A government of the people?

The summer break about-face episode underlines a fundamental flaw and glaring imperfection at the heart of Israel’s democracy: All too often, the people just are not part of the equation.

Don’t change your travel plans just yet. In a remarkable about-face, the government announced on Monday that summer vacation will not be shortened this year and that school will start as usual on September 1.
The decision comes less than a week after the Education Ministry had declared that Israel’s children would return to the classrooms on August 26.
This ridiculous head-spinning episode underlines a fundamental flaw and glaring imperfection at the heart of Israel’s democracy: all too often, the people just are not part of the equation.

When the ministry initially proposed the August 26 date, it naturally prompted an outcry from parents, students and the tourism industry.
After all, how could the bureaucracy be so short-sighted as to inform the public just two months in advance about such a change, when people had already made travel plans, booked flights and reserved hotel rooms? It was a decision that was completely out of touch with reality and devoid of logic, and it left a lot of people scratching their heads, wondering what the powers that be were thinking, or if in fact they were doing any thinking at all.
But don’t believe for a moment that the reversal of the proposed move had anything to do with the public. It didn’t.
As Education Minister Gideon Saar made clear, the turnabout took place because the National Teachers’ Union objected, claiming it would affect the calculation of vacation days for the nation’s educators.
And so, in typical fashion, a major decision was made without taking the populace into account, and it was withdrawn without regard for how they may have felt.
Parents and children were but an afterthought, as though their needs didn’t warrant a moment’s concern in shaping the parameters of the school calendar.
Sadly, this affair is emblematic of many of the senseless decisions that govern our lives.
INCREASINGLY, WE find ourselves under the thumb of nameless, faceless and often brainless bureaucrats who do not have our best interests at heart.
Take, for example, the astonishing report that Israel plans to sell 10 million cubic meters of water from the Kinneret to Jordan this summer. This is in addition to the 30 million cubic meters of water we already give the Jordanians as part of the 1994 peace treaty.
Over the past year, the government spent millions of shekels on an ad campaign with the aim of convincing the public to conserve water, citing the dangerously low level of the Kinneret, which has not reached its maximum capacity since 2004.
The price of water jumped precipitously, painful fines were imposed on those who used large quantities, and people were discouraged from washing their cars, watering their gardens and taking extended showers.
Indeed, the Kinneret stands at -212.38 meters below sea level, just slightly higher than the lower red line, and a mere 2.5 meters above the black line.
But none of this seems to matter to the clueless government hacks with their hands on the spigot. Even as they ask the public to save water, they turn around and reportedly decide to sell this precious and scarce resource to our neighbors.
What kind of message does this send? It is ever more clear that Israelis are governed not by the people, but by an inflexible and indifferent bureaucracy that is all but deaf to the needs of those it is intended to serve.
It is a bureaucracy that has mismanaged our water and now struggles even to schedule a school vacation properly.
Apparently, after two millennia without the sovereign powers of self-rule, Israel has become so enamored of government that we just cannot seem to get enough of it. We have created a bloated and unwieldy system that is failing us all.
It is time for this to change. We need to toss aside the socialist values that gave rise to the mammoth monstrosity that governs our affairs and intrudes on every corner of our existence.
Israel desperately needs a Reagan revolution, one that will cut government down to size, reduce red tape and let the vast talent and entrepreneurial spirit of this nation come to the fore.
The stranglehold of the Nanny State is perhaps the gravest domestic threat to our personal freedom and national prosperity.
We need to make government answerable and accountable, and as small as possible.
“Democracy”, the author Oscar Wilde once noted, “means simply the bludgeoning of the people, by the people for the people”.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, nor was it intended to.
Democracy really means giving voice to the yearnings of the nation and forging a system in which the government works for the people, and not the other way around.
That was the dream expressed in our national anthem, which underlined the desire for us “to be a free people in our land.” But that freedom is more and more at risk, as the behemoth of bureaucracy threatens to quash everything in its path without mercy.
The time has come for us to take it back and to once again allow the people to be the masters of their own fate.
The writer serves as chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), a Jerusalem-based organization that assists 'lost Jews''seeking to return to the Jewish people.