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Policy Papers – Jewish National Agenda

A Jewish National Agenda
Professor Paul Eidelberg

A. Parliamentary Electoral Reform

As indicated in the previous article, statesmanship requires (1) well-educated statesmen, (2) a well-disposed people, and (3) well-designed political institutions. It will be obvious that of these prerequisites, indeed, of all the various elements of political life, the easiest to change are election rules.

This is not to say that election rules are easy to change, for the rules existing in any country favor entrenched interests. Nevertheless, changing the election rules can change the distribution of power and therefore the policies, character, and goals of a country. (It has been said that a low electoral threshold, which produced a profusion of parties and led to a widespread yearning for a single strong leader, helped Hitler’s ascendancy in Weimar Germany.) In Israel, the egocentric pluralism generated by its parliamentary election rules has fragmented the cabinet and rendered the Government incapable of pursuing a coherent and resolute national strategy essential for the country’s survival.

Anyone who has studied James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers will understand that political institutions in general, and election rules in particular, can be designed in such a way as to increase the probabilityof (1) advancing higher quality men to public office, (2) elevating debate in the Legislature, (3) improving decision-making in the Executive, (4) minimizing corruption in the bureaucracy, and, at the very least, (5) preventing majority as well as minority tyranny.

There are two extreme types of parliamentary election rules. One maximizes the power of the party leaders, the other the power or freedom of choice of the voters. Israel and Israel alone represents the first extreme where the voter must cast his ballot for a fixed or party-ranked list of candidates in a single countrywide district election.[1] The other extreme employs multidistrict elections and the voter is given the option of voting either for a party list or for a designated number of candidates running in his district without regard for their party affiliation. In fact, the voter can mix his preferred candidates from one party in with those from other parties. In this way, each voter has a say in the district’s whole legislative contingent![2]

Between these two extremes are many electoral systems which more or less balance the power of the parties and the freedom of choice of the voters. Essential for any reasonable balance, however, are constituency or multidistrict elections. Some countries use what is called “personalized” proportional representation. For example, in Germany the voter is given two votes, one for an individual candidate and one for a party list. The candidate vote is for a single-member district contest that is won by a plurality, as in the United States and in some 24 other countries. The second vote, however, is for a party list, and is used to provide compensatory seats to those parties which did not receive in the single-member districts the seat share proportional to their nationwide vote share. (Actually, much the same result can be achieved with a single vote, as in Denmark and Sweden.) Alternatively, many political scientists recommend the preferential voting system used in Australia and Ireland, where citizens rank the candidates on the party lists.[3]

(Of the parliamentary electoral systems we have examined, from Argentina to Zambia—and almost all have written constitutions—any one of them is preferable to that used in Israel! All render legislators more accountable to the people and more subject to the rule of law. All of these gentile electoral systems are therefore more consistent with the Torah than that which operates in the so-called Jewish State of Israel!)

Recall the verse in Deuteronomy where the Israelites were told to select wise and understanding men “known to their tribes.” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch comments that each tribe (shevet) is to choose out of its own midst men whose “character can only be known … to those who have associated with them.”[4] What is here called a shevet was called a district (pelech) after the Second Temple.[5] Hence it is fair to say that multidistrict elections, where a representative has to be a resident of his district, is a Jewish principle of governance.

Moreover, how wise and understanding men are to represent their constituents conforms to the Jewish law of “agency” (Kiddushin 59a). This law synthesizes the “delegate” and “trustee” conceptions of representation prevalent in the non-Jewish democratic world. Whereas the delegate conception binds a representative to the instructions of his constituents, the trustee conception allows him to judge whether adherence to these instructions, when additional knowledge or new circumstances intervene, will harm his constituents’ long-term interests. Israel’s present system of parliamentary representation is not only not Jewish, it is only superficially democratic. Indeed, we have seen that the absence of constituency elections leads to contempt for the people on the part of Israel’s ruling elites.

