Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Israel Must Tweak Its Democracy

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (WIN)
One of the ironies of the current political situation in Israel is that the Israeli electorate leans heavily to the right and yet their political representatives in the Keneset have been unable or unwilling to choose a leader.  

You would think that Netanyahu whose Likud party is clearly on the right and won more seats than any other party would be a shoe in for Prime Minister. 

But you would be wrong in thinking that. That’s because his party did not win a majority of the Keneset seats to form a government. (I’m not even sure that has ever happened in Israel to any party.)  There are far more than 61 members of the Keneset that are right wing.  Netanyahu could nevertheless not convince enough of them to join him in a coalition agreement. This has been the case after several elections in a row. 

Why is that? There are several reasons. Most of them personal in my view. A lot of politicians just plain hate him. They are tired of him and want to see someone else govern. (Like themselves, for instance)

Of course none of them will say that. They instead point out his many deficiencies - vilifying him in the process. Not the least of which are his corruption charges. 

And those politicians are on the right! The left hates him for ideological reasons. But they are not much of a factor anymore. They haven’t had any real sustained power since Menachem Begin won the election back in the 70s. The majority of prime ministers since Begin have come from the right wing Likud. 

Which upsets a lot of Jewish American supporters (the vast majority of which are of the liberal/left persuasion). They pine for the days of early Zionist socialism upon which the country was built. And strongly dislike the right turn the Israeli government has taken since Begin. A right turn Netanyahu has in large part been responsible for. 

The thing is, that what American Jews think doesn’t really count for that much in Israeli elections. Israelis like this political change in direction which is why right wing keep growing and why the Likud keeps winning the most Keneset seats. The advent of the technical age has made Israel one of the top players in the world. It has created a lot of millionaires there. And a lot of Israelis that invested in those enterprises early have done extremely well. 

The left might say that Israel has lost its way. That its people have become crass materialists  – much like many Americans have. Maybe so. But that does not change the reality. Which is that the prosperity Israel now enjoys is due almost entirely to their embrace of a more laissez-faire economy. Which is of course favorable to business. Israelis are not going to go back to the financially oppressive socialist days of the past. They like their prosperity and are going to keep voting right to keep it. 

Without getting into details - a lot of this can be attributed to Netanyahu who was finance minister under Sharon.  He is a free marketer. It is for this reason that I believe the Netanyahu has been in office longer than any prime minisiter before him. That – and the security measures taken by him which has kept Israelis relatively safe during that time. A lot of Israeli voters will vote for a party because they want to see its leader as prime minister. 

I know this is not the popular view, but I have always been a fan of Netanyahu. I realize he has his faults. Who doesn’t have faults? But his record in office cannot be denied. His contributions to Israel’s prosperity, safety and unprecedented positive relations with Arab nations cannot be overlooked. His political enemies will always find other reasons for those things and refuse to give Netanyahu any credit for them. But that would be disingenuous. It all happened under his watch. 

Did he make some mistakes? Sure. But you have to look at the big picture and give credit where it is due. Even if you hate him. 

Yes, he has issues. He thinks a lot of himself. His inflated ego is huge. He has technically even violated some Israel’s corruption laws. He is arrogant.  He publicly lectured  the leader of  Israel’s closest ally, rebuffed his requests to stop settlement activity;  – disrespected him by accepting an invitation to address congress without being formally invited by him;  and in the process weakened support for Israel among Democrats. These are just a few of the issues that come to mind. There are probably more. 

But I see his leadership outweighing all of those negatives.  I believe he has been an effective leader of his country. Probably the best prime minister since Begin, despite it all. 

I believe this is this the reason his party Likud consistently gets a plurality of the vote in Israel. A huge number of Israelis like where the country is at - both in terms of security and in terms of the economy. 

True, Netanyahu is a hated man. By a lot of people. Both here and in Israel. For a variety of reasons. Netanyahu has been around a long time. A lot of people are just plain tired of him. They want to see him gone and someone else lead. Which is probably why Netanyahu hasn’t been able form a coalition. 

But the bottom line for me is the following. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’ If he continues to produce for his country – he should remain in office. Why take a chance on someone else? Like him or hate him - you go with the devil you know over the devil you don’t know. 

So how does Israel overcome its electoral impasse?  I have said this before. Israel’s form of Democracy is not the best way to run a country. While it’s true that the parliamentary system if highly democratic, it is clearly not the most efficient. Efficiency does not, however, require abandoning democracy. It does in my view require abandoning the kind of democracy that governs Israel. 

What works in America, the most successful democracy in the history of the world, should work in Israel too. Israel’s democracy doesn’t have to be exactly like ours. But if they would switch to direct elections for prime minister, and allow the man with the most votes to govern for an uninterrupted 4 year term - without the requirement to form a majority coalition … it would solve the current crisis of repetitive voting with no results. 

Netanyahu has suggested changing the law to having direct elections for prime minister. True - Israel tried it before and didn’t like it. But if it is done in the way I suggest  then  - like it or not, it will result in a stable government. Something Israel really needs and has not had for quite some time.