Our irrepressible centenarian friend, J. Zel Lurie, has a new column at the Florida Jewish Journal, asking provocatively, “Is Israel too democratic?” Uncharacteristically for Zel, this column deals with the important issue of governmental structure and electoral processes, rather than the more usual questions of how democratic Israel really is, or if Israel can remain a democracy if it continues to rule over disenfranchised Palestinians — matters on which Zel is firmly on the side of the angels. Here’s a key selection from this column:
. . . In Israel, the two leading parties, Likud and Labor (The Zionist Union) got less than half the votes in the last election.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the leading candidate with less than a fourth of the votes. . . ... [T]he Israel government was in limbo while Netanyahu was blackmailed by a series of small parties who agreed to enter the coalition if their parties received large subsidies from the government and/or they were handed powerful ministries like justice and education where they could do much harm. For instance, the new minister of justice is a representative of a small party with about 8% of the votes. She wants to make the Supreme Court less independent and more subject to the Knesset. The same party also snagged a minister of agriculture who has proclaimed his opposition to peace with the Palestinians.All together, Netanyahu has formed a terrible government with a majority of a single vote. So Israel’s terrible record of five expensive elections in 13 years could easily become six elections.Each election brings new faces to the Knesset. In the current Knesset, 40% of the seats are occupied by fresh lawmakers with no experience in the Knesset.Israel retains its reputation of being the only democracy in the Middle East, but it is definitely not a good example. Five elections in 13 years plus a sixth waiting in the wings is not an example any other country would want to follow.An institute for democracy in Jerusalem, an independent think tank, has studied the problem. The solution is simple. A prime minister should be elected for four years, and the provision that his coalition be approved by the majority of the Knesset should be abolished. …
Over the last 20 years, Israel has reformed its extreme application of proportional representation (virtually unique among electoral democracies), several times. A short-lived change was for the direct election of the prime minister, independent of the proportion of votes won by the national list of a party or bloc of parties. And the threshold proportion of votes for election to the Knesset has been raised twice, from enough votes to elect one MK to two and currently four. This last reform caused the consolidation of all the Arab-majority parties into one united list and almost led to the elimination of Meretz.
But none of these changes have yet remedied the problem of governmental instability necessitating multi-party coalitions and frequent elections. Other ideas mentioned include the creation of geographic constituency districts and the possibility of some MKs elected via such districts while others continue to be elected from partisan national lists; Germany’s national elections employ such a mixed system.