Israel's electoral system only harms the country - opinion

The ballots cast by a mere 700,000 voters will now dictate the policies and conduct of the Israeli government in the years to come vis-a-vis its 10 million citizens and, indeed, the entire world.

 PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting, this past Sunday. Prime ministers who head large parties are required to succumb to policies that do not tally with the desires or needs of most citizens, says the writer. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting, this past Sunday. Prime ministers who head large parties are required to succumb to policies that do not tally with the desires or needs of most citizens, says the writer.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The outcomes of the recent Israeli election campaign have been analyzed from nearly every possible angle. However, it seems that ultimately they are only being tested by a single dimension: the perspective of the political right wing or that of the political left wing. All articles and viewpoints provided by the media analyze all that is good for Benjamin Netanyahu and the right wing and bad for the left wing.

Various minority groups are raising their loud concerns over their prospects under the new regime, some of which are more justified than others. But hardly anyone is discussing the implications of the election outcomes and coalition negotiations on Israel as a democratic, sovereign and free state that even after 74 years of independence remains reliant upon its strategic ties with superpowers, such as the United States and some European Union member states, regardless of political affiliation.

The failed electoral structure and system forces the prime minister-elect, time and again, to engage in coalition negotiations during which they are prone to extortion until a hard-pressed government is formed, which can then only last for some time before being toppled by one member of Knesset or another.

This means that in order to form a government, the prime minister-elect must agree to almost every demand made by potential coalition members, even if the elections had only won them a small or medium number of seats in the Knesset; parties that were not elected to rule and lead, but merely to represent a certain sector of the population.

These parties do not represent any kind of majority of the population, only various minority groups within it. Thus, prime ministers who head large parties that represent a considerable percentage of the population are required to succumb to policies that do not tally with the desires or needs of most citizens, as long as they enable them to form and sustain their government.

 Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich  gives a press statement at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on May 26, 2021.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich gives a press statement at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on May 26, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

To understand the implications of the recent coalition agreements and their near-destructive effect on Israel as a state, I will attempt to provide several examples below to demonstrate what could happen in the foreseeable future, and not necessarily from a political perspective.

The destructive effect of recent coalition agreements: What could go wrong

There are almost 10 million citizens in Israel. Of them, about 6.8 million are eligible to vote. The votes won by the coalition members with a small or medium number of seats in the Knesset are as follows:

The Religious Zionist Party won approximately 500,000 votes, equivalent to some 5% of the Israeli population. This party is comprised of three factions, one of which consists of a single elected official (Noam) and in itself would not have crossed the electoral threshold. Shas won some 390,000 votes, constituting about 3.8% of all Israeli citizens. The ultra-Orthodox parties collectively won about 280,000 votes, comprising some 2.6% of the Israeli population.

In total and using a rough calculation that includes the families, all of these parties represent less than 20% of Israeli citizens. Nevertheless, the elected officials in them have gained full control over Israel’s security, economic and political future in a way that affects all its citizens.

Thus, for instance, the only coalition member representing Noam will have the honor of being the minister within the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of the educational programs provided to all Israeli students. The most crucial system in charge of educating the next generations, and responsible for Israel’s cultural and scientific development, has been placed in the hands of a man whose religious and civilian views are known for being extreme, and who has already promised to have a negative effect on many sectors of the population.

Another example is the Defense Ministry, forced to host an additional minister who is fully responsible for coordinating government activities in the territories, as well as for the Israel Civil Administration, both of which are areas the IDF is fully in charge. This minister will, according to Smotrich’s statements, form a new policy governing Israel’s conduct in the West Bank so as to turn this area, de facto, into an integral part of Israel, in the absence of international agreements determining its status, as required by United Nations Resolution 242.

In this case, the implications for Israel could be devastating and this is not a politically-driven opinion. Subjecting these military units to a civilian ministry and applying Israeli law to all areas unilaterally means, under international law, declaring permanent occupation over areas recognized by the international community as being under temporary and negotiable occupation.

Such a declaration would lead to Israel being accused of a long list of war crimes, allowing citizens to inhabit areas that it was not permitted to let them inhabit and a de facto annexation of the area in stark contrast to the views held by the world, including the US, EU and all Arab states that have or are in the process of agreeing to have relations with Israel. Moreover, this means that the defense minister and chief of general staff, who are both responsible for this area by law, would not be able to exercise their responsibility, as it would, in practice, be in the hands of civilians appointed by the Religious Zionist Party.

MOST JEWISH settlers in the West Bank who are currently viewed as legal residents and recognized as such even by the US would no longer be and instead be charged as war criminals. Military and state leaders would also be charged with war crimes and may face international arrest warrants. Furthermore, the Palestinian arena could reach a boiling point and comprehensive violent outbreak, causing severe losses among both Jewish inhabitants of the West Bank and Jews living well within Israeli borders.

Under the expected state of affairs, there will not be any legal advisers available to warn of or defend Israel’s moves since the designated minister intends to appoint his own. These legal advisers may be able to justify each of his steps to the minister himself but may fail to do so to the international community. The supreme court judges politically appointed by this government would not be able to do so either.

What else can we expect? A series of economic and political sanctions by most countries worldwide and broad condemnation by all international institutions. The EU, for instance, is expected to cease all economic and scientific investments in Israel, amounting to hundreds of millions of euros. The US administration is also expected to take steps that would significantly limit Israel’s freedom of action in the Mediterranean arena in particular and the international one in general.

Under this foreseen state of affairs, Israel would not be able or want to evacuate illegal outposts, since the border police troops who would normally have carried out such tasks would be subject to the new national security minister, who is a firm believer in sustaining and expanding the Jewish settlements in the West Bank across the board.

According to this theory and the legislation that will follow it, any Palestinian attacking a Jew would be considered a murderous terrorist, whereas any Jew attacking a Palestinian would be viewed as a rotten apple who should be reformed.

The coalition members demand that no rights be given to gays and lesbians, segregation between men and women in the public sphere be increased, the cessation of all kinds of public transportation on weekends, an end to the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox men in the IDF and the absence of all core studies from ultra-Orthodox school curriculums while having them fully funded by the state. The late Rabbi Haim Druckman, the founding father of religious Zionism, went as far as to say that he sees no reason not to turn Israel into a state governed by Jewish law.

It is therefore clear that the ballots cast by a mere 700,000 voters will now dictate the policies and conduct of the Israeli government in the years to come vis-a-vis its 10 million citizens and, indeed, the entire world.

The danger posed by these events is not affiliated with right-wing or left-wing beliefs, nor is it associated with religious faith or lack thereof. It pertains only to the simplest thing, which is a Jewish-Israeli democracy. The Jewish mind has come up with a system that allows a minority to decide how the state should be run for most of its citizens and in stark contrast to their wishes.

It did not work at the time of the First Temple and ultimately led to its destruction. It did not work at the time of the Second Temple, ultimately leading to its destruction, too. It did not work in Syria, where a minority group tried to rule over the majority, and it did not work in Iraq or, indeed, anywhere else in the world. And, ultimately, it will not work here either. The only question that remains is whether it will lead to a coup, a civil revolt or civil war.

Time will tell. One thing we can be certain of is that things will only get worse if we do not initiate a dramatic change in governing and the electoral system in Israel. The Israeli government’s top priority should be to approve a change of the system and all its components (upon which we will elaborate in upcoming papers) as soon as possible and save this country from further deterioration.

The writer is chairman of the New People’s Council and head of National Resilience Research at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at Reichman University.