"I will vote for the unpopular decision.” That was how Interior Minister Gideon
Sa’ar summed up his justification for voting in favor of the release of 104
convicted terrorists in the face of a public that opposed the decision by about
85 percent, as a poll at the time showed.
Sa’ar’s invocation of political
courage, which mirrored Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s own argument in his
open letter (“There is no need for prime ministers in order to make decisions
that enjoy the support of public opinion”) was ironic.
is a lonely and often short-lived burden. He who carries it stands against not
only the whims of the masses but also his colleagues, who follow the masses out
of political necessity. The lonely, elected man of faith takes a moral stand and
risks ending his political career.
If every politician did it, of course,
it wouldn’t be that courageous.
Netanyahu and Sa’ar, however, were far
from alone in their admittedly unpopular decision as the cabinet voted 13 to
seven – almost a two-to-one margin – against an apparently ignorant and overly
Another vote held that same day in the Knesset
Committee on the Constitution, Law and Justice added another level of irony to
the claims of political courage.
Following the ministerial committee’s
(i.e., the government’s) decision a month earlier, the Knesset committee voted
to bring the “governability” bills to the Knesset plenum.
There are two
versions of the bill, both sponsored by MKs (David Rotem, of Yisrael Beytenu,
and Ronen Hoffman of Yesh Atid) who were appointed, not elected, to their party
Whichever version of the bill is passed will see Israel’s
electoral threshold raised from two percent to 4% percent, which would grant our
abundance of politically courageous politicians even more protection from the
Once the threshold is raised to 4%, no longer will
voters, with their sole national vote which they get to cast once every
three-to-four years, be able to punish those politicians and parties they feel
betrayed or failed them, or that the public is just tired of. Nor would voters
be able to explore new electoral possibilities in the form of start-up parties.
Instead, they would be forced to choose from the existing, dwindling, pool of
Beyond eliminating alternatives, on the other side of the
equation, the electoral value of those forced out would be transferred to a few
mid-size and large parties.
With a 2% threshold, a little over 7% of the
eligible valid votes in the last election (268,795 votes out of 3,792,742) were
effectively cancelled and redistributed to those parties who made the
If the threshold is doubled, that number, using the last election
results as a model, would climb to over 18% (696,688 votes).
those parties who didn’t earn 4% of the vote, there are those who hover just
above the future threshold, earning between 4% and 5% (in the last election
those were Meretz and Hatnua). They too would face extinction, which would come
when they eventually dip below the threshold.
All in all, we would see
about 28% of the public’s vote (or 1,058,258 votes in the last election)
cancelled and redistributed, or otherwise manipulated – by artificially forcing
mergers between various parties, forcing parties to drop out, or scaring voters
away from smaller or new parties they would otherwise have voted for. In one way
or another, that 28% of the vote will be redistributed to parties or politicians
those voters otherwise did not want to vote for.
As politicians remain in
office even further past their expiration date and as people grow more resentful
at the lack of choice, the percentage of voters forced in some way to vote for
people they oppose will grow.
This should not be confused with a district
system, where one candidate wins and all the votes for the losers are often
described as not counting. The votes are counted. And based on that count one
candidate wins and the others lose. The winner still represents the whole
district and still strives to please as many people as possible in the
In a proportional-party list system with a minimum threshold,
the votes for a party which does not make the cut are actually given over to
competitors, increasing their share of the legislature.
When the new,
higher threshold is set and the new political framework takes root, even party
leaders will have little need to justify their votes to the public – whether by
spinning their defiance of the public will as bravery or by seeking public
support for their decision – because what the public thinks will matter a whole
In other words, instead of politicians knocking on voter’s
doors, they can wait until election day, when voters will be forced to come to
As the governability bill clashes with Basic Law: The Knesset’s
requirement that elections be equal and proportional, the bill needs to be
approved by an absolute majority – 61 MKs.
In the preliminary reading of
the law in early July, it passed with 60 votes. In its “first reading,” the bill
was approved with 64 MKs voting in favor of the clause raising the minimum
So in the near future, unless a number of MKs reverse their
positions, expect a new form of “democratic” government in Israel: the unpopular
The author is an attorney, a Likud Central Committee
member, and was a candidate on the Likud-Beytenu list for the 19th Knesset.