Contrast the Republic of Ireland. Like other democracies, Ireland’s Constitution prescribes a system of preferential voting for its House of Representatives, a system that heightens the electoral latitude and power of the people. Consistent with respect for the people, Article 27 of the Constitution declares: “A majority of the members of the Senate and not less than one-third of the Members of the House of Representatives may, by joint petition addressed to the President … request the President to decline to sign and promulgate as a law any Bill to which this article applies on the ground that the Bill contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people thereto ought to be ascertained.” We have seen in references to the Talmud and in Professor Alon’s commentary thereto, that respect for the people is even more evident in Jewish law.

Translated into contemporary language, the Jewish laws I have cited mandate constituency elections for the Knesset. In such elections candidates for office will have to argue the merits of their policies before their constituents, and will therefore have to be sensitive to the abiding beliefs and values of their constituents as well as to their present concerns and interests. Given constituency elections, an MK, in deliberating over proposed government policies—and now without fear of being sacked by his party—will be able to make a balanced judgment between the interests of his constituents, his party’s agenda, and his own conscience. More independent and self-respecting people will be attracted to the Knesset, and the Knesset, for the first time, will be able to fulfill the crucial function of administrative oversight precluded by Israel’s existing parliamentary electoral rules. Adapting these rules to Jewish law would not only facilitate Jewish statesmanship; it would render Israel a high-toned democracy.

B. The Parliamentary Threshold

To facilitate Jewish statesmanship even further, it will be necessary to reduce the number of parties represented in the cabinet and therefore in the Knesset. Israel’s parliamentary threshold of 1.5%, while very democratic, spawns artificial parties, multiplies the number of job-seeking politicians, and lowers the level of political life. The multiplicity of parties undermines national unity, a precondition of the Jewish State’s survival in an Islamic world. If Liechtenstein, with a population of only 32,000, can have an electoral threshold of 8%, Israel, with a population of six million, can flourish with a threshold, say, of 5%.[6] (David Ben-Gurion proposed a 10% threshold.) A 5% threshold will discourage frivolous parties and encourage relatively small but serious parties to join larger ones where they may actually be more effective.

Since a 5% threshold translates into six Knesset seats, parties that might win eight or even nine seats may join larger parties rather than risk the possibility of being eliminated from the Knesset by falling below the threshold in a “bad election” year. This being granted, a 5% threshold may generate a Knesset consisting of than four, parties: two secular parties, one “left,” the other “right”; one (instead of three) religious parties; and one Arab party. Since the Arab parties now in the Knesset openly violate the law that prohibits any party from negating the Jewish and democratic character of the State, constituency elections will help correct this grotesque state of affairs. By rendering Jewish public opinion more effective in the legislature as well as in the Government, constituency elections will facilitate enforcement of the law in question and thus eliminate such parties from the Knesset. We may then contemplate cabinet coalitions of only two parties. This will prompt the “left,” whose power now depends on the Arab vote, to shift toward the center to win the votes of religious Jews. A 5% threshold would therefore promote greater national unity and more consistent and resolute national policies.

C. Jewish Education

Although reform of Israel’s electoral rules is the most expeditious way to improve the quality and performance of office-holders, more basic is the education politicians receive as youth—a long-term process.

Accordingly, the curriculum of secular schools should include serious study of Jewish history, especially of the basic sources of Jewish law and their outstanding commentators. Youth should be given to understand that the great Rabbis of the past were not only learned in law and logic, but in philosophy and the sciences, and that many were involved in affairs of state. Young people need vivid examples of how the Rabbis of old had to deal with a hostile gentile world and how they risked their lives adhering to the Torah. The courage and wisdom of these Rabbis will inspire young hearts and minds. (Imagine the edifying influence on youth when they read of Nachmanides’ Disputation at Barcelona!)

As previously suggested, youth should learn about the unequaled creativity of the Jewish people in different branches of law. They should know that throughout the dispersion prior to the Emancipation, Jewish communities enjoyed autonomy and enacted legislation to deal with changing social and economic needs. They will be amused to learn that Gentiles sometimes preferred to take their disputes to Jewish courts. They will appreciate how Jewish communities deferred to halakhic authorities, but that with or without such authorities, they governed themselves in democratic ways while remaining loyal to the Torah.

