Universities in Israel fail to teach the true character of the political system in Israel. They so fail because they fail to teach the actual history of that system and its origins.
Hardly anyone is disturbed by the fact that the Proclamation of the Establishment of the State, promulgated by the People’s Council on May 14, 1948, explicitly requires the drafting of a Constitution. Hence it is ironic that the Proclamation, which carries no constitutional authority, is often referred to as Israel’s “Constitution.”
The Proclamation called for an “Elected Constituent Assembly” to be convened not later than October 1, 1948 to adopt a Constitution for the fledgling State. Although the War of Independence intervened, Israel’s Provisional Government in 1949 arranged for the election of a Constituent Assembly to write the country’s Constitution and prepare elections for Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. The Assembly was duly elected and appointed a Constitutional Committee consisting of various party spokesmen, a majority of whom were Socialists. A draft Constitution was submitted to the Committee by Dr. Leo Kohn. The draft prescribed equal political rights for Arabs except in the case of Israel’s President who had to be a Jew—a logical conclusion given the Proclamation’s repeated reference to Israel as a “Jewish” State.
The “racist” canard
The socialist parties, Mapai and Mapam, rejected this logic. Their rejection was not based on the principles of democracy so much as from fear, the fear that a constitutional provision requiring Israel’s President to be Jewish would be regarded by the world as “racist.”
Meir Loewenstein of the religious Agudat Yisrael party dismissed this fear as cowardice. He urged his colleagues not to worry about any “racist” slur. He reminded them that although the Jewish people have been hounded because of their race, it is only because of their race that they have survived. Zorah Wahrhaftig, representing Mizrachi and Ha-Poel Mizrachi, two other religious parties, dismissed left-wing fears as unjustified. He noted that the proposed Constitution would in other respects favor Jews, such as their unrestricted right of immigration and almost instantaneous citizenship. Hence he saw no compelling reason why a Jewish State should hesitate to make clear that its “first citizen” is a Jew.
Fear of an explicit Jewish state
The controversial provision was nonetheless deleted, primarily from fear of anti-Semitism. This fear induced the founders of the supposed-to-be Jewish State to fashion Israel’s political institutions according to non-Jewish concepts. Decisive at the birth of the State was the secular mentality of Israel’s dominant political party, Mapai (now Labor). This fact must be borne in mind when examining the flaws of Israel’s present system of government. Contrary to common opinion, the religious parties were not initially adverse to a written Constitution.
Not only did the Constituent Assembly fail to adopt a Constitution, but it appointed itself as the first Knesset! The Knesset proceeded to assume absolute power, at least in theory. In fact, however, the Knesset delegated virtually unlimited power to the Government, i.e., the Cabinet. The People were never consulted about Israel’s system of government. They have tacitly consented to that system because they have been “educated” to believe that the present system is not only legitimate but democratic. Let us examine that system from the perspective of political theory.
Democracy literally means the rule of the people or popular sovereignty. Popular sovereignty requires political equality, more precisely, universal suffrage or one adult/one vote. Universal suffrage exists in Israel. Democracy also requires political freedom, the freedom to form political parties and compete in periodic elections for the control of the government. Such freedom exists in Israel. Indeed, Israel is distracted by as many as 30 parties! I will argue that despite universal suffrage and periodic multiparty elections, popular sovereignty does not and cannot exist in Israel if only because Israel has never had a majority party at the helm. Hence, I will show that Israel’s system of government does not exemplify a democracy.
In the first place, there are no district elections in Israel. The entire country constitutes a single district. Parties are represented in the Knesset on the basis of Proportional Representation (PR). Voters cast their ballots in parliamentary elections for political parties not for individual representatives.
Since Members of the Knesset (MKs) owe their position to their political party and not to the votes of constituents, they cannot function as judges of their government’s leaders and policies as do legislators in almost all of the 84 reputed democracies which I have surveyed. An Israeli MK votes only with his party. He knows that he owes everything – his position, salary and perquisites – to his party. If he votes against the head of his party, who may be the Prime Minister or a Cabinet Minister, he is committing political suicide. This inhibits him from exercising individual judgment, hence from blocking Government policies he deems unwise or pernicious. But this also means that the citizen has no representative in the legislature that can effectively uphold his beliefs vis-à-vis the Government and its policies.
Party dictatorship prevails in Israel, mitigated by the country’s inevitable (and typically inept) coalition multiparty governments. Thus, while the legislature is virtually a cipher, the Government, which can be tyrannical, is incapable of formulating and executing coherent and comprehensive national policies. The citizen is powerless to change this grotesque political system, a system which politicians have a vested interest in preserving.
No checks or balances
Although the Knesset can topple the Government by a vote of no confidence, the only time such a thing has happened in Israel was in 1990 under a government of national unity – and not because of a Knesset vote of no confidence in the Government, but because a member of the ruling coalition betrayed the coalition agreement)! Indeed, such is the untrammeled power of the Government that it can conclude agreements even with terrorist or criminal organizations without public or Knesset debate. Whatever one thinks of the Israel-PLO Accords, the fact remains that they were imposed on the people as faits accomplis.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s power to adjudicate suits challenging the legality of Cabinet decisions is, at best, marginal.
This lack of effective institutional checks and balances in Israel renders the Cabinet, especially the Prime Minister, above the law, which makes Israel a prime ministerial regime.
Media are Party organs
Finally, it should be noted that Israel’s electronic media are state-controlled (but dominated by Labor even when the Government is headed by the Likud). Regarding the print media, Israel has no politically effective adversarial press. As one Ha’aretz journalist wrote: “We hardly differ from a Bolshevik regime, in which people are entirely at the government’s mercy.” A lament in vain. Israel’s Government ignores public opinion and even the cherished convictions of the Jewish people.
It follows from the preceding analysis that, despite the veneer of democracy, Israel’s form of government exemplifies, de jure, an oligarchy. This oligarchy metamorphoses into a de facto prime ministerial dictatorship when the Labor Party gains control of the machinery of government, because Socialists have always dominated not only the economy and mass media, but the military hierarchy and the country’s educational and cultural institutions. This overwhelming concentration of political-economic and opinion-making power in the hands of Israel’s interlocking elites offers no redress of grievances and no outlet for rational and effective dissent or opposition between elections. Thus, it’s hardly an exaggeration to conclude that every few years the people of Israel exercise their political freedom and then relapse into servitude.
Indeed, Israel has the worst of two worlds. Her people not only live under a prime ministerial-led oligarchy, but the oligarchy is dignified and legitimized and thus fortified by the disarming veneer of democracy – again periodic, multiparty elections – which renders the people of Israel all the more powerless. Moreover, because Israel is perceived as a democracy, her government is expected by the democratic world to make gratuitous concessions to Arab-Islamic dictatorships, indeed, to take “risks for peace” which no democratic government would dare ask of its people. Israel’s system of government is a disaster. That it survives may be regarded as the political proof of God’s existence!☼