All 120 Knesset members must be elected in direct regional elections to ensure that Israel's politicians become true public servants, the head of a new grassroots electoral reform movement said on Sunday.
Michael Jaffe of Zichron Ya'akov, who made aliya from Ann Arbor, Michigan, 20 years ago, founded Shelanu: Direct Representation for Israel, which is in the process of getting registered as a non-profit organization.
Shelanu is similar to the Citizens Empowerment Public Action Campaign (CEPAC), which was featured in The Jerusalem Post Friday, but unlike CEPAC, which is willing to compromise on electing only a portion of the Knesset in direct regional elections, for Shelanu, it's all or nothing.
"We believe it likely that a hybrid system would produce negative results that would retain the divisive nature of [the current system of] proportional representation," Jaffe said. "[Electing MKs] should be a hiring process in which every MK is individually accountable to a real, identifiable constituency."
Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines and Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar have joined forces to push for the adoption of the German political system whereby half the parliament is elected by the current Israeli system of proportional representation of political parties and half by direct regional elections. Knesset Law Committee chairman Menachem Ben-Sasson has raised the idea of at first electing 30 MKs regionally.
Jaffe warned that if electoral reforms were undertaken partially, they would be doomed to fail, just like the law that enacted direct elections for prime minister. Prime Ministers Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon were elected directly, but the reform was never extended to the rest of the Knesset and it was repealed after the 2001 election.
"Electing 30 MKs in direct regional elections would be a joke,"
Jaffe said. 'Mixing the two very different systems wouldn't work, because there would be two conflicting principles in action. The Knesset members elected in different ways would be accountable to two different entities.'
Shelanu's Hebrew name is "Shelanu, Me'itanu, Avureinu," inspired by a quote from Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in which he said that "government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth."
Besides direct regional elections, the reforms Shelanu supports include separation of the legislative branch from the executive through a presidential system and elimination of the direct involvement of sitting members of the judiciary in the appointment of Supreme Court justices.
While some of Shelanu's founding members were immigrants from English-speaking countries, the organization works in Hebrew and has appealed to native Israelis.
Unlike CEPAC, which is lobbying members of the Knesset Law Committee, Shelanu will focus on educating the public and not lobbying.
"If we are going to change Israeli culture, it has to start with the public and changing what they expect from their representatives so they would be true public servants," Jaffe said. "Shelanu is a true grass-roots organization in that is trying to raise awareness and cultivate the political landscape for change from the bottom up. That is, we are trying to create a tidal wave of public support for specific principled change."