The power-to-the-people party

Hayisraelim holds that the current electoral process poses as great an existential threat as the rockets in the South.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
January 15, 2009 10:41
The power-to-the-people party

Gideon Doron 88 248. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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As a veteran academic who has served as president of the Israeli Political Science Association for the last decade, taught many current MKs and was Yitzhak Rabin's strategic adviser during his successful prime ministerial run in 1992, Tel Aviv University professor Gideon Doron knows a thing or two about this country's politics. So why is he starting a new party during a war in what is expected to be its shortest ever election campaign? Because he believes that after 32 governments in 60 years, the current political system poses just as much of a threat to the country's survival as the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. And that his new electoral reform party is the best way to change it. "The system is dangerous to the survival of Israel," Doron said in an interview at a Jerusalem cafe. "I understand politics. I know that wars dominate elections. But it doesn't change the fact that the political system is dangerous." Thirty-four parties are running in the February 10 general election, including at least a dozen new ones. Doron's party is called Hayisraelim (The Israelis) and it is made up of successful people from all backgrounds and walks of life who believe the political system must be changed immediately. The list includes two Anglos: South African-born Tel Aviv businesswoman Barbara Factor, who is No. 2 on the list after Doron, and Florida-born Ashkelon resident John Daly, who is seventh. "We are trying to attract the support of Anglo-Saxon voters in particular, because they understand what we are trying to say a lot better," Doron said. "The main problem is that we are confused about who the sovereign of our country is. It's supposed to be the people. But many of our people came from countries without a democratic culture and they just don't understand what that is supposed to mean for them." The party calls for the immediate passage of a constitution, a cabinet made up strictly of professionals and ending the current system of electing the entire Knesset via party-list proportional representation, which makes Israel the only thriving Western nation where the public at large does not elect a single parliament member directly. While Doron himself wants to see 90 of the 120 MKs in direct regional elections, the party decided it would instead push for implementing the results of the Magidor Commission on electoral reform, in which Doron played a central role. The commission was formed three years ago amid much fanfare by then-president Moshe Katsav. The commission, which exhaustively studied the electoral system, recommended that half the Knesset be elected directly in the 17 districts that the country is divided into by the Interior Ministry. Each district would be represented by two to five MKs, while the other half of the Knesset would be elected via the current system of party-list proportional representation. Since then, however, the findings have gathered dust like so many other reports written by star-powered commissions in the past. Hebrew University professor Menahem Ben-Sasson of Kadima, head of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee in the outgoing Knesset, made a serious effort to pass a proposal to at least elect a third of the Knesset directly. The proposal won the support of some 90 MKs, including the three largest factions - Kadima, Labor and Likud. But according to the coalition agreement, any party in the coalition could veto any changes to the basic laws, the bills that are set to become part of an eventual constitution. Shas thought it would be harmed by such a change, so it blocked it and vowed to do the same in any future government it joins. Ben-Sasson, who was the top advocate for electoral reform in the Knesset, was the only Kadima MK who ran for reelection who was not placed in a realistic slot in last month's primary, after he spent so much time legislating and so little campaigning. Following the embarrassment, he asked to be removed from the list. Doron said he formed Hayisraelim after all his attempts to lobby for electoral reform from inside the current parties proved fruitless. He believes that forming a new party is a good way to bring the need for electoral reform to the public's attention. "We've tried writing articles and books, we sat on commissions, we formed non-profit organizations and nothing worked," Doron said. "For 60 years, people have talked about reforms and haven't done them. Everyone can make promises, but the interest of the politicians is against such reforms. I, on the other hand, want to deliver." In an extra bold step to back that up, the party's charter says that the moment direct regional elections are achieved, it will dissolve itself and cease to exist. But first it has to face the task of passing the 2 percent electoral threshold, which will be an even greater challenge in an election when the entire country has been focused on the war in the Gaza Strip and politics has been pushed out of the papers. Hayisraelim has followed the lead of other parties in using "backdoor campaigning," visiting potential voters in the South under the guise of a solidarity trip. The party's leadership even tried campaigning among Beduin in the Negev. As soon as the fighting ends, the campaign will begin and the party has television and radio commercials ready to try to persuade the public at large. Doron says his target audience is quite large - everyone frustrated with the politicians. "We can be a large party, because we represent everyone who has a problem with the current system," he said. "Young people don't want to vote, because they don't have anyone to vote for. They understand that the politicians are insincere and the system doesn't work." A poll commissioned two years ago by the Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel found that 61 percent support some form of district elections, which could give Hayisraelim many potential voters. The party does have more of an agenda than just electoral reform. It also wants to promote equality and that's why it designed the candidate list like a zipper, with men and women in alternate slots. The list is headed by Doron, who has been active in lobbying for electoral reform for decades. He studied and taught in upstate New York for many years but returned to Tel Aviv University, where he has taught MKs Silvan Shalom (Likud), Gideon Sa'ar (Likud), Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor), Dov Henin (Hadash) and others. He is married to the granddaughter of former chief rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kook, Dr. Rebecca Kook. Factor, the second on the list, is a South African immigrant who became a medical entrepreneur, building medical centers and nursing homes around the country. The third candidate, Paz Dror, is a young Internet entrepreneur who founded the successful Hebrew real-estate site Homeless. But the candidate with the most surprising story is Daly, who made aliya from the US because of anti-Semitism. After he was attacked by a skinhead in his home town of Ocala, Florida, an hour north of Orlando, he helped the police find and prosecute more skinheads. After fighting skinheads in Florida, he is now dodging rockets in Ashkelon. But Daly said he feels much safer in southern Israel than the American South. "In the US I was a target," he said. "Here I'm a statistic. But at least there are soldiers here who are protecting me." Doron is proud that he has many professors and people with doctorates on the list. He might need such candidates to educate the electorate about why they should vote for their party. "Our message to the people is that what's most important is changing the current system that's exhausted itself and sharpens divisions among the people," Doron said. "People need to realize that they are the owners and they have the rights and when they delegate those rights to the government, they need to receive performance and accountability in return."

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