Friday, May 23, 2008


Sherwin Pomerantz

The Problem

Understanding that any brief analysis of the problems attendant to the political system in Israel is, prima facie, incapable of being complete, permit me to provide some bullet insights into the challenges that prevent real political change.

* With the exception of Iceland (which only has half the population of Jerusalem), Israel is the only parliamentary democracy in the world where not even one member of the Knesset is elected directly by a constituency of the citizenry. * For 60 years, even when two parties between them had sufficient power to make changes, no change in the system has ever been made in the electoral process, except for the one direct election of the Prime Minister about 10 years ago.

* When forces of change did come together, those efforts were generally directed at creating a new party in order to gain Knesset mandates and make changes. However, such efforts usually never lasted more than one or two terms.

* New parties who have successfully received mandates in the Knesset have rarely had sufficient influence to force change to occur.

* In the fractious environment of the Knesset, progressive change becomes almost impossible.

One can then draw a conclusion that (a) getting the current parties to effect electoral change is fruitless because the MKs would be putting themselves out of business and (b) trying to effect change by forming a new party for that purpose has no history of success in the Israeli political construct. This pattern replicates itself on many other issues of import as well of course.

The Alternative

Perhaps what is needed to effect political change is not a new party that strives to get elected to the Knesset but, instead, a new party/association/faction (the name is not important but let’s call it a “faction” for this dialogue) that strives to deliver votes and make the current parties accountable to those voters.

What do I mean?

It would seem to me that what Israel needs more than anything right now is something akin to the Liberal Party in New York State.

The Liberal Party of New York State is the longest existing third party in the history of the United States. It was founded in 1944 as an alternative to a state Democratic Party dominated by local party machines rife with corruption and a Republican Party controlled by special interests. Sound familiar?

Just three years older than the State of Israel, the Liberal Party has a history of nominating candidates on the basis of merit, independence, and progressive viewpoints, regardless of party affiliations.

Note that “nominees” of the party are not separate and apart from the mainstream parties. Traditionally the Liberal Party has basically endorsed candidates from either the Democrat or Republican parties and then delivered their party’s votes to that candidate. That has the effect of creating a body of voters who support a particular major party candidate but whose votes can be lost in the next election if the supported candidate does not perform. The twin concepts of endorsement and delivery give the party its power, but it never serves in the legislature.

The Israel Application

Think, for a moment, what it would mean if there were a group of people here, 300,000 strong who took a position, developed a position paper regarding key issues that needed attention, and then delivered those votes to the mainline party running for Knesset seats.

300,000 people is approximately 10 mandates, enough to have a major influence on the party that snags those voters and sufficiently meaningful to make the fear of losing those votes in the next election petrifying to that party. In other words, if the party that gained the support of these 300,000 did not deliver during its term, these 300,000 votes would go to the opposition in the next election.

Would the Israeli electorate warm to this concept? Why not? The citizenry still votes in Knesset elections. The voice of the people is still heard. But, more importantly, those votes and those voices have the power of endorsement behind them and the ability to take those votes somewhere else next time if the elected party does not deliver.

Practically, instead of Knesset members, this group would have 3-4 staff lobbyists whose job it would be to buttonhole Knesset members whom the “faction” supported to both (a) remind the Knesset members of the wishes of the people who voted for them and (b) lobby for legislation important to the faction.

Before an election campaign begins, the faction would develop a platform representing its position on 5-6 major issues that it sees as critical to Israel’s development during the next four years. During election campaigns themselves, the faction would run voter information evenings where candidates could present their views on issues that are critical to the faction’s members. The faction would even run advertisements urging the electorate to support a particular party because they have promised to support the platform of the electorate. The faction would also publish a scorecard showing how well the party it supported in the last election actually performed vs.its promises.

In sum, it would be a party whose goal would be to influence elections, make the elected officials accountable, effect change but NOT be in the Knesset.

What Next?

If any of this makes sense to you and you want to delve into this a bit further, I would invite you to attend a parlor meeting in my home, Hagdud Ha’ivri 6, Apartment 2, on Thursday evening, May 22nd at 7:30 PM where we can discuss the potential a bit further. If there is agreement, we will try to establish a Steering Committee of volunteers to move this forward.

Comments invited.

B’vracha and Shabbat shalom

Sherwin Pomerantz

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