The political crisis has made clear the necessity for electoral reform

Israel desperately needs to reform its political system.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara voting for the 23rd Knesset on Monday (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara voting for the 23rd Knesset on Monday
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Albert Einstein once said, “in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.”
The 2019-2020 political crisis in Israel is thankfully and finally behind us with the formation of a new broad national-unity government. It was certainly not a given and many thought that we might indeed be heading to a fourth election.
While the incoming government must be immediately focused on the coronavirus pandemic and its attendant economic and social damage, it must also see in the political crisis a necessity to deal once and for all with an electoral and political system that lends itself to this kind of paralysis.
The extreme form of proportional representation that Israel utilizes made sense at the formation of the state and during its early years. There were many different and disparate communities that required representation, whether Left and Right, secular, religious and ultra-Orthodox, and Arab, and different streams within each one.
Proportional representation meant that every group had a stake in the success of the Jewish state and had elected principals with which to raise grievances.
However, our current system has outlasted its earlier usefulness because while it places a premium on representation, it stifles governability and stability.
In the history of the state, only three governments have fulfilled a four-year term. In the 72 years since the founding of the state, we have had 34 governments, meaning on average, a government lasts slightly longer than two years.
This means in practical terms that there is little stability, not enough time for the enacting of a long-term policy in crucial areas and the focus of the leadership is more about ensuring the continuance of the government coalition rather than concentrating on the needs of the nation.
Moreover, Israel lacks a principle that is the foundational point of many democracies around the world: a directly elected and thus fully accountable representative.
In most of the English-speaking world, the political systems are based on representative democracy with the principle of elected officials representing a particular group of people, usually geographically based. This ensures that every citizen has a directly elected official to turn and be accountable to. Israel’s political system is based on party-list proportional representation, which is arguably more representative but less directly accountable.
Israel desperately needs to reform its political system to find the necessary balance in sustaining a high level of representation where each group is proportionally represented, but with greater accountability, direct representation and more governability.
In speaking to experts and civic leaders around the country, it has become clear that one system stands out in its ability to find the right balance between these seemingly competing needs.
The State of Israel could adopt a mixed-member proportional representation electoral system, used in countries such as Germany and New Zealand, meaning that the voter will cast two ballots, one for a representative for a single-seat constituency, and another for a party list. The numbers are then adjusted to ensure a particular party receives the number of seats proportionate to its national tally.
This would mean that each community or voting bloc would remain the same size, but each Knesset member would represent a specific regional area and would be directly accountable to the voters in that district or constituency.
It also allows for the potential of crossover voting. Citizens can vote for a local representative they like, but then use the second vote for a political party they ideologically identify with. This rewards the competent local representative even if they are not from the voter’s preferred party.
In New Zealand, which has a population roughly half of Israel’s, around 30% take up that option of cross-voting. It means that the local candidates are more likely to be able to attract votes for who they are, what they’ve achieved and what they can contribute nationally from the local level, without having to worry about the strategic vote.
It has been referred to as “the ideal system,” as it encourages increased political participation among voters and candidates.
As it is still a form of proportional representation, a minimum vote threshold is still required, but we need to raise the threshold from its current 3.25%. Since 2014 the threshold was raised from 2%, and we have witnessed in recent elections the coalescing of parties representing similar constituencies, like in the Arab and National-Religious sectors. This needs further raising so governments can be built with even fewer parties and the prime minister will have greater power and time to govern the country and not manage the near constant intrigues and politicking within the coalition.
There are many elements here and at The Anglo Vision we are continuing to engage with our community, and beyond, and look forward to hearing lots of different ideas, because one thing that unites most of us is the fact that political reform of some kind is essential.
At the base of many of our national challenges, whether security, health, diplomatic or economic, is a system that is no longer working. It is failing the test of governance and is unaccountable to the people.
Our political system is moving toward paralysis, and the last two years are merely a taste of things to come. We need to make the necessary changes now before it is too late. The recent crisis has hopefully impressed this on our decision-makers, and it is an opportunity we dare not miss.

The writer is founder of the Anglo Vision and founder and dean of The Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics and Community Development, an organization dedicated to building Israeli society one community at a time by successfully bringing Diaspora models of community-building to Israel. To contact us: TheAngloVision@gmail.com.