no answer or counterattack.
8. Netanyahu dismissed Lapid and Livni personally as ministers. They could have themselves tabled a no confidence motion in Netanyahu and no doubt would have been joined by the Opposition Parties prompting the President to ask the leader of the Opposition heading the No-Confidence vote to form a government without plunging the country into premature and unnecessary general elections. All Lapid's ministers and Livni's ministers could have stayed to continue with their programs as part of an alternative government or at least as part of a care-taking government during the interim election's period. They should have dared Netanyahu to sack each one of them separately. Instead, they stupidly and meekly, all of them, tendered their resignations to Netanyahu. And once Elections were declared he was left personally holding all the ministries free to appoint and groom new MKs from Likud. And so for 3 months he could also govern virtually as a dictator regaling himself alone with the full political stage and media coverage of the Prime Minister ready for re-election.
9. That left the leaders of the Parties running all over the place. No MK wanted the elections. And certainly it was not in the national interest with the country facing a hostile Middle East and militant Arab populations in Gaza and the West Bank. The sudden Elections was caused because neither the Opposition nor Yesh Atid and Hatenua used or even attempted to exercise their constitutional right to offer an alternative government. They could have insisted with a willing Opposition to join in a vote of no-confidence in the Knesset as the basic laws afford them. Instead they all let Netanyahu outmanoeuvre them. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings!"
10. And so we start to witness a tragic farce on our TVs screened to us and to friend and foe alike. This bizarre politics is at the heart of the problems facing the people of Israel inside and damaging its image abroad.  Recent  years exposed the fault lines of our dysfunctional democracy and its  dangers,  where our politicians are allied to wealth, monopolies and power groups disregarding and discarding the suffering citizens exposing the fact simply that Israel is not governed by its people for its people. And when you add to this the special demographic composition of our population you realise the process of our internal disintegration and the existential dangers that we are being dragged towards.
11. Prof Trachtenberg studying the socio-economic picture of Israel following the famous clamour for Social Justice in Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv three years ago concluded that the country is divided into seven sectors. Now we are facing an even wider and bigger division politically. Therefore: How can we expect future social and political cohesion?  How can we expect the future Government to be more stable and the future Knesset more effective? How can we restore a proper balance between our three arms of the state? How can we link the peripheries with the centre? How can we integrate our Arab Minorities into our national institutions? How can we avoid the spilling of the violence from across the borders into our streets and towns? Sadly we have become so much inward orientated that we seem to be living in a Ghetto of our own creation. And so instead of minding the raging volcano over us in Pompey we are fiddling with politics in burning Rome!
12. We need to understand that we can not draw close together Trachtenberg’s seven sectors by decree. We cannot create a uniform culture or a cohesive society instantly. Such a process needs few generations to transform changes in attitudes and ways of life. Successive governmental education programs and billions of words pouring  out of pens of mainly European  orientated writers for the last 60 years in Israel drew us no nearer to become one people. Fear and the shadow of wars unfortunately were the only tools that bound us together. And cruel unscrupulous politicians use them today out of self interest or just ignorance, and can we judge which is worse. On the other hand selecting and creating new state institutions can change and speed up the process of cohesion and integration.  And no better and more powerful such institution than a new electoral system that can empower all and each citizen making him/her feel genuinely, visually and practically part of being in charge of our shared destiny. In this way we would give our Democracy the chance to reform itself to produce a government by the people for the people speeding up the pace towards cohesion and solidarity and helping the integration of Trachtenberg’s seven sectors. So which electoral system?
13. The President's Commission on Government and Governance chaired by Professor Megidor (of which I was an active member) recommended a combination of Constituency and Proportional Representation System, (in Hebrew Ezori/Artzi i.e. Constituency/Party System). Following that recommendation, Prof Gideon Doron, Prof Zeev Segal and I proposed TR Total Representation (in Hebrew YESH Yitsug Shalem) to be that   System. TR fuses the First Past The Post (FPTP) and Proportional Representation (PR) combining the two in  one ballot one vote in the ratio of 75/25 i.e. 90 constituency MKs and 30 Party MKs. It is simplicity itself.  So how does it work?
