The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy

24-Dec-2008

The February Knesset Elections

Filed under: Party StructuresRepresentation — eidelberg @ 6:18 am Edit This

The press reports that 43 parties are registered to run in Israel’s February 10, 2009 Knesset elections. This absurd phenomenon is the direct consequence of Israel’s (divisive) parliamentary electoral system.

As I have frequently pointed out, Israel, contrary almost all other reputed democracies, makes the country a single electoral district in which a multiplicity of party slates compete for Knesset seats on the basis Proportional Representation. This multiplicity of parties is compounded by Israel’s low electoral threshold, now 2%.

Although the Foundation for Constitutional Democracy prefers personal and direct election of Knesset members, the very least the next Knesset can do is to raise the electoral threshold, say to 4%. This would effectively eliminate most parties and compel others to run on a joint list.

A 4% threshold—once proposed by the late MK Rehavim Ze’evi—would probably lead to four party coalitions: a left-center coalition, a right-center coalition, a religious coalition, and an Arab coalition. Running on a joint list would tend to enlarge the mentality of each of the parties composing a coalition, since they would have to campaign on a common party platform. (more…)

26-Nov-2008

Democracy and the Secret “Rule of Law” in Israel

Filed under: Constitution & RightsDemocratic MethodsRepresentation — eidelberg @ 5:32 am Edit This

There is much misunderstanding in the Diaspora and even in Israel about Israel’s system of government—an assortment of institutions that endow a few men with concealed and despotic power.

A basic reason for this pernicious state of affairs is Israel, unlike France or the United States, has no written constitution. Instead, Israel has a crazy-quilt variety of “Basic Laws” passed at different times by different governments led by different political parties.

Israel’s first Basic Law, The Knesset, was initiated by the Knesset Law Committee in 1958, ten years after the founding of the State. Some other Basic Laws are Israel Lands (1960); The President of the State (1964); The Government (1968); The State Economy (1975); The Army (1979); Jerusalem, Capital of Israel (1980); The Judiciary (1984).

A word about Basic Law: The Government. This law stipulates, “The Government is competent to do in the name of the State, subject to any law, any act whose doing is not enjoined by law upon another authority.” The Government can therefore declare war, make treaties, and change the exchange rate without ever consulting the Knesset! (more…)

14-Sep-2008

Two Cheers

Filed under: Democratic MethodsPoliticiansYamin Israel PartyRepresentation — eidelberg @ 4:08 am Edit This

Two cheers for Nathan D. Wirtschafter, a member of the Likud, whose article in The Jerusalem Post (September 11, 2008), “Direct elections begin with the Likud primary” comes close to advocating some of the institutional reform proposals of the Foundation for Constitutional Democracy and of the Yamin Israel Party.

Mr. Wirtschafter calls for “regional elections with single-member districts, a professional cabinet and a new judicial selection system … ”

To propose a professional cabinet is to propose, in effect, separation between the executive and legislative branches of government. The proposed cabinet would then no longer consist of the leaders of rival political parties (one of the root causes of Israel’s malaise). Mr. Wirtschafter could have clarified matters by simply and explicitly calling for a presidential system of government.

Unfortunately, his party leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, in an interview with the Russian Chanel-7, rejected district elections as well as a presidential system of government—and on the most frivolous grounds. As if he never heard of the U.S. House of Representatives and its 435 districts but only two political parties, Netanyahu said that district elections in Israeli would produce sixty political parties! (more…)

03-Sep-2008

Hong Kong

Filed under: Democratic MethodsRepresentation — eidelberg @ 4:44 am Edit This

Hong Kong, or rather the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), has a total area of 422 square miles on which reside some seven million people—roughly the same as Israel’s in the year 2000, when I first published this report.

Hong Kong has a 60-member legislature. The legislature represents 5 Geographical Constituencies and 28 Functional Constituencies. The 5 Geographical Constituencies are represented by 24 members. The 28 Functional Constituencies (e.g., Education, Finance, Medicine, Labor, etc.) are represented by 30 members. (Labor has three representatives). The remaining 6 members of the legislature are the Election Committee.

Over three million registered voters had the right to vote in the Geographical Constituencies. The list voting system is used in the election. A voter can only choose one of the lists printed on the ballot paper (comparable to Israel’s system of list voting).

In contrast, Preferential voting is employed in four Functional Constituencies. (more…)

17-Jul-2008

Needed: A Jewish State in Israel

Filed under: Democratic MethodsRepresentation — eidelberg @ 7:04 am Edit This

The socialists who founded modern Israel were committed not to a Jewish state so much as to a secular democratic state. The economic goals of socialism, however, require a concentration of political-economic power in government. Socialism therefore eventuates in state capitalism—the control of a nation’s wealth by political commissars.

