Think About It: The issue of parliamentary representation

In representation theory there are two basic concepts of representation - though the reality is invariably more complicated.

Miri Regev January 2 2014 (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Miri Regev January 2 2014
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

About four months ago, residents of south Tel Aviv neighborhoods went out to the streets to demonstrate against a ruling of the High Court of Justice. It had declared an amendment to the “Infiltrators Law,” which dealt with the incarceration of African refugees/job-seekers, to be illegal.

Among the MKs who regularly make hay from the dismay of the south Tel Aviv residents, for having been turned into victims of the government’s refusal to deal with the African refugees/job-seekers effectively, is Miri Regev.
Regev views herself as the representative of the less prosperous neighborhoods, which is not only legitimate but even commendable, and certainly not deserving of the sort of mockery which reporter Amnon Levy heaped on her six weeks ago on TV Channel 10.
The problem, however, is the nature of this representation.
In representation theory there are two basic concepts of representation (though the reality is invariably more complicated). The first is that the elected representative has an imperative mandate, is an agent of his party or those who voted for him, and is obliged to follow their wishes as closely as possible. The second is that the representative has a free mandate, is a trustee, and is free to decide how best to serve his constituency.
To return to the case of the poor neighborhoods and the Africans, if we accept the first concept, then Regev is formally within her rights to support the demands of the Israeli residents of these neighborhoods: that the Africans who have settled among them, and who occasionally turn into a menace, be removed from these neighborhoods to other neighborhoods, be incarcerated, or put onto planes with one-way tickets.
However, both according to various rulings of the High Court and the rules of ethics for MKs, in Israel, MKs are considered trustees. Thus, if Regev really wishes to advocate a solution that will alleviate the distress, and find answers to the legitimate complaints of the residents of these neighborhoods, she should join other MKs – admittedly mostly from left-wing parties – who demand that Israel make a serious effort to determine the true status of each and every one of the refugees/job-seekers.
On this basis, she should work to ensure that all those who cannot be sent back to where they come from are able to work legally and lead as normal a life as possible, thus reducing the chances that they will be a menace to the less privileged Israelis in whose midst they live, and who currently bear the main brunt of the unresolved problem – Regev’s chosen constituents.
Incidentally, the fact that MKs are viewed in Israel as trustees does not mean that they cannot choose to act as agents, either of their voters, or of their parties’ political or spiritual leaders. Therefore, if I may return to the issue I dealt with last week – that of the yotzim beshe’ela, or Jews who leave Orthodoxy – there is no doubt that, as I mentioned last week, when MK Moshe Gafni refuses to relate in practical terms to the issue, it is primarily because those he represents view it as an abomination, and his party does not view the mandate of their MKs to be a free one.
It is interesting to note that when it comes to the poor neighborhoods, Regev prefers to act as an agent; however, when it comes to the Private Members’ Bills she submits, she occasionally prefers to serve as a trustee, at least vis-à-vis the government, which is headed by the leader of the party she belongs to – the Likud.
There are two bills in particular among the numerous bills Regev has submitted since first being elected to the Knesset in 2009 (both submitted in the current Knesset) which stand out. One bill calls for the annexation of the Jordan Rift Valley, and one prohibits negotiations on the future of Jerusalem and the Palestinian right of return without the prior approval of a majority of the MKs (at least 61 of the 120).
Both these bills are designed to place obstacles on the road of the political negotiations with the Palestinians, to which the government is formally committed.
Of course, it is quite possible that these bills were submitted with the tacit consent, or even the direct support of senior members of the government, whose aim is to embarrass the prime minister, or to try to divert him from the policy he formally advocates.
However, it should be noted that such conduct is uncommon in parliamentary regimes, and is probably more a manifestation of the deep crisis within the Likud today than of the Israeli system of government, which nevertheless does not prevent such phenomena.
MK Yariv Levin (also from the Likud) – who like Regev was first elected to the Knesset in 2009, but is unquestionably much more of a parliamentary heavyweight than her – also frequently engages in attempts to impose an agenda on the government that is somewhat subversive, and certainly goes much further than the government is willing or able to go.
He does so on such issues as the make-up of the Supreme Court, weakening the status of the Israeli Arabs, and – like Regev, but in a much more sophisticated manner – placing impediments on the road to an agreement on the two-state solution.
In fact, what both he and Regev are insinuating is that it is they, rather than Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who are the true representatives of the Likud voters – certainly a problematic proposition.
One thing is certain: Despite the fact that they are both devoted MKs, each with an impressive record of participation in the work of the Knesset plenum and committees, neither Levin nor Regev will ever be candidates for the award granted each year by the Israel Democracy Institute to outstanding MKs. This is because they are not perceived as strengthening Israel’s democracy and its democratic institutions.
It is not the fact that they are right-wingers that is the problem – in the past, right-wing MKs have been among those receiving the award. In other words, the problem is not who each of them has chosen to represent, but what they have chosen to represent.
The writer is a retired Knesset employee, who is currently doing research on the job of being an MK.