Before the previous election, I read an article by famous Israeli singer Shlomo
Artzi, complaining that Israel had no Barack Obama. Hope, change, dynamism:
Artzi, and many other Israelis, I suspect, wanted those things in a
Want as they may, they aren’t likely to get
it. Israel’s political system isn’t geared for it.
party-list system, the real contest for legislative candidates is in party
primaries. That’s because the number of Knesset seats a party receives is
not in the hands of a candidate.
If the party receives 27 mandates and a
candidate is 28th on the list, he’s out of a job.
Despite the obvious
importance of the primaries, very few citizens belong to parties. If one takes
all the country’s current democratic parties – Likud, Kadima, Labor and Jewish
Home – there are about 347,000 total members (about 4.4 percent of the
population), with about 150,500 voting in primaries (about 1.9%).
are a variety of factors behind those low numbers: The public may not fully
understand the importance of primary elections, where voting power is
exponentially greater; registration is an affirmative step they just don’t have
time to take; the process of registration and maintaining good standing can be
frustrating. It also costs some money (NIS 40- 64 depending on the party) and
there is usually a waiting period. In the Likud it’s 16
Regardless of the reason, this shamefully low participation rate
skews the conduct and results of party primaries as even a few hundred party
members can affect a Knesset member’s political future.
advantage of the low numbers by registering friends and family, coworkers and
even employees to the party. These members often know nothing about internal
party politics or who to vote for except for what they’re told by the person who
registered them. Many register as a favor for the sole purpose of voting as
instructed. Sometimes they register to support an interest group they belong to,
such as a lobby or a labor union.
The most extreme example is that of
votecontractors who register thousands by hiring people to register party
members for them.
These vote contractors can leverage these members’
votes to receive favors, jobs and other things from members of Knesset and
Aside from negotiating and winning the support of these
players, to survive, MKs themselves must engage in this practice, registering
people and exchanging support with other MKs or supporting candidates backed by
other vote-contractors or interest groups.
It’s hard to imagine Barack
Obama, or at least the ideal Obama, engaging in such a practice. But in Israel,
that’s what he would have to do to get ahead. And even then, he couldn’t count
on success. The structure and operation of the party primaries itself makes
quite a difference and that is set by party organs without real oversight, often
for the benefit of certain candidates at the expense of others.
course, in Israel, we don’t necessarily need a Barack Obama. But one thing we do
need is a political system which allows for the introduction of talented
newcomers, who are not necessarily former generals, sons of famous politicians,
or media personalities. The Knesset should not be the Palm Beach of the famous.
More importantly, we need a system which places electoral power in the hands of
the public, not a party’s central committee or secretariat or
I don’t expect drastic reform of the political system
any time soon. The system puts power in parties – that’s where your vote goes –
so it doesn’t seem likely that those parties would vote for reforms which would
limit their power. Israelis also don’t seem to understand or mind the fact that
95.6% of them don’t have a vote in half of the democratic process.
they do and demand reform, the only solution is to work to increase public
participation in the political process by registering citizens to vote in
primaries. If the Likud, for example, had a membership of 300,000 instead of a
mere 123,000 it would be very hard for even the most experienced vote-contractor
to manage the vast numbers of members necessary to influence the outcomes of
elections. They would become irrelevant and the relationship between MKs and the
average citizen would be much more direct.
Even if those numbers can’t be
reached, one thing is certain: If you’re not a member of a party which has
primary elections, you have very little influence over those who represent you.
Being able to vote for an actual representative is a right which everyone
When I first came to Israel, I didn’t imagine I would be
running for a spot on the Likud’s Knesset list a relatively short time later. I
wanted to be involved in the political process, to support the Likud and see how
things panned out.
But the more I learned, the more I realized that the
system was broken. As a Central Committee member, I saw how votes were delayed
indefinitely in fear of the outcome, how takeit- or-leave-it proposals –
proposals which will directly impact the composition of the Knesset – were
submitted to the Central Committee only just before they were voted on.
witnessed how the Central Committee was elected, how voters submitted
pre-printed ballots with candidates marked off whom they had never heard of.
This is not an indictment of the Likud – at least it has primaries. But it’s
hard to imagine how fair any process can be when public participation is so
My hope is that by running for a spot on the party list, I can give
a voice to those who are simply fed up with the lack of accountability and the
lack of fidelity to principle which results from our political system. I believe
I can draw more people into the political process and open it up to them. And I
hope, in time, not only will I have the honor of serving in the Israeli
parliament, but that my efforts will contribute to making our political culture
a little more honorable and inspiring.
The writer is a candidate for the
Likud’s Knesset list