Something is rotten in Israel’s party system
The party system functions according to politician's interests and isolates grassroots movements, seriously threatening Israeli democracy.
Livni speaks in Jerusalem Photo: REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Tzipi Livni’s announcement
that her party, Ha’Tnuah, will join a government coalition led by Binyamin
Netanyahu’s Likud Beiteinu – after fervently proclaiming throughout all of the
election campaign that such a thing would never happen – is just the latest
example of an Israeli politician routinely disengaging from stated electoral
While breaking promises is part and parcel of the political
routine everywhere, there is a particular pattern in the Israeli party system
that facilitates and even encourages politicians to circumvent their commitments
and their electorate.
Israeli politicians change their partisanship like
European soccer players change their clubs and they are world champions in
forming new parties, too. Whenever senior Israeli politicians fail to push
through their will among their fellow partisans, they change their party or form
a new party, tailor-made to serve their particular strategic
While changing parties and forming new parties is a necessary
option in a democracy, Israeli politicians make excessive misuse of this option
as a means of strategic manipulation.
One who tries to follow the history
of Israeli parties gets lost in a jungle of endless breakaways and
In the 65 years of Israel’s existence there have been
more then 150 different Knesset factions – and that still does not include the
Knesset members who broke away from their parties to serve as “independent”
This volatility of political affiliations deprives the
parties of the power to commit politicians to electorally legitimized positions
and agendas. As a result, the logic of a party-democracy is being turned upside
PARTIES SHOULD actually serve as the link between the grassroots
and the political institutions.
They should translate grass root opinions
and sentiments into articulated political positions that determine the political
agendas in law-making – and government institutions.
The function of the
parties’ elected political representatives is to advocate the party’s positions
that had been negotiated in an open and democratic process and that express the
will of the people – the highest sovereign in every Republican-Democratic
system. In Israel, this principle is being severely compromised.
of committing lawmakers and politicians to the will of the voters, political
representatives permanently manipulate and reshape the party system according to
their personal strategic preferences.
This problem may be illustrated as
we compare Israel’s party system with post World War II Germany’s democracy.
Both political systems are about the same age; Israel was founded in 1948, while
the first post World War II German parliament was elected in 1949. Both systems
are multi-party systems (as opposed to the American two-party system) that have
their political representatives elected according to the principle of
By the 1960s Germany had established itself
as a three-party system. Every faction that had entered the Bundestag (the
German federal parliament) since then is rooted in the new formation of actual
social movements or societal groups among the grassroots.
The Green Party
that entered the Bundestag for the first time 1983 was the direct offspring of
the ecological movement and the new Left, which was closely related to the so
called “outer-parliamentarian opposition” and the student protests that peaked
in the late 1960s.
The PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism) that joined
the Bundestag in 1990, and later merged with a Left-wing break away of the
Social Democrats into the party “The Left,” was the result of Germany’s
reunification and merger of the east German states into the west German
Finally, the Pirate Party, which recently made a strong
showing in elections to some of Germany’s state parliaments, expresses the
demands that spring from new ideas of freedom that developed among the
generation that grew up with new technologies, such as the Internet.
LET’S compare that to Israel: Livni formed her Tnuah-Party in 2012 after she was
dismissed as Kadima’s chairperson in a democratic leadership vote that she lost
to Shaul Mofaz. The name of the party, “The Movement” is a true misnomer, as it
precisely expresses what the party is not: the political representative of a
Instead it is a strategic construction by Livni, who
withdrew her supporters from Kadima to retain a politically key
But also, Kadima, the party Livni defected from, is the result
of a political maneuver by former Israeli prime minister Ariel
When Sharon, in 2005, failed to gather support for his
disengagement plan among his fellow Likud partisans, he left the Likud and
formed Kadima, rearranging and manipulating the electorally determined and
legitimized makeup of factions in the 16th Israeli Knesset.
recent example of such a strategic stunt is the merger of the Likud with Israel
Beiteinu, which was enacted by the leaders of the respective parties, Binyamin
Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, because some American adviser had falsely
predicted that this would strengthen their political stance.
could be continued endlessly.
The permanent manipulation of the Israeli
party system in a top-bottom fashion, according to the strategic interests of
Israeli politicians, continuously alienates the political institutions from
grassroots movements and poses a severe threat to the integrity of Israeli
Maybe part of a solution could lie in a stricter law that
restricts the formation of new parties and Knesset factions.
a former German journalist, studied sociology and political science in Germany
and in Israel.