Only a few days after declaring that despite disappointing election results,
“It is clear... that Israeli citizens want me to serve as prime minister,” Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was already lamenting the fact that he would have to
build yet another coalition of disparate parts, stating, “It cannot be that the
country facing the most challenges should suffer from instability and a weak
Similarly, writing in these pages last week, Jerusalem
Post columnist David Newman bemoaned the fact that due to our electoral system,
the next government “will not have any clear direction to undertake during the
ensuing four years” and that our government formation process has made Israel a
True enough. But in all the talk about electoral reform
and why it is necessary, one element has been sorely missing. Perhaps that is
because it is not an easy truth to admit: Israeli citizens don’t elect
representatives and an essential component of democracy is therefore
Sure, we have elections. Yes, we are a lone democracy surrounded
by dictatorships and dictatorships posing as democracies.
All of our
citizens have equal rights. Even non-citizens have a basic level of rights
protections. We have an independent judiciary which can enforce a bill of rights
(Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty). We can pat ourselves on the back for all
But the first defense of the people’s rights and
their interests is not a bill of rights. A bill of rights, in a democracy, is
the last line of defense (short of violence or lawbreaking) for some of the
people against the rest of the people, as the majority’s will is expressed in
laws and regulations made pursuant to those laws.
THE PEOPLE’S first line
of defense, however, is the fact that the government represents them. This means
that those making the laws do so on the people’s behalf – not out of the
benevolence which the noble elite might feel from time to time – but because the
people are their masters and they are the people’s agents. They know they are
liable to be held accountable by the people and act accordingly in the people’s
In our electoral system, however, we cannot say that all else
being even, those who make the laws fear that what bills they present, how they
vote, what positions they take, what agendas they push, in short that what they
do or fail to do in office and how the public feels about them will directly
jeopardize their continuance in office.
Granted, voters’ wrath is
considered by some politicians to a certain extent. Yair Lapid, for example, is
keenly aware that the voters who gave him 19 mandates to work with will not
tolerate certain things, such as, in his own words, his sitting with haredim in
the government. And Netanyahu may from time to time regret that he did not take
more aggressive action a range of domestic issues such as “equalizing the
But even that fear is limited. A party may not gain as many
mandates as hoped, but the chairman will likely remain in office.
time, newcomers like Lapid will learn what many others have, namely that the
public that elected you does not need to be the public that reelects
And party chairpersons make up only a small fraction of the Knesset.
There are 108 MKs who are not Knesset faction leaders.
But do they fear
the public’s wrath at the polls? No. Because the public is only a part of the
equation that decides their fate and practically, because of the electoral
system, it is the minor part.
TAKE THE two American candidates who made a
name for themselves during the previous election – one of whom “made it” into
the Knesset (the very term speaks volumes).
After being involved in
protests against local religious extremists, rabbi (now MK) Dov Lipman joined
Rabbi Haim Amsalem’s Am Shalem party. The other, Jeremy Gimpel, the host of a
popular Web-television show, joined the Bayit Yehudi party to compete in its
They both worked hard to appeal to the
Gimpel registered thousands to Bayit Yehudi, competed in the
primaries, ranked ninth and got bumped further down the list to 14 due to the
merger with the National Union. Despite his low ranking, Gimpel campaigned hard
for the party among English-speakers. In the final weeks before the election,
polls showed that Bayit Yehudi was likely to win big, potentially scoring 15 or
Lipman was not as successful, at least at the outset. Rabbi
Amsalem’s star did not continue to rise following Amsalem’s break with Shas. But
Lipman was offered a political lifeline and was able to join Yair Lapid’s Yesh
Atid party. He too campaigned hard leading up to elections, despite his own low
ranking of 17, which polls showed to be less likely to make it into Knesset than
Gimpel’s spot with Bayit Yehudi.
In the end, Yesh Atid won 19 mandates,
almost double what was expected, and Bayit Yehudi won only 12 spots. Lipman made
it in. Gimpel did not. This is not to say one was more deserving than the
Nor is it to say there is anything wrong with election results
defying polls or voters changing their opinion in the final days of an
What is wrong here is that neither of these candidates’ own
records or positions or how the public felt about them mattered much in whether
they would become lawmakers. Lipman might thank the public.
aspire to be “Beit Shemesh’s Congressman.” If he wants to stay in office,
however, Lapid is the only constituent he must keep happy. As for the public,
the reality is – that’s Lapid’s problem.
OF COURSE, in all democratic
systems some politicians get lucky or are elected merely because of their party
affiliation or because a popular personality endorsed them. But only in the
party-list system is such a phenomenon institutionalized. In Israel, the vast
majority of MKs will only have achieved and retained their positions by virtue
of their party or party leader.
Except perhaps in very small parties,
never will the typical MK face the public directly and repeatedly.
problem here is about much more than accountability as an ideal for achieving
more efficient government. It’s about that bond between the lawmaker and the
people which makes him their representative. If a lawmaker doesn’t face the
public, and more than that, a definite portion of the public, before whom he and
his opponents can present initiatives, defend their records and be judged, then
there is no bond between them. Not being chosen by public, a lawmaker cannot be
said to represent them. And government without representation... is that
democracy? The writer is an attorney admitted to practice law in New York and
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