Next on the agenda: Electoral reform

The current electoral system deprives the average Israeli citizen of a designated elected official responsible for their concerns.

By ARI HAROW
June 2, 2013 21:34
4 minute read.
Barbecue at Kishon Park in Haifa

Barbecue at Kishon Park in Haifa 370 . (photo credit: Herzl Shapiro/Kishon River Authority)

Just a few months into the government’s term and several of the bolder electoral promises have already taken center stage.

The recommendations of the Peri Committee on haredi (ultra-Orthodox) enlistment are poised to evolve swiftly into legislation.

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Meanwhile, the economic challenge of deconstructing monopolies through dictates such as the “Open Skies” policy, coupled with reducing the national deficit via dramatic budgetary cuts have also been at the forefront of government activity. The one central campaign issue which has remained virtually untouched so far is electoral reform.

Debate on the subject prior to the elections focused on the size of government, the electoral threshold, and the ability of the prime minister to govern free from the perpetual shadow of a no-confidence vote. These are all important and necessary changes. Yet, there are three additional reforms which must be considered.

The first is regional representation in the Knesset. Western immigrants have long joked about the absence of a Hebrew word for “accountability.”

The current system is a case in point, depriving the average Israeli citizen of a designated elected official responsible for their concerns.

Because Knesset Members are not beholden to the electorate, they are rarely compelled to live up to their preelection promises.

The lack of accountability is further fuelled by the worrying trend of Knesset candidates being handpicked by a single individual. As a result, they inevitably become representatives of a party autocrat (whether it be Yair Lapid, Tzipi Livni, Avigdor Liberman or Rabbi Ovadia Yosef) rather than the electorate.

Second is the need to set a standard of experience for all ministerial positions. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers – The Story of Success, he describes the unwritten rule by which an individual must reach the benchmark of 10,000 hours’ experience in a chosen field before exhibiting true potential and a real level of expertise. Gladwell cites the coming of age of The Beatles as a prime example. For many years, The Beatles struggled as a little known British band, until they spent nearly a year playing for hours each day in a club in Hamburg.

Only then did they truly excel and become the greatest band of all time.

In Israel’s public sector there have been numerous cases over the years when the appointment of a civil servant has been blocked under the pretense of lack of experience or professional incompatibility.

Yet when it comes to appointing the ministerial “captain of the ship” we apparently have no standards or requirements.

How many Fortune 500 companies would consider putting a total amateur with zero managerial or business experience at the helm? Who among us would allow a supposed surgeon to cut us open without having endured the requisite Gladwellian hours of medical school, residency, and years of training? Yet at this critical juncture in the history of Israel, senior ministers completely devoid of experience and bereft of expertise oversee many of our key ministries and sit on the most vital committees, including the Security Cabinet.

Ministerial appointments must no longer be governed purely by political necessity. Instead, a basic standard of relevant private or public sector experience must become mandatory.

Third, we should introduce absentee voting for Israeli citizens abroad. In today’s global village, numerous democracies, including the United States, England and France permit absentee and overseas voting for their citizens. For the thousands of Israelis disenfranchised purely because they happen to be abroad on election day through travel or work, this would be a welcome development. Of the estimated million Israelis who reside abroad, many maintain close connections with the state.

Basic guidelines for potential overseas voters, such as regular visits to Israel, a cap on time living abroad and IDF service would surely help minimize any misgivings over such a reform. Absentee voting also makes sense on a much more strategic level. Our government spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on educating Jewish Diaspora youth on the importance of Israel, on encouraging Jewish tourism to Israel, and on convincing Israeli professors, doctors and businessmen to come back and live in Israel.

Giving Israeli expats the right to vote abroad would draw them closer, further enhancing these critical efforts. Moreover, absentee voting could also help diffuse the scare tactic of demographic destruction, so often used to shock our leaders into making territorial concessions to the Palestinians. By allowing all citizens of Israel their democratic right to vote we would potentially trigger a surge of hundreds of thousands of Jewish votes, thereby placing the demographic genie back in its bottle.

Absentee voting and voting abroad is critical for Israel’s status both as a first world democracy and as the state of the Jewish people.

With haggling over the budget likely to subside over the coming months and haredi enlistment set to become reality, expect coalition attentions to soon turn to overdue electoral reform. However, this must not be a cosmetic modification. A real transformation can only take place when regional representation, ministerial standards and absentee voting are at the heart of change.

The writer served as bureau chief to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and is president of 3H Global.


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