Israel cannot be the US or Russia

The voter is called to vote for a party and that is deliberate to the extent that elections are for political collective agendas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
The current reports in the media that the Likud seriously considers Arye Deri’s proposal for direct prime ministerial elections to be held in the spring so that the country will exit the current post-election hung out, fetch devastating news. Not only from a policy point of view, since the direct prime ministerial system was tried in the beginning of the previous decade and failed, but more importantly, the news is worrisome on institutional grounds.
First of all, anyone talking of introducing such a system in a parliamentary democracy like the Israeli one, simply chooses to ignore or does not understand basic precepts. The fact, for example, that in parliamentary democracies, the system is built around political parties, not around individuals, no matter how charismatic they are and no matter whether they may even be their parties’ leaders.
The voter is called to vote for a party and that is deliberate to the extent that elections are for political collective agendas. Concepts like the political left or right sprang together with the convolution of the parliamentary idea both in England and later in France and became synonymous with relevant parties which came to express these political fields.
Alliance to a party rather than to an individual provided an important guarantee that parliamentarianism, born in Europe under the shadow of the monarchy, would not be carried away by the words of an individual who, as a demagogue, would lure the masses, taking powers on, becoming a de facto monarch or dictator.
In the United States – where monarchy was never in place – the electoral focus fell from the beginning on individuals. Americans vote directly for their president. But that is another political system called presidential democracy. Israel cannot have direct elections of the executive’s head, meaning the prime minister, without this meaning the country’s shift to a presidential system. Moreover, someone cannot advocate such shift without understanding that this, in essence, means a re-establishment of the foundations upon which the state lies.
For example, since political parties are the foundation stone of parliamentary democracy, the law ordains that they receive funding from the state budget in order to exist. Yet, in presidential systems like in the US, parties are basically funded by donations. Focus is on the existence of an individual as potential leader rather than to the existence of parties who, like Brexit has shown recently, can challenge collective entities, and even their leaders in parliament.
If direct prime ministerial elections are re-instituted in Israel, all the debate will shift to the personalities of Gantz and Netanyahu instead of their parties’ programs. The leader-worshiping cult that will emerge will come to be added to an already existent similar landscape that is pervading certain segments of the Israeli society following Netanyahu’s long standing rule. In an era where populism is rampant in both sides of the Atlantic, a direct prime ministerial election would only strengthen these voices also in Israel.
Yet, what Israel currently needs is new proposals and ideas, not cult-worship of certain individuals. Though it has been suggested that the direct election scheme has been proposed to placate Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman, who has argued for it in the past, Israel cannot become the US and, on this account, neither Russia.
The writer is lecturer in the Division of Public and International Law at Brunel University, London School of Law and in the past has served in the Knesset legal department.