However democratic Israel may be from a sociological perspective, it is ruled by rotating oligarchy that has truncated and emasculated the Jewish state.

The oligarchy is ensconced in the cabinet. There, cabinet ministers control various sectors of the economy, and do so less with a view to economic efficiency than with a view to enlarging their own personal or partisan power.

One researcher notes that the rate at which the salary of Knesset Members (MKs) increases is three times that of the average Israeli. (more…)

25-Jun-2008

Poli. Sci. 101 for MK Yitzhak Levy

Filed under: Democratic MethodsCabinet/ExecutiveKnesset/LegislativeRepresentation — eidelberg @ 6:16 am Edit This

Edited transcript of the Eidelberg Report, Israel National Radio, June 23, 2008.

Knesset Member Yitzhak Levy wants to raise the number of Knesset members from 120 to 150. As reported in The Jerusalem Post last week (June 18, 2008), Levy complains that “the workload placed on MKs had grown to such an extent that it was simply impossible to adequately study the issues upon which MKs were expected to vote in a plenum, as well as in committees in which they sit.”

Mr. Levy also complains that, given the system of coalition cabinet government, some 30 MKs—one out of every four members—currently serves as either a minister or deputy minister, and that’s an additional assignment which distracts from their participation in the legislative function.

Levy’s proposal to increase the Knesset’s membership may be indicative of the incompetence of Israel’s legislative body. Let’s compare the Knesset with the American House of Representatives, beginning with the House. (more…)

19-Jun-2008

To Disenfranchise or to Empower the Jewish People

Filed under: Democratic MethodsJudaismRepresentation — eidelberg @ 1:11 am Edit This

The present writer congratulates those members of the Knesset that supported a bill whereby 60 MKs would be elected in regional districts, while 60 would be elected under the present system of Proportional Representation. This fulfills one provision of a draft constitution set forth in my book Jewish Statesmanship: Lest Israel Fall (2000)—which is not to say this book should be credited for the bill in question.

Although the bill was vetoed by the Shas Party, a member of Ehud Olmert’s coalition government, it should soon resurface as a private member’s bill. At stake is the empowerment of the Jewish people and even the preservation of Israel’s Jewish heritage.

It cannot be said too often that the law that makes Israel a single electoral district in which fixed party slates win Knesset seats via Proportional Representation has effectively disenfranchised the Jews of this country. This law has enabled members of the Knesset, especially those who become prime ministers or cabinet ministers, to violate the abiding beliefs and values of the Jewish people with impunity. A conspicuous culprit is Shas. (more…)

Theocracy Versus Judaism: How the Jews of Israel Have Been Deceived and Disempowered (III)

Filed under: Democratic MethodsDomestic PolicyJudaismRepresentation — eidelberg @ 1:03 am Edit This

Part three of a series. View Part one. View Part two.

B. Neither God Nor the People Rule Israel

In Judaism there is no ruling class. In a truly Jewish community, who rules is based primarily on intellectual and moral character. Indeed, the most authentic form of Jewish leadership is that of the teacher, whose power is not political but intellectual and moral.

The fact that education in Israel is required of all members of the community precludes rigid class divisions. Conversely, Torah education is the great unifying force of the Jewish people, a people that honors scholars more than kings. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out, in a mature Jewish community the center of gravity lies not in any ruling class but in the body of the people. It is hardly an exaggeration to say, therefore, that the leaders of a Jewish community act consistently with the Torah when they make themselves superfluous!

See to it that the peasant behind the plough, the herdsman with his cattle, the weaver at his loom can be your judges and masters, the critics of your conduct and teaching; then at the same time will they be your pupils and friends, they will willingly and joyfully follow your teachings and regulations; they will understand and appreciate the spirit in which you speak and by which you are guided.[1] (more…)

04-Jun-2008

Hidden Causes of Corruption and Treason in Israel

Filed under: EthicsRepresentation — eidelberg @ 6:43 am Edit This

Edited transcript of the Eidelberg Report, Israel National Radio, June 2, 2008.

 

Part I: Corruption

I have pointed out many times that corruption in Israel’s government is not simply the consequence of dishonest politicians. Political corruption in Israel has been institutionalized; and as I will show in a moment, so has treason!

The Jerusalem Post’s brilliant columnist Caroline Glick touches the surface—but only the surface—of institutionalized corruption in her column of May 30. With less than her usual clarity, she attributes political corruption to the “relative weakness” of the Knesset:

The Knesset’s relative weakness [she writes] is a function of Israel’s proportional election system. This system—whereby voters select a party rather than individual candidates at the ballot box—promotes the political fortunes of the corrupt and the weak at the expense of the honest and strong. Similarly, it prolongs the life span of coalition governments with a tendency toward corruption and failed policy-making, at the expense of coalition governments [sic] informed by principle and the national interest.

