Silver lining

The problem in Israel is not that it is not Jewish enough.

knesset  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
When governments expire prematurely, they leave a political mess in their wake. Barely did our ministers settle into their respective ministries and begin implementing policy visions before they found themselves out of office. The lifespan of our governments are notoriously short. While the previous one led by Benjamin Netanyahu managed to survive for nearly four years (2009-2013), the last time a government lasted that long before that it was led by Menachem Begin, from 1977 to 1981.
This state of affairs undermines voter confidence. What is the point of voting if after a very short time, before any serious policy or reform can be implemented, our elected officials are voted out of office and the whole Sisyphean endeavor is repeated? A 2005 study by Doron Navot and Eli Reches found that in Israel, 70 percent of government decisions – ranging from public housing to privatization of the ports, from reforms in the Israel Electric Corporation to the construction of a light rail in Tel Aviv – are left unimplemented.
This is undoubtedly one of the reasons voter participation has been dropping, from around 80% in 1996 to just 67% in the most recent (2013) election – which was slightly higher than in 2009.
Nevertheless, we might allow ourselves to look at the positive side of early elections, if for no other reason than to ward off the gloom of going through the tedious minutia of the democratic process – the brain-numbing campaign propaganda and jingles, the shameless self-promotion, the bitter infighting and the mutual incrimination. At the very least we should cheer ourselves with the thought that a number of legislative initiatives, strongly opposed by this paper, have been put on hold indefinitely. Some will likely be scrapped altogether.
Yair Lapid’s zero-VAT plan for lowering housing prices leads the list. The Treasury’s chief economist, Michael Sarel, resigned in protest over the plan. Bank of Israel Gov.
Karnit Flug rejected it as well. In his resignation letter, Sarel argued that Lapid’s plan would actually raise real estate prices by increasing demand without dealing with the real problem – cumbersome bureaucracy leading to a shortage of land for housing.
Another bill that has been stopped – we hope permanently – is the “Jewish state” legislation. As we have argued, the potential benefits to be derived from it are minimal, while a high price would be paid in the form of increased tension with Arab citizens, who make up a fifth of the population, with American Jewry – particularly the Reform and Conservative movements – and with governments in the US and Europe.
The problem in Israel is not that it is not Jewish enough.
The Law of Return and the limits on family reunification between Arab Israelis and Palestinians help protect the Jewish majority. National holidays, the dominant culture, the language, the power given to the Orthodox rabbinical establishment, the national anthem, national symbols all reflect Israel’s Jewishness. The truly pressing problem we face, before we go ahead and anchor the uniquely Jewish character of the State of Israel in a quasi-constitutional basic law, is finding ways of integrating our very large Arab minority.
Another unfortunate legislative initiative that will fortunately be buried is the “Israel Hayom” bill. It sought to single out a particular newspaper – one that happens to be unabashedly pro-Benjamin Netanyahu and distributed for free – for punishment. Politicians such as Tzipi Livni and Naftali Bennett, who have a clear interest in silencing Israel Hayom, should not be the ones deciding when the line has been crossed between news coverage and propaganda.
Readers should decide.
A bill drafted by MK Yariv Levin (Likud), which sought to change the composition of the committee that chooses Supreme Court justices, will also be put on hold. Presently, the nine-member committee is made up of three Supreme Court justices and two lawyers, who can block any appointment made by the four legislators who are also members. Levin sought to replace two of the justices with a retired district judge and a law professor. This bill is part of a broader campaign led by Levin to limit the powers of the court. But we believe the Supreme Court remains a bulwark against the danger of the tyranny of the majority and should retain its autonomy.
Early elections are, admittedly, bad for Israel. However, exerting oneself to find the positive side, the silver lining, the half-full cup, can generate optimism in the face of despair. After all, a few good things have come out of the early demise of this government. One should count one’s blessings.