Think About It: We elect them – but to do what?
By SUSAN HATTIS ROLEF
The more extreme the ideological positions held by an MK, the more likely he is to actively promote them in the Knesset.
Now that the campaign in Gaza is over (at least for the time being) we can
return in earnest to the approaching Knesset elections.
(possibly less) of the MKs in the 19th Knesset will have been elected on the
basis of primaries in their respective parties. This week both the Likud and the
Labor parties are holding primaries – the Likud on Sunday, and Labor on
Thursday. The registered members of both parties have been bombarded in recent
weeks by phone calls, mail and e-mail from the candidates.
become a nuisance – though certainly much less so than being bombarded by
rockets from the Gaza Strip.
Even though the introduction in the early
1990s of primaries as a method of determining parties’ lists was intended to
enhance democratization, the process involves many undemocratic phenomena.
Especially in the Likud and Labor, there are many members who will not
necessarily vote for the parties in which they are registered, and these will
usually vote in the primaries for lists of candidates cooked up by party hacks
on the basis of deals that are not always clean of interests that have nothing
to do with ideology, or the wish to see an optimal team in the
Nevertheless, there are members, in both parties, who really and
truly slog over the lists of candidates, to try and select their dream team on
the basis of the available names.
How does one choose? Some choose names
that they recognize, others candidates who they feel a special ideological
affinity with. Yet others are influenced by looks, charisma and rhetorical
Personally when I make my choices (in the Labor Party
primaries) I try to create a balanced list that will include economic experts
with social democratic inclinations; persons with a security background who are
nevertheless not ashamed to strive for a peaceful solution to the Middle East
conflict; social activists with a proven record; women of varied backgrounds;
and representatives of minority groups. I also have a marked preference for
people who do not regard themselves as the “cat’s whiskers.”
a former Knesset employee I have another criterion: I want my representatives to
be good parliamentarians. What is a good parliamentarian? A good parliamentarian
is one who performs his job well, not just in terms of advocating ideological or
sectarian positions that one happens to support. Someone who contributes to the
well-ordered functioning of the system, is inclined to cooperate with MKs from
rival parliamentary groups to advance causes that will benefit everyone, and who
is unlikely to diverge from the rules of ethics and accepted norms or commit
civil or criminal offenses.
One problem with this approach is that the
job of the MK is not defined – neither by law nor in the Knesset Rules of
Procedure. Israel isn’t unique in its avoidance of of a definition. In fact, no
democracy has defined what it is that their parliamentarians are expected to
However, given the deterioration over the years in the public’s trust
in parliament and parliamentarians, frequently based on ignorance as to what
parliaments or parliamentarians are expected to do; difficulties in calculating
the proper remuneration parliamentarians ought to receive; and lack of clarity
as to what is included and what is excluded from the job – there are some second
thoughts in various countries regarding this aversion to defining the
However, even in the absence of a definition there are several
elements of the job that are selfevident.
For example, an MK is a
legislator whose job is to amend government bills, and initiate bills of his
own, or on behalf of non-government entities. Here it is not quantity that
counts, but quality. One of the best parliamentarians in this respect is MK Dov
Henin from Hadash, who deserves credit for excellent legislation on
Though Israel’s system of elections is proportional
rather than regional, and consequently MKs do not have geographic
constituencies, they nevertheless have constituents (people who voted for their
parties) who may approach them for assistance in cutting through the
Many MKs are willing to assist persons from the general
public who did not necessarily vote for their parties. Though there are limits
to what an MK may do to assist the public, a good MK is one who is accessible to
the public, and willing to help.
Oversight of the government is another
part of the MKs job, more so when he is a member of the opposition but even if
he is a member of the coalition. Whether my party chooses to be a member of the
next government or to remain in opposition, I should like “my” MKs to take their
oversight task seriously.
Representation of certain ideological positions
and values in the public discourse that takes place in the Knesset is another
important part of the job. The more extreme the ideological positions held by an
MK, the more likely he is to actively promote them in the Knesset (take MK
Michael Ben-Ari at the one extreme and MK Haneen Zoabi at the
However, when I look at “my” MKs I would like to see them
participate even in deliberations that deal with purely ideological issues. Thus
I was greatly disappointed when in a whole series of such deliberations in the
House Committee in the course of the 18th Knesset (MK Yariv Levin was the
committee’s chairman), including a deliberation about the Altalena, there was no
sign of Labor’s representative to this committee.
I shall certainly avoid
voting for this individual next Thursday. In my opinion, he was not doing his
Of course, the final outcome of primaries never fulfills the full
wishes of anyone. Nevertheless, let us all hope that the overall outcome of all
the primaries and appointments will result in a better Knesset in terms of its
human makeup and commitment to a healthy parliamentary life, and that the
Knesset will include a minimal number of clowns and rogues, and a maximal number
of serious, conscientious, hard-working parliamentarians.
The writer, a
former Knesset employee, is currently engaged in research on the definition of
the MK’s job.