How does one describe Israeli democracy that fails to produce a stable government in a national election once (April), twice (September), and perhaps, heaven forbid, again in February?

Interior Minister Arye Deri at a Shas campaign rally (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Interior Minister Arye Deri at a Shas campaign rally
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Plonter (Yiddish): muddle, tangle, jumble; a knotted tangle of threads that is difficult or impossible to untangle.
How does one describe Israeli democracy that fails to produce a stable government in a national election once (April), twice (September), and perhaps, heaven forbid, again in February?
Both Hebrew and English lack an appropriate word, so we have to appeal to Yiddish: plonter. Our political system is a plonter. These days I hear that word all the time.
Change the system? That idea is amusing. To do so we need a stable government to provide a majority. But if we had a stable majority government, then we would not need to change the system. A perfect Catch-22.
So here is my take on untangling the plonter, the speech I would make on the radio just before the next national election:
MY NAME is Shlomo Maital. I’ve lived in Israel for 52 years, and love this country deeply. I teach economics. It is deeply painful to see my country locked in political deadlock. The question is, how do we cut the plonter – the Gordian knot that netted Blue & White 1,151,214 votes and Likud, 1,113,617 votes, a virtual dead heat?
Some 70% of Israel’s 6,394,030 eligible voters turned out to vote in September. But 1,918,209 citizens stayed home. It is to you stay-at-homes (mostly younger people) that I make this appeal.
Right- and left-wing supporters are pretty much locked into their positions. We need some independent thinkers to break the tie. That means you.  And it looks like you are about to play a crucial role.  We may all soon be sent to the ballot box again. And this time, you cannot, must not, stay home.
On Monday night, October 21, just after the Simchat Torah holiday ended, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned the mandate to form a government to President Reuven Rivlin.  Rivlin then asked the head of Blue and White,  Benny Gantz, to try to form a government. But Gantz’s chances look slim. Israel seems to be heading for a third national election in fewer than 10 months. Netanyahu appears to be angling for it, because until a new government is approved by the Knesset, he remains Prime Minister – a major boon for him if and when he is indicted.
How should you independents vote? I know, I can hear you say: “There is no one to vote for. They’re all corrupt, unworthy.”
This is not the case. The unworthy ones are those who, led by Likud, have been in power for a decade, since 2009, when Likud actually received one fewer Knesset seat than Kadima but the wizard, Netanyahu, still formed a government.
Vote according to your answer to these questions: Has the government led by Likud and Netanyahu governed well? Have the cabinet ministers performed competently? If yes – vote for them. If not – vote them out of office and let a new team try their hand.
Forget ideology – occupied territories, the Nation-State Law, hobbling the Supreme Court, halting work on the railway on Shabbat. Vote based on the bottom line: did they run their ministries competently?
Here is the competency scorecard:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is at present also the Minister of Defense as well holding a few other portfolios. This is prime facie evidence of incompetence. Why all those empty chairs? His looming indictment has sucked all the oxygen out of crucial discussion of urgent policy issues.
Grade: F.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon bailed out of his party, Kulanu, folding it into Likud just before it disappeared. He left Israel’s finances in a shambles. His own ministry’s forecasts show that 2019 will end with a budget deficit of 3.6% of GDP, 10 billion shekels higher than planned. There is already talk of Israel’s credit rating falling as a result. Kahlon’s misguided housing subsidy plan failed miserably. Grade: F-.
Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman: On his watch, Israel’s hospitals are now overcrowded and close to collapse. Patients in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa lie in hallways for lack of hospital beds. Makor Rishon quoted Prof. Naiel Basharat, the head of Internal Medicine at Emek Medical Center, Afula, who said that when his own father was deathly ill a year ago, “I chose to take care of him at home … because of the situation in the hospital wards, even my own ward.”
In August, the Times of Israel reported: “Police recommended that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman be indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust for using his office to illicitly provide assistance to an alleged serial sex abuser, as well as on a separate bribery charge for helping to prevent the closure of a food business that his own ministry had deemed unsanitary.” Grade: F minus minus. Or worse.
Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan: Israeli police, for whom Erdan is responsible, say there have been more than 70 killings in Arab communities this year, almost as many as in each of the past two years. Israeli Arabs are 20% of the general population, but comprise over half of all murder victims nationwide. Erdan blames Arab society. Israeli Arabs blame ineffective, inadequate police services in their villages. Grade: F.
Minister of the Interior Arye Deri: In August, The Jerusalem Post reported that “State Attorney Shai Nitzan has recommended to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to indict Interior Minister Arye Deri for tax crimes, fraud, money-laundering and some unspecified obstruction crimes.” This was the result of a three-year investigation. Deri previously went to jail for similar crimes. Grade: F.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz (who from 2009 to February 2019 served as Transportation Minister): As transportation minister, Katz stubbornly backed private cars and roads and starved public transportation for a whole decade. Credit him with Israel’s gridlocked roads today. Grade: F.
Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin: Many Likud ministers have utterly no interest in their ministries. Levin was prominent among them. He now heads coalition negotiations for Likud, while tourism stumbles along on its own. Grade: D.
Minister of Environmental Protection Ze’ev Elkin: A Health Ministry report states that “Israelis spend 348,000 days each year hospitalized due to air pollution, and air pollution costs Israel’s health system $1.3 billion annually.” Moreover, some 2,000 Israelis die yearly from illnesses linked to bad air quality.
Elkin spent many months running for Jerusalem mayor; he failed in that, too. But as a Netanyahu stalwart, he joins Levin in leading the coalition bargaining. Grade: D.
Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev: She proposed and backed the so-called loyalty-in-culture bill, which sought to grant her power to censor Israeli culture. Under the proposal, Regev would have the authority to withhold budgets from cultural institutions that she dislikes or regards as disloyal. Fortunately, the bill collapsed in the Knesset last November. Grade: F.
I could go on and on. There are 20 ministers in the current transitional government, and six deputy ministers. I cannot find a single one whose positive achievements balance the gloomy picture of rank incompetence that this bunch of losers portrays.
So how can Israeli democracy untangle the knot and escape the plonter?
Voters – forget ideology! Forget left and right. Think competence. Vote for those whom you think have done good things for Israel and can do good things in the future. Vote against those who have proven, over a decade, to be utterly incompetent at running their ministries.
END OF speech. As I conclude, I am thinking of another Yiddish expression, “Redn tzu der vant!” Literally, talk to the wall! But who knows? Maybe this time, the wall will have ears.
P.S. Columnist! Come on!  Have you nothing good to say about this government?   
Well, actually, I do. Just out – Israel’s rankings in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business scorecard rose dramatically this year, from 49th to 35th. Why? Mainly, by slashing red tape and bureaucracy, in taxes and foreign trade.  And there is a whole lot more red tape waiting to be cut again this year!
The writer heads the Zvi Griliches Research Data Center at S. Neaman Institute, Technion and blogs at