My Ten Commandments of political reform

Steps that could make our lives as Israelis better in the year to come.

commandments 88 (photo credit: )
commandments 88
(photo credit: )
Irrespective of its composition, the top priority of our government must be to repair the House of Israel. In view of the soul searching taking place arising from the Lebanon war, this could be an ideal opportunity for a broader review of the state of the nation. As I see it, these are the 10 most critical challenges facing us.
  • The IDF - In view of a possible renewal of hostilities and wider extension of the conflict, this exercise assumes the highest priority. The most important requirement is to create an integrated process of political-military-intelligence command that can trigger alarm bells in order to ensure that the recent failures by the military establishment are not replicated. The specific failures exposed also demand a host of urgent reforms and responses, not least how to overcome the new challenge from short-range missiles. The future role of reservists, backbone of our army which was eroded over the past decade, must also be reevaluated.
  • The Iranian nuclear threat - This represents a potentially existential danger. The government must create a standing body of experts to liaise with various strategic and intelligence agencies and endeavor to reach consensus on how to deal with this challenge. Israel itself must also have a last-resort contingency plan which will constitute an effective deterrent.
  • Corruption - If the tide of corruption is not reversed society will collapse and we are doomed to becoming a banana republic. Penalties of sufficient harshness must be legislated and ruthlessly prosecuted to act as a deterrent against future abuses. Politicians and other fat cats must be made aware that even minor breaches will terminate political careers.
  • The electoral system and the judiciary - At the core of the nation's political malaise is the electoral system. A new structure replacing proportional representation by constituency elections while retaining a mechanism for minority involvement would of itself vastly contribute toward stability. Enabling the electorate to reward and punish candidates would also lead to a speedy elimination of corrupt politicians. Our Supreme Court is far too interventionist in usurping the role of the legislature. The court's role, whose influence vastly exceeds the powers of the judiciary in other democratic countries, has to be reviewed.
  • Social welfare - Increased financial demands for defense and rehabilitation of communities in the north will demand drastic budgetary reductions in other areas. This could inflict the greatest pain on the weakest sectors of society. Yet that must be balanced with the need to retain fiscal responsibility and a resilient economy. Irrespective of the political composition of the government, a standing body of eminent economists and social welfare experts should be created in order to encourage an informed public discourse which could exert pressure against single-issue political groups promoting their selfish interests to the detriment of the national interest. It would also be timely to quantify the costs imposed on the nation by able-bodied people who receive state subsidies but refuse to participate in the workforce, not least within sectors of the haredi community.
  • Arab Israelis. This population sector comprises 20% of the nation. No stone should be left unturned to eliminate discrimination and accelerate genuine social and economic equality. On the other hand, the radicalization of this community escalated during the Lebanon war when Arab-Israeli legislators actually competed to voice support of those who seek to destroy us. Some actually identified themselves with the enemy, even blaming Israel for Arab casualties inflicted by Hizbullah. Such behavior poses a threat to the security of the nation but also represents a difficult challenge for a state priding itself on its democratic ethos. Yet there is no doubt that we imperil our future if we continue to bury our heads in the sand when a sizable minority supports a foreign power committed to our destruction. The Knesset should therefore introduce an oath of national allegiance and impose severe penalties on Israeli citizens who fail to adhere to it. The legislation adopted to outlaw the late Meir Kahane could serve as a guideline.
  • Internal harmony - The Gaza disengagement substantially intensified the prevailing trend toward polarization. On the other hand, the Lebanese war triggered new thinking between conflicting social groups, not least the religious and the secular. These elements should be harnessed to heal internal tensions and foster tolerance and reconciliation.
  • Education - A determined effort is required to introduce a basic curriculum obligatory for all educational streams, incorporating a minimum secular standard as well as civic obligations, loyalty to the state, Jewish civilization, values, history and heritage. It has been done before in the '60s (the Jewish consciousness curriculum), and it must be revived again. Such reform will be a difficult and long-term challenge, but it represents the core from which our principal social, cultural, religious and economic problems originate.
  • National service - Legislation should be introduced making national service mandatory for all sections of society, including Arabs and haredim. While Arabs would be exempted from IDF service, they would be obliged to undertake other forms of national service. Haredim already represent 10% of youngsters of draft age. The principal haredi objection to national service is the distraction from yeshiva studies and the intermingling with others who do not share their religious beliefs. If they are unable or unwilling to serve in the army they must at least participate in alternative forms of national service.
  • World Jewry - The burgeoning growth of anti-Semitism, assimilation and neglect by Israel has led to a growing gulf between Israel and the Diaspora. The concept of the centrality of Israel has weakened and is undermining Jewish identity. Nevertheless Jews throughout the world remain Israel's one ally. This is the moment for the government to strengthen the historic, religious, and cultural bonds which have been marginalized over the past few decades. These, to me, are the Ten Commandments which we are obliged to place at the forefront of Israel's post-Lebanon war agenda. The writer chairs the Diaspora-Israel Relations Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and is a veteran international Jewish leader.