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The interminable appeals and counter-appeals over Labor's membership rolls that have been threatening to further postpone Labor's leadership primary are not only one party's embarrassment. Looming large is a lie that tarnishes our democracy as a whole a lie everyone tacitly acknowledges but which no one combats.
The Labor primary, initially scheduled for October 28, was postponed to November 9 due to massive registration irregularities, rendering the technicality of who is entitled to cast ballots the core of the controversy.
The convoluted saga opened last May upon the publication of Labor's membership-drive results, ostensibly heralding great improvement in the party's failing fortunes. The results showed Labor doubling its rolls to a whopping 130,000 dues-payers, still far short of the Likud's 310,000, yet significantly better than Labor's starting point.
But it was too good to be true. Labor's drive bore all the hallmarks of foul-play. Graphologists discovered gross discrepancies between signatures on application forms and on checks for party dues in half the cases. Dues for entire â€œclustersâ€ of applicants for membership were paid together. The police was alerted to blatant forgeries and no less than 44,000 of the so-called new members were disqu alified.
Leadership aspirant Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, however, appealed, seeking to reinstate a â€œclusterâ€ of 9,900 into the rolls. His appeal was accepted on Yom Kippur eve, throwing the primary schedule into turmoil all over again, inviting counter-appeals from secretary-general Eitan Cabel and triggering new rounds of mutual mudslinging.
The Likud, for its part, has nothing to be proud of on this front. Prior to the 2003 leadership primary, MK Omri Sharon is reputed to have conducted a membership drive o f the same sort that now troubles Labor. His wholesale recruitment of members is potentially as destructive and distorting for Likud politics as what Labor is now experiencing.
Party membership drives encapsulate all that's wrong with purported popular partisan electoral processes. Internal party politics are manipulated, ultimately skewing the entire political balance on the national level.
These membership drives are all-important, which is why candidates invest so much effort in them. They constitute the first step to victory. Registered party members are those entitled to vote in primaries. Therefore, theoretically, the more loyal supporters candidates enlist, the stronger their cause and the greater their chances.
This is a compelling incentive to outdo rivals. It's also an enticing inducement for hanky-panky.
Thus, if the Labor rolls can be believed, 30% of the party's members are now Arabs. There's nothing wrong with unexpected Arab enthusiasm for Labor Zionism. Indeed it would be a welcome red irection from the radicalism of some Israeli Arab MKs, who have tended to fan the flames of extremism for political gain.
But this has nothing to do with any overnight genuine spirit of moderation. The assumption within Labor is that most unlikely member ships are bogus, registered by local votes-contractors to tip primary scales.
Falsification first and foremost disintegrates parties irreparably from within. The vehemence and venom lately spewed by leading Labor luminaries towards each other presages inauspicious long-term trends. The Likud's widening rift is likewise in no small measure due to the unbridled warping of its internal democracy by political transients with no commitment or staying power.
It's time to plug the gaping loophole. Legislators or concerned party activists can end overnight memberships. Minimal periods of trial-affiliation should be mandatory before conferring on newcomers the privilege of primary participation. Instant primary voting rights are a phenomenon that must disappear because our politicians abuse it so shamelessly.
In the final analysis our democracy and national well-being are severely compromised by such illegal shenanigans. These distort the people's will and lead to the populace's ever-growing alienation and cynicism towards its politicians. Disaffection discourages potentially more deserving candidates from entering the fray.
At a certain level, what goes on within parties is not just their own business, but should matter to all of us. We should all insist that parties take simple steps to eliminate, or at least minimize, the epidemic of vote-contracting. Corrupt practices within our major parties make a mockery of our votes in the general elections, no matter how clean those elections might be.