Why I am running for the Knesset

My hope is that by running for a spot on the party list, I can give a voice to those who are fed up with lack of accountability.

Likud primary candidate Daniel Tauber 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Likud primary candidate Daniel Tauber 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Before the previous election, I read an article by famous Israeli singer Shlomo Artzi, complaining that Israel had no Barack Obama. Hope, change, dynamism: Artzi, and many other Israelis, I suspect, wanted those things in a candidate.
Want as they may, they aren’t likely to get it. Israel’s political system isn’t geared for it.
In our party-list system, the real contest for legislative candidates is in party primaries. That’s because the number of Knesset seats a party receives is not in the hands of a candidate.
If the party receives 27 mandates and a candidate is 28th on the list, he’s out of a job.
Despite the obvious importance of the primaries, very few citizens belong to parties. If one takes all the country’s current democratic parties – Likud, Kadima, Labor and Jewish Home – there are about 347,000 total members (about 4.4 percent of the population), with about 150,500 voting in primaries (about 1.9%).
There are a variety of factors behind those low numbers: The public may not fully understand the importance of primary elections, where voting power is exponentially greater; registration is an affirmative step they just don’t have time to take; the process of registration and maintaining good standing can be frustrating. It also costs some money (NIS 40- 64 depending on the party) and there is usually a waiting period. In the Likud it’s 16 months.
Regardless of the reason, this shamefully low participation rate skews the conduct and results of party primaries as even a few hundred party members can affect a Knesset member’s political future.
Many take advantage of the low numbers by registering friends and family, coworkers and even employees to the party. These members often know nothing about internal party politics or who to vote for except for what they’re told by the person who registered them. Many register as a favor for the sole purpose of voting as instructed. Sometimes they register to support an interest group they belong to, such as a lobby or a labor union.
The most extreme example is that of votecontractors who register thousands by hiring people to register party members for them.
These vote contractors can leverage these members’ votes to receive favors, jobs and other things from members of Knesset and ministers.
Aside from negotiating and winning the support of these players, to survive, MKs themselves must engage in this practice, registering people and exchanging support with other MKs or supporting candidates backed by other vote-contractors or interest groups.
It’s hard to imagine Barack Obama, or at least the ideal Obama, engaging in such a practice. But in Israel, that’s what he would have to do to get ahead. And even then, he couldn’t count on success. The structure and operation of the party primaries itself makes quite a difference and that is set by party organs without real oversight, often for the benefit of certain candidates at the expense of others.
Of course, in Israel, we don’t necessarily need a Barack Obama. But one thing we do need is a political system which allows for the introduction of talented newcomers, who are not necessarily former generals, sons of famous politicians, or media personalities. The Knesset should not be the Palm Beach of the famous. More importantly, we need a system which places electoral power in the hands of the public, not a party’s central committee or secretariat or vote-contractors.
I don’t expect drastic reform of the political system any time soon. The system puts power in parties – that’s where your vote goes – so it doesn’t seem likely that those parties would vote for reforms which would limit their power. Israelis also don’t seem to understand or mind the fact that 95.6% of them don’t have a vote in half of the democratic process.
Until they do and demand reform, the only solution is to work to increase public participation in the political process by registering citizens to vote in primaries. If the Likud, for example, had a membership of 300,000 instead of a mere 123,000 it would be very hard for even the most experienced vote-contractor to manage the vast numbers of members necessary to influence the outcomes of elections. They would become irrelevant and the relationship between MKs and the average citizen would be much more direct.
Even if those numbers can’t be reached, one thing is certain: If you’re not a member of a party which has primary elections, you have very little influence over those who represent you. Being able to vote for an actual representative is a right which everyone deserves.
When I first came to Israel, I didn’t imagine I would be running for a spot on the Likud’s Knesset list a relatively short time later. I wanted to be involved in the political process, to support the Likud and see how things panned out.
But the more I learned, the more I realized that the system was broken. As a Central Committee member, I saw how votes were delayed indefinitely in fear of the outcome, how takeit- or-leave-it proposals – proposals which will directly impact the composition of the Knesset – were submitted to the Central Committee only just before they were voted on.
I witnessed how the Central Committee was elected, how voters submitted pre-printed ballots with candidates marked off whom they had never heard of. This is not an indictment of the Likud – at least it has primaries. But it’s hard to imagine how fair any process can be when public participation is so low.
My hope is that by running for a spot on the party list, I can give a voice to those who are simply fed up with the lack of accountability and the lack of fidelity to principle which results from our political system. I believe I can draw more people into the political process and open it up to them. And I hope, in time, not only will I have the honor of serving in the Israeli parliament, but that my efforts will contribute to making our political culture a little more honorable and inspiring.
The writer is a candidate for the Likud’s Knesset list