Published by The Freeman Center

The Maccabean Online

Political Analysis and Commentary
on Israeli and Jewish Affairs

"For Zion's sake I shall not hold my peace, And for Jerusalem's sake I shall not rest."



To Disenfranchise or to Empower the Jewish People
 
Paul Eidelberg
  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.
  
  Ironically, this ultra-Orthodox party is especially responsible for undermining Israel \'s Jewish character.  This it obviously did when it virtually empowered the Rabin government after the cliff-hanger elections of June 1992.  This leftwing government not only emasculated the Jewish content of the public school curriculum; it also concluded the Israel-PLO Agreement of 1993, which has truncated Israel and led to the murder of some 1,600 Jews by Arab terrorists.
  
  If it were legally possible to ban Shas, it would be a mitzvah to do so.  But then any party that has been complicit in any governmental decision to surrender Jewish land would have to be banned!  This would include the Likud, Labor, Kadima, Torah United Judaism, and the National Religious Party.  Nevertheless, if any single party wins the prize, it\'s Shas, without which the curse of Oslo would not have been inflicted on the Jewish people.
  
  Aside from sustaining today\'s horrendous Olmert government, consider the prolongation of Israel \'s current system of Proportional Representation, for whose prolongation we may thank the Shas veto.  David Ben-Gurion\'s Memoirs reviews some of the evils of this system.
  
  Ben-Gurion saw that Proportional Representation (PR), in addition to fragmenting the nation, severs the representational bond between the voter and members of the Knesset.  He saw that PR in a single nationwide electoral district "would cut any connection between the voter and his representative, who would be dependent on his party leadership rather than on those who elected him and whom he would not even know."  The plethora of parties produced by PR would also produce governments consisting of several rival parties that form a ruling majority "not on the basis of a common program but merely to divide up positions of influence and the national budget."   This spells corruption.

  Only regional elections, said Ben-Gurion, can ensure representational democracy, for the representative would know and be accountable to those who had elected him.  "To win a majority, the candidate would have to gain the approval of a majority of voters in his own constituency and concentrate on the problems of that majority .  Instead of a multiplicity of parties and election lists, a constituency system would promote national unity and an organic link between the voter and his legislative representative."  
  I would add the following:
              (1) The actual configuration of geographic districts needs to be designed by mathematically-trained political scientists.  They can configure districts in such a way that neither diminishes the influence of nationalist oriented voters, nor increases the representation of Arab voters.  On the contrary, any fair system of direct district elections will automatically increase the influence of Israel \'s Jewish majority on the laws of the state and thereby magnify Jewish national principles.
              (2) Since any geographic district is likely to consist of citizens having diverse interests and opinions, a candidate for the Knesset will have to appeal to a majority of these citizens and not merely to a single ethnic, religious, or ideological group.  This would not only moderate politics and enlarge the mentality of politicians.  It would also shift Israel \'s the territorial policy toward the right consistent with the abiding convictions of Israel \'s Jewish majority.  District elections would therefore make Israel more Jewish, as I will now illustrate.
  Studies of the Guttman Institute indicate that 25% of Israel \'s Jewish population is "orthodox," and at least 50% is "traditional."  No less than 75% therefore identify with the Jewish heritage.  This corresponds to the 76% of the Jewish electorate that voted against the Labor Party\'s policy of "unilateral disengagement" in the January 2003 election-the paramount issue of that election.
  Nevertheless, thanks to political bribery-facilitated by the system of voting for party slates-the Knesset, by a margin of 67 to 45, voted for territorial withdrawal and the expulsion of 10,000 Jews from their homes!  Surely, few if any of the 23 Likud MKs would have voted for that defeatist and criminal policy had they been individually accountable to the voters in constituency elections. 

  This vividly illustrates how Proportional Representation in a single nationwide electoral district undermines political accountability. It also shows how PR has diminished Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel and, to that extent, has undermined the Jewish heritage.  (I have elsewhere cited polls going back to 1992 showing that a substantial majority of the Jews have opposed surrendering Jewish land.  See Ariel Center Policy Paper No. 172 for details.)

  In view of the preceding facts, I conclude that Shas, by vetoing constituency elections, perpetuates a system that disenfranchises the people; and since most of the people identify with the Jewish heritage and expect law-makers to uphold Jewish beliefs and values, it follows that Shas, despite its religious orientation, has undermined, to no small extent, Israel \'s Jewish character.