The “weakness:” Glick attributes to the Knesset is not solely the result of, and does not begin with, proportional representation. (more…)

Two-and-a-Half Cheers for Caroline Glick

Filed under: Democratic MethodsRepresentation — eidelberg @ 6:22 am Edit This

Two-and-a-half cheers for Caroline Glick. In reaction the Ehud Olmert corruption case, Caroline Glick has begun to advance the position which the Foundation for Constitutional Democracy has so frequently and extensively articulated during the past thirteen years: the need to scrap Israel’s dysfunctional and corruption-laden system of proportional representation.

In partial explanation of governmental corruption and incompetence in Israel, Glick writes (The Jerusalem Post, May 30, 2008):

“The Knesset’s relative weakness [really its shady character and lack of accountability—PE] is a function of Israel’s proportional election system. This system—whereby voters select a party rather than individual candidates at the ballot box—promotes the political fortunes of the corrupt and the weak at the expense of the honest and strong. Similarly, it prolongs the life span of coalition governments with a tendency toward corruption and failed policy-making, at the expense of coalition governments [sic] informed by principle and the national interest.” (more…)

19-May-2008

Two Delusions

Filed under: Democratic MethodsOslo/Peace ProcessRepresentation — eidelberg @ 6:11 am Edit This

Delusion: “A persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence, especially as a symptom of psychiatric disorder.”

Israel’s government, as well as its rightwing critics, suffers from a delusion. During the past three decades, regardless of which party or party coalition has controlled the government, its ruling elites persist in the futile and fatal policy of “land for peace.”

Rightwing critics of this policy also suffer from a delusion. For more than thirty years they have been playing on the turf of the enemy—on the territorial issue. Despite all their fine essays, their petitions, their newspaper ads—yes, despite all their patriotic protest demonstrations—Israel’s government has never deviated from its suicidal policy of territorial retreat. The critics know this, but they remain fixed on the playing ground of this government. (more…)

05-Mar-2008

Electoral Reform—A Public Query

Filed under: Democratic MethodsElectorate/DemographicsRepresentation — eidelberg @ 5:16 am Edit This

During last month’s Jerusalem Summit, the world renowned Professor Bernard Lewis said, in effect, that democracy in Israel is endangered by the fact that members of the Knesset are not individually accountable to the voters in constituency elections.

Another distinguished professor, who once served as a science adviser to the government, has gone even further. He concluded that “electoral reform in Israel is a necessary precondition for changing the disastrous course of this country.”

The reform in question means nothing less than empowering the people. (more…)

04-Mar-2008

For the Record: A Revolutionary Proposal

Filed under: Democratic MethodsRepresentation — eidelberg @ 2:51 am Edit This

Tomorrow I leave on a three-week lecture tour of the United States. My primary topic will be “What Can You Do To Save Israel?” Before I leave, let me set the record straight and propose a very modest political revolution.

Back in January 1988, one month after the Shamir government failed to quell the first intifada, I wrote an article in The Jewish Press calling for the establishment of a “government in exile.” As a political scientist who has seriously studied Machiavelli, I harbored not the slightest thought or hope that any prominent person would adopt this far-fetched proposal.

After all, the great Aristotle taught politics is the art of the possible. An impossible proposal is not a political proposal; it nothing more than propaganda, at best having some pedagogical value or intention. I understood quite well that no one would act on my proposal, but that it was worthwhile floating the idea that Israel’s existing government, having failed to secure the lives of its citizens, forfeited its legitimacy and was no longer worthy of public support or loyalty. (more…)

28-Feb-2008

Bernard Lewis on Electoral Reform

Filed under: Democratic MethodsRepresentation — eidelberg @ 1:10 am Edit This

The Jerusalem Conference concluded Wednesday night with a packed-house lecture by Bernard Lewis, a world-renowned expert on Islamic history and the relationship between Islam and the West. An author of 30 books, Lewis coined the phrase “clash of civilizations” in his work The Roots of Muslim Rage, written 11 years before 9/11.

Electoral Reform

“Israeli democracy, like its other edges, is in danger—and here I would like to put in a word for electoral reform. There is no direct election here, and therefore the representatives are not held accountable to anyone other than their party leaders and directorates. In addition, minor splinter groups are granted more importance than they deserve proportionally, and the entire system encourages corruption.” [Emphasis added.]

07-Feb-2008

Eureka!—Enlarged

Filed under: Cabinet/ExecutiveRepresentationThe Foundation — eidelberg @ 8:22 am Edit This

Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. Professor Yehezkel Dror, a member of the Winograd Committee as well as a world-renowned Israel Prize Laureate in public policy, announced, at the prestigious Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, that Israel must replace its parliamentary system to improve decision-making, which failed so miserably during the Second Lebanon War.