To overcome the secular prejudice that associates Jewish law with coercion” and “theocracy,” study of Professor Menachem Alon’s masterpiece Jewish Law is most helpful.[7] Used in Israeli law schools, this four-volume work, which won the Israel Prize, can facilitate Jewish unity as well as the task of assimilating democracy to the rational and ethical concepts of Jewish law, which are basic aims of Jewish statesmanship. Students in religious and secular schools should be cognizant of a previously mentioned fact, that Jewish civil and criminal law can provide a common language and understanding among Jews having different religious and social outlooks.

The Foundations of Law of Act

One of the first tasks of Jewish statesmanship will be to promote legislation that requires the Supreme Court to honor and dutifully apply the Foundations of Law Act outlined earlier. “[Most] disheartening,” writes Professor Alon, “[is] the severance of the legal system of the sovereign Jewish state from the magnificently rich legal and cultural treasure produced by generation after generation of Jews without a sovereign state of their own who nevertheless ceaselessly struggled to maintain their juridical autonomy [in the Diaspora].”

E. The Rule of Law

The idea of the rule of law, which the Torah bestowed upon mankind, exists precariously in Israel, largely because politicians are not accountable to the voters in constituency elections. Regardless of which party is in power, the Attorney-General’s Office, for political reasons, refrains from indicting notorious malefactors, such as Arab MKs who openly commit acts of sedition. Note, too, the failure of the Attorney General to indict Avishai Raviv, whom the General Security Service employed as an agent provocateur, and who was obviously implicated in the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.[8]

Although constituency elections will help remedy this malaise, the Jewish statesman will either advocate the creation of a judicially appointed Independent Counsel, or render the accusatory powers of the State Comptroller more effective.

F. A Jewish Economy

Israel’s economy should avoid the avarice (and egoism) of capitalism and the egalitarian envy (and statism) of socialism. Expanded capital ownership by means of Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) is one method of mitigating these evils. Since most people have to rely for their subsistence exclusively on wages and on other people’s income redistributed by government taxation,

ESOPs require laws that democratize access to capital credit, to be repaid by future savings and company profits. Such laws would enable workers to acquire ownership of income-producing assets in new or expanding enterprises, or in the divestiture of state-owned or Histadrut-owned corporations and land. Property income could then supplement income from wages.[9] Indeed, a wage-based economy may then be transformed into a “wage-and-ownership” based economy. This is not to negate but to supplement private enterprise and thereby democratize Israel’s economy consistent with Jewish principles and values. A thriving economy will curtail Israel’s dependence on the United States and thereby promote not only the security but also the positive goals of the Jewish State.

G. National Security and Diplomacy

“The history of mankind,” said Winston Churchill, “is the history of war.” More than 1,000 wars have occurred in the Western world alone during the past 2,500 years. This suggests that war is the norm of international relations and that peace is only a period of calm during which nations prepare—or fail to prepare—for war. Hence the Jewish statesman must be thoroughly knowledgeable about the ideological and political nature of the Arab-Jewish conflict. He must know how to enlighten his people about Israel’s enemies, their ultimate objectives and current tactics. He must never obscure, however, Israel’s goal as a Jewish State. Strategic analyses and concerns about national security and should not erode national morale or displace creative and constructive national policies.[10]

For example: an authentic Jewish statesman will create a climate of opinion and a set of existential facts that will enable Israel to declare its sovereignty over much if not all of Judea and Samaria. Israel will then (1) initiate a homestead act that will encourage hundreds of thousands of Jews to settle in these areas; (2) facilitate foreign investment to develop the necessary infrastructure; (3) enfranchise Israelis abroad (who number about one million) to encourage their return to Israel; and (4) move various government ministries to Judea and Samaria to further solidify control of this heartland of the Jewish People.

