The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy


The 30-Year Olmert Government

Filed under: Cabinet/ExecutiveOslo/Peace ProcessRepresentationCURRENT ISSUES — eidelberg @ 6:04 am

Edited transcript of the Eidelberg Report, Israel National Radio, November 26, 2007.

  1. Since the Camp David Summit of 1978, Israel has had no less than ten governments led either by the Likud, Labor, or Kadima. Whether “Zionist” or “post-Zionist,” “rightwing” or “leftwing,” all have pursued the same policy of “territory for peace.” All have contributed to the physical truncation and spiritual emasculation of Israel—and with the collaboration of the religious parties.

  2. It were as if the same government had been in power for almost 30 years! Yet certain Knesset members—with the American presidency in mind—tell us: “How can we endure four years of Olmert?” This ad hominem argument betrays unforgivable ignorance about Israeli government as well as about American government. On the territorial issue, Israel has had 30 years of “Olmert.”

  3. No matter which coalition has led the government during the past three decades, it has pursued a policy depriving Jews of their homeland. This betrayal is the result not only of prime ministers lacking strong Jewish identity. The betrayal is facilitated by Israel’s unJewish system of government, which, contrary to Jewish law, enables prime ministers and their cabinets to ignore the convictions of the Jewish people with impunity. The so-called “only democracy in the Middle East” actually is a well-concealed tyranny taking Israel to Annapolis.

  4. This invisible tyranny stems from a simple fact: the entire country forms a single electoral district. Constituency elections do not exist in Israel, contrary to almost every nation classified as a democracy—88 in number, of which 26 are smaller in size and population than Israel.

  5. Given a single nationwide electoral district, parties win Knesset seats by Proportional Representation. A 2% electoral threshold produces a profusion of parties. Since no party has ever come close to winning a majority of seats in the Knesset, a coalition of five, six, or more parties is necessary to form a Government. Since each coalition party has its own agenda, the Government invariably lacks a coherent political ideology or program to which a majority of the public has given its consent.

  6. This gives Israel’s prime minister enormous domestic power—more than a President of the United States. A prime minister can adopt a policy rejected by a large majority of the electorate, as Ariel Sharon did in December 2003 when he adopted Labor’s policy of “unilateral disengagement.” This he could do because his Cabinet, whose members campaigned against Labor’s policy in the January 2003 election, could not muster a majority to vote against him without toppling the Government, something almost unheard of in Israel’s history. Operating in Israel, therefore—and this is virtually unknown to the public—is prime ministerial government, a euphemism for dictatorship! [It should be noted that no Labor- or Likud-led government has ever been toppled by a Knesset vote of no confidence, which applies, as of this writing, to Kadima. This is symptomatic of prime ministerial dictatorship.]

  7. Facilitating this dictatorship is the fact that members of the Knesset are not individually elected by the voters in constituency elections. This enables Knesset members to violate their campaign pledges with impunity (as 23 Likud MKs did when they voted for disengagement). One consequence of this lack of accountability is that public opinion in Israel is powerless between elections. Indeed, one can hardly define public opinion in Israel given the fragmentation of the electorate resulting from Proportional Representation.

  8. Contrast the American presidential system, which certain Knesset members oppose without adequate knowledge of how it works and how it can benefit Israel. All talk about presidential dictatorship is sheer nonsense or demagoguery! Even when a President’s own party controls both houses of Congress, he is very far from being a dictator. America’s bicameral legislature, unlike the Knesset, is not the rubber stamp of presidential policies. The 435 members of the House and the 100 members of the Senate have their own local interests on which they depend for their political longevity. They owe their position to the voters, not to their party organization or leaders (the case of Israel).

  9. The Congress conducts public hearings on any issue involving the Administration—a powerful check on Executive power. Congress can subpoena witnesses and require the heads of the various executive departments to testify before congressional committees. This “administrative oversight” is utterly lacking in Israel, the “only democracy in the Middle East.”

  10. The American presidential system differs profoundly from the one proposed by Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman makes no provision for legislative confirmation of presidential appointments—that leads to tyranny. In the United States, presidential nomination of cabinet ministers and Supreme Court judges must be approved by the Senate. Moreover, a two-thirds vote of the Senate is required for ratification of treaties—something lacking in Israel.

  11. I will not go into how congressional committees can thwart the President and how the State Department can hamstring his foreign policy. Despite this, bear in mind that the U.S. is the freest, richest, and most powerful nation on earth.

  12. Now a word about the advantages of a unitary executive as opposed to Israel’s multi-party executive. My text is Alexander Hamilton. It’s obvious that energy in the Executive is essential to good government. “Decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch will generally characterize the proceedings of one man than the proceedings of any greater number.” This unity, says Hamilton, will be destroyed by vesting the Executive power ostensibly in one man, subject, in whole or in part, to the control and cooperation of others. But “the weightiest objections to a plurality in the Executive,” says Hamilton, “is that it tends to conceal faults and destroy responsibility … It often becomes impossible, amidst mutual accusations, to determine on whom the blame or the punishment of a pernicious measure, or series of pernicious measures, ought really to fall.” Does this remind you of the Winograd Report on Israel’s debacle in the Second Lebanon War?

  13. Hamilton well understood there are no institutional substitutes for wisdom and virtue. But as he shows in The Federalist Papers, well-designed institutions can increase the probability of advancing good men to office or at least minimize the influence of inferior men.

  14. It’s true, of course, that a President has an extraordinary range of powers conferred on him by the Constitution and statutes. He is the commander in chief, the chief executive, the chief legislator, the chief diplomat, and the chief of state. But in all these capacities he requires the cooperation of both houses of congress and various administrative agencies. A president’s power depends largely on the prestige of his office, patronage, and his power to persuade. Let’s not exaggerate presidential power, which is limited by constitutional checks and balances—something lacking in Israel.

  15. So, in view of the facts, it’s strange that Arieh Eldad and Benjamin Netanyahu oppose a presidential system of government, that they want to perpetuate multi-party cabinet government as well as Proportional Representation which fragment the nation. This system was deemed dysfunctional back in 1952 after two elections! It was understood back then that Proportional Representation plus multi-party cabinet government disintegrate the people of Israel and render them powerless. It’s this system that will enable Olmert to betray Israel at Annapolis. David Ben-Gurion deplored this system as divisive and undemocratic.

  16. Haven’t Eldad and Netanyahu read Ben-Gurion’s Memoirs? If so, how can they pose as nationalists and support a system that utterly fragments the nation and is leading to its destruction? A presidential system, by itself, will not bring us to Eden. But the existing system has given us six prime ministers who have brought us to Annapolis.