It’s election day in Israel. I won’t make any predictions about what will happen. We’ll know soon enough. It seems that voter turn out is higher than expected, which is always a good thing in a democracy. Too bad Israel’s democratic system is so screwed up.
Yoel Marcus had a great piece in Haaretz yesterday explaining the problems with Israel’s parliamentary, which he describes as “distorted”:
In the past there was a central party – Mapai, the forerunner of Labor – which ensured near autocracy for David Ben-Gurion in the years it was shaping the state’s image. Later on, two parties squared off – Mapai versus Herut. For years there was a split between the left and the right. In 1977, the torch passed to Likud, and from 1981 to 1992 the two blocs stood opposite each other. In time, the political arena turned into a hodgepodge of continuously splitting amoebas. There were 28 party lists in the elections for the 16th Knesset. For the 17th Knesset, whose term is now ending, no fewer than 31 parties competed. About a quarter of a million votes were lost to these small parties that failed to pass the electoral threshold — a total of nine Knesset seats.
Because no party can have a solid majority, and is instead force to form absurd coalitions, the country is in a state of political paralysis. Checks and balances to the extreme. This is a barrier to peace with the Palestinians–settler groups are particularly powerful because of their unitary voting–and also an impediment to progress on domestic issues. Marcus writes:
Parties attack one another, even when it is not clear why they are not part of the same group. The only thing that separates Shas from United Torah Judaism, for example, is that the former are Mizrahim (of North African or Middle Eastern origin) and the latter are Ashkenazim (of European origin), and in any case, in the end, the one who makes the decision is Rabbi Elyashiv. Why shouldn’t they be on the same list? Or take, for example, the Arab citizens of Israel, who – were it not for the split among them – could bring 16-20 MKs into the Knesset. There is no reason why the political sector should not be based on five parties: the religious, the Arabs, the right, the left and the center. Whatever the results of today’s elections, it is clear that the system is screwed up.
It’s difficult to tell people how they should want to represent themselves in a democracy–can you really assume that all Israeli Arabs would best be represented by a single party?–but the point is largely correct. If Israel wants to move forward on peace, or anything else, it needs to establish a more cohesive political system.