Apropos of war and peace, Jewish statesmanship requires a Jewish type of diplomacy.[11] Jewish statesmen must employ negotiating principles appropriate to the political and religio-ethnic character of different regimes.

To negotiate as an independent and sovereign Jewish State, it will be necessary to curtail Israel’s diplomatic and quasi-economic dependency on the United States. The $1.8 billion Israel receives in US military assistance is only 1.8% of its Gross Domestic Product. Appropriate measures against tax evasion and bureaucratic waste would render such aid utterly unnecessary. Washington would then have less diplomatic leverage on Jerusalem.

H. The Arab Demographic Problem

If Israel is to witness much of the 21st century, it will require statesmen with courage enough to deal with the Arab demographic problem, which threatens to transform the Jewish state into an Islamic dictatorship. This problem can be diminished incrementally by enforcing the aforementioned law that prohibits any party that negates the Jewish and democratic character of the State. Also needing enforcement (and updating) is the 1952 Citizenship Law, which requires the revocation of the citizenship of any Israeli national that commits acts of disloyalty against the State of Israel.[12] Accordingly, Arab citizens of Israel who have becomemembers of Hamas should, by law, have their citizenship annulled.

It should also be noted that Jewish statesmanship—statesmanship based on Jewish principles and values, in would lead to a more vibrant and prosperous as well as more progressive Israel. This will significantly increase the immigration of Jews to this country and also diminish the number of those who leave. Therein is another reason why the wise Jewish statesman will advocate the enfranchisement of Israelis abroad.

The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy firmly believes that adoption of the agenda outlined above would constitute a giant step toward the creation of a New Israel, an Israel whose people are both proud of their heritage and confident in their future.

* * *


[1]See note 7, p. 9, above.

[2]See Rein Taagepera & Matthew Soberg Shugart, Seats & Votes: The Effects & Determinants of Electoral Systems (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1989), pp. 25-26.

[3]See Paul Eidelberg, “Making Votes Count: They Don’t in Israel,” Jerusalem Foundation Papers (Jerusalem: Foundation for Constitutional Democracy), No. 16, Nov. 1998, p. 3; Policy Paper 79 published by the Ariel Center of Policy Research, 1999. See Gary Cox, Making Votes Count: Strategic Coordination in the World’s Electoral Systems (Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 92-93

[4]See Raphael Samson Hirsch, The Pentateuch (6 vols.; Gateshead: Judaica Press, 1982).

[5]Ibid., Hirsch on Deut. 16:18.

[6]This threshold was proposed but defeated in the 14th Knesset.

[7]See Paul Eidelberg, Judaic Man: Toward a Reconstruction of Western Civilization (Middletown, NJ: The Caslon Company, 1996), pp. 141-143, showing that theocracy is not an operational Jewish concept.

[8] As of this writing, Raviv will be indicted for failing to “tell about a projected crime.” This trivializes his culpability as a provocateur. Full disclosure of Raviv’s nefarious activities may implicate Rabin himself, since the GSS operates directly under the Prime Minister’s authority. It was Raviv’s task to incite and discredit the Right, i.e., critics of Rabin and the Israel-PLO Agreements.

[9] John C. Miller (ed.), Curing World Poverty: The New Role of Property (St. Louis: Social Justice Review, 1994).

[10]Therein is the merit of Dr. Mordechai Nisan’s book, Toward a New Israel: The Jewish State and the Arab Question (New York: AMS Press 1992)which should be required reading in every Jewish academy.

[11]See Paul Eidelberg, “Democratic Versus Martial Diplomacy: A Jewish Alternative,” Jerusalem Foundation Paper (Jerusalem: Foundation for Constitutional Democracy), No. 9, Dec. 1996; also published in Hebrew, under the title “How Democracies Fail in Negotiations With Totalitarian Regimes,” Nativ, Jan.-April 1997.

[12]See Paul Eidelberg, “Arab Citizenship: Netanyahu’s Dilemma,” Jerusalem Foundation Paper (Jerusalem: Foundation for Constitutional Democracy), No. 6, July 1996; also published in Nativ, Nov. 1996.

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