Sir, - "Restrictions on Barghouti to be eased" (January 3) signals that the Israeli public is being softened up for Marwan Barghouti's release from jail. We are constantly being told that our judicial system is independent, and yet here it is seemingly being interfered with by the "political echelon" - presumably our prime minister.
It seems incredible that a convicted murderer should be allowed to continue his political activities, standing at the head of a terrorist gang, disguised as a political party, which is devoted to the destruction of Israel (and keeps saying so) - all while in jail; that he can converse with PLO leaders for half an hour by telephone, receive his lieutenants in jail and be visited by his sympathizers, including MKs who have sworn an oath of loyalty to the State of Israel, no doubt with their tongues firmly in their cheeks.
Imagine the uproar over a headline saying that the political echelon has eased restrictions on other murderers such as, for example, Yigal Amir, who was convicted of the murder of only one Jew and not five; or does the identity of the victim make a difference?
Sir, - Inside or outside prison Marwan Barghouti is today one of the Palestinians' most important and influential leaders. This is something Israel cannot change. There is no doubt that, sooner or later, Barghouti will have to be released - and Israel's leaders know it.
On the eve of fateful elections in the Palestinian Authority and in Israel, and in a period of growing and perilous escalation between the two peoples, Barghouti's release could send an electric current through Palestinian public opinion and create a new dynamic that could save the lives of many people, Israelis and Palestinians.
Where is the bold, wise leader capable of making the decision to free Barghouti now?
Sir, - I find it incredible that our government plans to grant this terrorist special conditions "due to his new status within the Palestinian Authority." Understanding this new political-speak, perhaps we should attempt to make Jonathan Pollard a Knesset member in the hope that the US will grant him his overdue freedom. Any political party supporting this policy will certainly receive my vote.
Sir, - I was moved to tears by Avi Shafran's "Open for business... on Shabbat" (January 3). Manhattan's 92nd Street Y is about to break with its 130-year Shabbat-respecting policy in order to accommodate gym-goers. And this sad occurrence is to take place soon after the celebration of the wonderful Hanukka holiday, when we Jews commemorate our great victory over Hellenism, including decrees that negated respect for Shabbat.
How pitiful and painful to read that young men and women from a Hebrew association are trying to break away so brazenly from their beautiful tradition, especially when they are living in a free democracy such as the US, where no religious persecution exists.
Sir, - Thank you for "'Closed lists' in Israeli politics stifle progress" (January 3). Maurice Ostroff has given a much-needed, reader-friendly explanation of some of the problems of our present electoral system and clearly exposed the iniquities of the closed lists which Israel continues to employ, contrary to trends in other democracies.
Is it too late for a grassroots movement to demand that open lists be introduced in time for the forthcoming election? Even though the parties will have prepared their lists by now, there is still time to ensure that at the polling booth voters be given an opportunity to choose the order of preference of the party's candidates.
Sir, - Maurice Ostroff was right on the button. Everyone is saying that this election is about choosing the least corrupt party, and that we need to change the voting system so political candidates have to prove their worthiness of our vote and be accountable to the electorate once they are voted into the Knesset.
Open lists are an essential element of a democratic electoral system. The people will support those who are sincere about ending corruption and publicly promise to push for electoral reform. Party candidates be warned. We are watching closely!
Citizens for Responsible and
...aren't so democratic
Sir, - Maurice Ostroff correctly states that Israel's closed list system has been disastrous for electing representatives. However, he misrepresents constituency (direct representation) systems and neglects serious flaws of the open lists system.
Some direct representation systems do produce winners with absolute majorities. Both runoff votes and the instant runoff vote (IRV) system at work in Australia facilitate an absolute majority for the winner of constituency elections. Yes, there are some marginal groups in the US and UK advocating a move to proportional representation (PR). There are movements in PR countries in addition to Israel that advocate direct representation. Even in New Zealand there are calls to revert back to direct representation because of PR's lack of efficiency
in forming a government.
In the open list system most of the electoral power of that vote is channeled toward the party, not an individual candidate. If a candidate does not acquire enough votes for a high position on the party list his votes are still used by the party in its total to support its other candidates. What if voters support that individual candidate but not the entire platform of that party? What if voters don't care as much for those higher up on that party's list? In both situations the voters' interests are subordinated to the party's. In fact, the open list system provides voters with absolutely no way of predicting whom their votes will end up supporting going into the election.
This is more democratic?
Direct Representation for Israel
A new system
Sir, - At this time of political chaos one ever more frequently finds letters in your column from readers searching for an orderly system of direct representation of electors similar to that which they were used to in their countries of origin.
The following organizations are seeking to achieve just that, albeit at varying speeds:
â€¢ The Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel (www.ceci.org.il/eng/about_visions.asp) email@example.com
Call (03) 643-8979;
â€¢ Direct Representational Democracy for Israel (www. directrepisrael.org/EN/About.html) firstname.lastname@example.org
â€¢ Israel Democracy Institute (www.idi.org.il) Call (02) 530-0849; fax (02) 530-0870.
I suggest that in order to hasten matters along your readers should contact these organizations and give them maximum support.
Fight back, now
Sir, - Further to "Sacks warns of global 'tsunami of anti-Semitism'" (January 2): In the wake of the British chief rabbi's speech of January 1 it is time for Jews worldwide to stand up and be counted. This could be our last chance. Anti-Jewish feeling will not go away as long as the international media keep pumping out anti-Israel propaganda.
We need a strong media machine telling our story, that we are not the occupiers, the Palestinians are squatters. We must tell how we as a nation were defeated and thrown out of our land, how every generation has suffered persecution.
The Arab propaganda machine has not only taken hold; it is in control in colleges and universities and we must fight back, now.
Other answers for Jerusalem
Sir, - Re "Jerusalem's dilemma" (Editorial, December 28), I was surprised to see the only solutions to the capital's demographic problems given as either the E1 project (building toward Ma'aleh Adumim) or the Safdie plan (20,000 housing units scattered over the hills to the west). There are surely three other possibilities to be considered separately, or in combination.
First, with the rail links to Modi'in and Beit Shemesh there is no reason why those cities and their surroundings cannot be developed as natural dormitory suburbs of Jerusalem (as of Tel Aviv). Second, the large areas of the capital built up in haste in the 1950s can be rehabilitated, replacing low-density housing with higher-density, quality housing. Finally, as has already been happening, the city boundaries can be redrawn to assure that the Jewish majority does not become a minority.
Experience from elsewhere in the world demonstrates that if green belts are not treated as sacrosanct they will inevitably be destroyed by the enormous pressure for cheap land.
Do we really want every last inch of the country paved over?
Write to me
Sir, - I am a girl of 16 looking for penfriends from Israel. My hobbies are collecting picture postcards and football. I like people of your country very much. Please write to Maa Janet, P.O. Box 1294, Koforidua, Ghana, West Africa.
Can you help?
Sir, - I am five-and-a-half months pregnant and, like all new parents, am looking to buy furniture for the baby. But I have no idea what I'm supposed to be looking for - whether the cot I'm looking at, for example, has passed safety regulations. Usually the shop assisant will just say they're all the same. Are there even safety regulations for different types of baby furniture, and if so, what? I would appreciate some help from readers.
Pro & con
Sir, - Your January 2 headline: "Poll: 75% of Israelis favor total smoking ban in eating places." Ma'ariv's headline the following day: "Poll: 25% of Israelis favor smoking in restaurants."
What does that tell us about the uphill battle we are facing for the pleasure of eating or shopping in a smoke-free environment?