14. Briefly: Israel is to be divided into 90 constituencies. Only candidates who offer themselves in those 90 constituencies can qualify for election to the Knesset. Each has to belong to a party that follow his/her name on the ballot paper. Each constituency elects one candidate as the MK for that constituency  along the lines of the British Majoritarian System of first past the post (FPTP) Once the 90 Constituency MKs are elected all their votes are dropped from the count of the total votes cast nationally. The rest of the votes are then divided proportionally amongst the competing Parties to elect the 30 Party MKs out of the same pool of candidates that offered themselves in the 90 Constituencies. Full details of this system are embodied in a Draft Law Tromit (similar to a White Paper in Westminster) which was tabled in the 18th Knesset on 21/07/2010 and signed collectively, at my personal insistence after arduous discussion with each one, by 5 very senior MKs (Shaul Mofaz, Meir Shetreet, Avi Dichter, Amir Peretz and Eitan Cabel) Hopefully it could be revived and be implemented in the next Knesset.
15. TR is specifically suited for Israel to take into consideration the composition of its immigrant segments that need to be integrated into its  old population and its twenty per cent Arab minority. "TR" Total Representation is a powerful tool that can help in that direction. It is a modern system that eminent academics and political practitioners acknowledge its potential to reform political democracy as it is evolving in our time, not only in Israel but in many other countries in Europe. But the advantages for Israel are enormous and vital to fight the prevalent corruption in the political establishment and to repair its dysfunctional democracy.
16. Many books have been published in Hebrew by Prof Gideon Doron and his colleagues at the Tel Aviv University and The Political Science Association. These can be obtained from CECI, The Citizens' Empowerment Centre in Israel, 40 George Wise St Tel Aviv 61390. Other books were published in English by Dr Ken Ritchie, the Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society in London and by me and can be obtained from Amazon or downloaded in Kindle.
17. And last on a personal note: I have devoted the last 15 years of my life, as my friends in Israel know to advance the case of TR/Yesh. I served Israel in many capacities and put my life on the line for it in 3 wars. However now at my ripe age when meeting my Creator is just round the corner I believe TR/Yesh is the best bequest I could have given to my country. I hope and pray that the new young MKs in the new Knesset will see its merits and succeed in adopting it after their predecessors in the 3 past Knessets (16th, 17th and 18th) failed unfortunately to implement it to the cost of the manifest lack of stability in government and cohesion in society. 
Aharon Nathan, Wimbledon, 15th Jan 2015

The following are some of the many advantages of TR for Israel.  
1) As in the UK each of the 90 constituencies either has an incumbent MK or a chosen rival candidate ready to fight the following general elections. Therefore candidates are always ready and in touch. And so is the country if and when a new general election is declared. In this way huge amounts of money are saved and the time needed between dissolution and reconvening of the Knesset is drastically reduced.
2) TR (YESH) does not need the undemocratic Threshold (Achuz Chasima) as the Party MK (30 Seats) needs 3/4 times as many votes as the Constituency MK (90 Seats) Therefore the chances of small parties manipulating  the government are slim.
3) Yesh eliminates the need for corrupt and undemocratic primaries that are infected by money and graft. Democracy is exercised directly by the citizens and not through two stage processes, first primaries and then general elections.
4) Yesh eliminates Gerrymandering, strife and bad blood internally within  Parties (in Hebrew Reshimot Hissul)
5) Yesh guarantees the direct link and accountability of the MK to his constituents at all times keeping him/her well informed and linked to the grass roots.
6) Yesh produces two main big Parties and ensures that one of them may together with just one medium or small party form a stable government. Academically produced simulations show such outcomes. Thus Governments can survive the full term of the Knesset and can take bold necessary decisions especially with regard to the Peace Process, without worries of being overthrown.
7) And above all under Yesh, the watching eyes of the constituents in each constituency could ensure that corruptions are exposed and nipped in the bud before growing into scandalous and criminal proportions. And beside the constituents who voted for the MK in each Constituency there will be his/her opponent from a rival party waiting to pounce with the first smell of corruption is in the air.
8) In the absence of Primaries Yesh provides a simple mechanism to elect or replace Party Leaders. Basically, each leader of each party is elected or re-elected in the middle of the Knesset term by the candidates of the party in the last election (not by the party’s MKs, who will naturally not include all the candidates). All these candidates cast the actual votes each obtained in the preceding general election. These votes are those of the real supporters of the party in the last election, and not by the votes of paid members who often are recruited for that purpose. The selection becomes clean and transparent with no corrupt practices and outside interferences.

All the above points are dealt with at length in the form of Q&A in two books I published on Israel:
Chapters 11 and 12 in "Israel : State or Ghetto" available in Amazon and Kindle.
Chapters 15 and16 in "Hametsiut Machtiva" in Hebrew available from CECI, Tel-Aviv