Professor Dror thereby affirmed what the Foundation for Constitutional Democracy, founded by the present writer and Dr. Mark Rozen of blessed memory, have advocated in books, policy papers, public lectures, radio and television programs, and countless articles since 1995.

Let me explain Dror’s statement insofar it was reported by The Jerusalem Post on February 6, 2008. (more…)

04-Feb-2008

Electoral Rules Matter: Conclusion

Filed under: Democratic MethodsRepresentation — eidelberg @ 8:30 am Edit This

As noted by professors Rein Taagepera and Matthew Shugart, “a main function of an electoral system is to preserve political stability in the face of potentially disruptive or paralyzing disagreements on issues.” Since Proportional Representation (PR), as a general rule, multiplies the number parties, then, as indicated in Part II, the number of possible disputes in government increases roughly as the square of the number of actors.

However, diminishing the degree of proportional representation—say by combining national list PR with single-member plurality districts—does not necessarily diminish the number parties in the legislature (or in multi-party governments like Israel). Italy recently diminished PR, but the number of parties remained virtually the same because new issue dimensions arose, serious enough to trigger the formation of new parties. This only indicates that politics is more complicated than electoral rules, although the significance of such rules should not be minimized, let alone ignored. (more…)

29-Jan-2008

Electoral Rules Matter: Part II

Filed under: Constitution & RightsDemocratic MethodsRepresentation — eidelberg @ 6:41 am Edit This

Part I cited the renowned expert on electoral rules professor Rein Taagepera. Perhaps his most telling point is this: “As the number of actors increases, the number of possible disputes increases roughly as the square of the number of actors.” This obviously applies to Israel, whose government typically consists of roughly 20 cabinet ministers representing rival political parties. No wonder the average duration of Israeli governments since 1948 is less than two years! This short tenure renders it virtually impossible for the government to pursue coherent, consistent, and long-term national policies.

Here I am reminded of the warnings and wisdom of James Madison in Federalist Paper No. 62, where he defends the six-year tenure of the Senate, a defense that applies to Israel’s Knesset as well as to its Government despite their prescribed (but unrealized) tenure of four years: (more…)

28-Jan-2008

Electoral Rules Matter: Part I

Filed under: Constitution & RightsDemocratic MethodsRepresentation — eidelberg @ 7:04 am Edit This

Professor of social sciences Rein Taagepera and political scientist Matthew Soberg Shugart are renowned experts on electoral systems. Israeli politicians should study their book Seats and Votes.

Taagepera and Shugart use mathematical models in studying scores of electoral rules. Their research is especially relevant to Israel, not only because the government is working on a constitution, but also because it is considering a proposal to make the leader of the party that wins the largest number of seats in a Knesset election Israel’s prime minister.

That Kadima won 29 seats (the most of any party) in the 2006 election would have been sufficient to make Ehud Olmert prime minister without his having been designated by the president to form a government and have it approved by the Knesset. (more…)

15-Jan-2008

How Israel Became Dysfunctional

Filed under: Democratic MethodsElectorate/DemographicsPoliticiansRepresentation — eidelberg @ 12:20 am Edit This

Edited transcript of the Eidelberg Report, Israel National Radio, January 7, 2008.

Having learned of my critique of Israel’s political system, people have asked me how did this dysfunctional system originate? To answer, I will cite a publication of the Beth Hillel Society for Social Research in Israel supplemented by passages from David Ben-Gurion’s Memoirs.

In June 1953, the Hillel Society published a pamphlet “Electoral Reform in Israel.” The pamphlet was based on discussions the Society held in October 1952. The pamphlet outlines the emergence of Israel’s parliamentary system.

Thus, on May 14, 1948, 37 Jews met in Tel-Aviv and published a Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed the creation of the State of Israel. These 37 Jews constituted the Jewish People’s Council, which had been set up in two months earlier. The Council was composed firstly, of all political parties in the country, and secondly, of the Executive of the Jewish Agency according to the election returns of the twenty-second Zionist Congress, which had convened in Basel, Switzerland in 1946. This 37-man body declared itself, on May 14, 1948, the Provisional State Council of Israel. (more…)

10-Dec-2007

Some Prerequisites of Representative Democracy: They’re Missing In Israel

Filed under: Democratic MethodsKnesset/LegislativeRepresentation — eidelberg @ 5:17 am Edit This

Few people in Israel have anything but the most superficial knowledge of representative democracy and its prerequisites. But then, what else should be expected in a country whose ministry of education systematically omits this topic from the public school curriculum and where even universities seem to be black holes on the subject?

It should first be understood that constituency or multi-district elections is a prerequisite of representative democracy. What is not widely known is that representatives divide their constituencies into four distinct groups of voters, each of which they treat differently.

  1. 1)  The largest group of voters is the district as a whole, or the Geographic Constituency. (more…)

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