Israel's political system favors the minority over the majority - opinion

Anyone who does not strive to reform the screwed-up system is no better than a criminal.

‘HELLO, CAN I speak with Yanki, please?’ Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky seen at his home in the city of Bnei Brak, in December 2020. (photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
‘HELLO, CAN I speak with Yanki, please?’ Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky seen at his home in the city of Bnei Brak, in December 2020.
(photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
The situation as it should be:
Elections once every four years. As soon as the votes are counted, the winner is declared. The government actually governs. Eighteen cabinet ministers – which is about three more than necessary. Only justifiable government ministries; none that are specious (national digital, settlement affairs, community empowerment and advancement, Jerusalem and heritage, intelligence, water resources, strategic affairs, periphery development, social equality, regional cooperation – with apologies to any other ridiculous office whose name I have omitted). A prime minister who serves two terms for a maximum of eight years. A government that advances national interests and promotes the will of the majority, not sectoral pressure groups.
The situation as it is
The fourth elections in two years, with a good chance of number five shortly thereafter. Elections that do not produce a winner. Thirty-four government ministries in an administration that started out with 35 ministers, including two prime ministers (one in reserve). A system whereby a bloc of parties recommends a candidate for prime minister, giving disproportionate power to small parties whose support is required to reach the magic number of 61 coalition members. This gives the prime minister an incentive to go against the interests of the majority of the Israeli public and pay an exorbitant price to pressure groups represented by small parties.
By way of example, consider this conversation between the prime minister and the grandson of Rabbi Kanievsky. I didn’t invent it:
“Hello, can I speak with Yanki, please?”
“Speaking.”
“Would you please ask your grandfather to follow the regulations of the Ministry of Health that were issued in accordance with law?”
“We’ll check and get back to you.”
“Thank you, thank you very much. And say hello to your grandfather.”
If the law were changed, making the head of the largest party prime minister for a maximum of eight years, if the government did not need to win a vote of confidence in the Knesset and could only be unseated by a special majority, and if it had a whole year to get the budget approved in case it didn’t pass immediately, we would undoubtedly be in the more desirable situation described above. Admittedly, the flaw in this system is that it places a great deal of power in the hands of a single individual.
In the initial stage, we could move in this direction without going all the way. The prime minister would be the head of the largest party, but the government would have to win a vote of confidence in the Knesset. This would lead spontaneously to the formation of two major parties. The absence of the need for the prime minister to get the support of 61 Knesset members would reduce the clout of the smaller parties. It would not silence their voice entirely, since a coalition would still be required to get laws passed. And that’s good, because different groups in the population should be heard. But their leverage in negotiations would be proportional to their size, unlike the situation today. This might be enough to fix the serious faults in the system. If that doesn’t work, we would have to go further and dispense with the need for the government to win a vote of confidence.
Some might say that this reform requires overcoming insurmountable political hurdles. But wasn’t Basic Law: The Government amended in order to create the current government – which may be the most ineffectual in the history of Israel? So can’t we amend it to eradicate the evils in the electoral system and reap the considerable benefits? Nothing is more important or more urgent. Anyone who does not strive to reform the screwed-up system is no better than a criminal.
Translated from Hebrew by Sara Kitai, [email protected]