Fixing Israel’s Broken Electoral System

An Israeli friend asked the other day how Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden could be in the same party. It’s not surprising that this seems odd to him. It reflects the difference between America’s two-party electoral system and Israel’s parliamentary model.

In a multi-party parliamentary system parties tend to be ideological in nature. In other words, they’re strongly committed to a specific set of principles and goals. On the other hand, because there are only two parties with a chance of winning presidential elections in the U.S., both are only moderately ideological. U.S. parties are informal coalitions of interest groups that have come together for a common goal. This system enables each interest group to achieve some of their goals without being able to blackmail their party after the election, which is what happens in Israel.

Israel needs to move to a system where coalitions are built before elections not after. To accomplish this, the percentage a party needs to gain seats in the Knesset should be increased from the current 3.25 percent to as high as 7.5 percent. If that were in place this past September, six of the nine parties that won seats would have been shut out. Knowing in advance that would be the likely result would have forced each of them to negotiate with the two major Jewish parties—Blue and White and Likud––before the election. They would have had to join one or the other or lose all influence in the election’s outcome.

Ideological purity has its pluses. In Israel, it means minority viewpoints are represented, and that’s good, BUT it also means those parties have inordinate power beyond the percentage of the public that supports their positions. Yisrael Beiteinu with only seven percent of public support is blocking the formation of a government the consequences of which can be disastrous.

Ideological purity is the enemy of coalitions. Ideological purity explains why the left-leaning Labor Party would not join in a coalition with Bibi Netanyahu’s right-leaning Likud Party. Their voters would be outraged if they were to do so. To abandon the platform they campaigned on would guarantee their supporters would never vote for those individuals in the future.

The two major parties in the American system are much less ideological than those in Israel or other parliamentary systems. In the American system coalitions are formed before the election not afterward as in Israel. Franklin Delano Roosevelt put together a coalition that lasted decades. It was made up of large city political machines, labor unions, white Southerners, and ethnic minorities including Jews and blacks. Barack Obama imitated F.D.R. and won twice easily.

Because coalitions in the U.S. are built in advance of elections, interest groups are confident of gaining some, but not all, of their goals if and when their party prevails. That keeps their members happy because there’s hope they’ll gain more of their platform if they keep coming out for their party.

The weakness of the American electoral system is the process of choosing presidential candidates. Candidates know primaries attract the most committed voters and thus are motivated to take extreme positions during the primary season, forcing them to move to the center if they win their party’s nomination.

Donald Trump stood out and easily won the nomination in 2016 despite his lack of political experience. This year the field of more than twenty Democrats seeking their party’s nomination is shrinking fast as candidates with moderate views find it hard to gain media attention and support.

Neither electoral system is perfect. In Israel, reforms will need to be passed after the current crisis is over in order to avoid a repeat. I recommend increasing the minimum percentage vote to 7.0 or 7.5 percent in order to reduce the number of parties with a chance to gain seats and gum up the works. This would force parties to form coalitions BEFORE the election instead of afterwards. This would reduce the minor parties to influence groups while still enabling them to gain some, but not all of the platform outcomes they desire. Combining the best of both systems can help Israel avoid future stalemates.

Should the U.S. recognize Palestine?

Matthew Duss of the Foundation for Middle East Peace and Michael Cohen a fellow at the Century Foundation argue peace in the Middle East would be advanced if the U.S. recognized Palestine (Washington Post, March 29). Placing the blame for the failure of the U.S. to bring about a two-state solution on Israel in general and Prime Minister Netanyahu in particular, Duss and Cohen go so far as to assert such an act would “strengthen the Jewish homeland’s security.”

The authors state that a two-state solution has been U.S. policy since 2002 when George W. Bush called for the creation of a Palestinian state. Failure to realize this policy has in their view undermined U.S. credibility and contributed to regional unrest.

While admitting the Palestinian Authority President Abbas “has at times been an obstinate partner in the peace process,” Duss and Cohen ignore the times that Abbas walked away from the table after Israel had agreed to a mediated formula, raising doubt as to whether the Palestinian Authority actually wants a negotiated settlement which includes the continued existence of the state of Israel.

The authors suggest the Palestinians need a leader different than Abbas has proven to be. In doing so, they undermine their claim that recognition will lead to peace by documenting the extent to which the Palestinians are far from being ready for nationhood. Not only do they lack a strong, credible, and legitimate leader, but they are divided to the point where Palestinian Authority officials dare not venture into Gaza given Hamas’ record of assassinating opponents.

The authors further expose the flaw in their own logic when they remind us that George Bush called for “an economically sustainable, demilitarized Palestinian state.” It’s one thing to call for a demilitarized Palestine. It’s another thing to articulate a path to such an end, something they don’t even attempt. Why not? I’d venture to say that if the U.S. informed Israel that we will recognize the Palestinian people’s right to their own country on the day an inspection certifies Hamas, Al Aqsa Brigades and the other terrorist groups have been disarmed, I am confident Prime Minister Netanyahu would applaud.

The problem is no one is stepping forward to disarm the terrorists, least of all the Palestinian Authority. It is well-known the reason the PA has failed to hold scheduled elections in 2009 and 2010 is because they knew Hamas would win and the price of losing would most likely be their lives and the lives of their families.

Ironically, the primary reason Duss and Cohen want the U.S. to recognize Palestine has nothing to do with Palestine. They favor it to “protect U.S. national security.” This is nothing more than a corollary of the Obama doctrine, the primary principle of which seems to be the dubious theory that U.S. security is protected when we withdraw from conflicts.

The authors also fudge on a key matter. Recognizing Palestine is not the same thing as recognizing a Palestinian state. The latter cannot exist without borders and since defining its borders is a central problem, recognition can only be theoretical.

While it would be a public relations victory for the PA and Hamas for the U.S. to recognize the existence of nation called Palestine, it would not lead to an end to the conflict, which can only come when the Palestinian people recognize they cannot achieve their goals by force and that the outcome of negotiations is that neither side get everything they want.

Netanyahu and Likud have placed security above all else for a reason. To do otherwise is to jeopardize Israel’s existence as past history has demonstrated. At the same time, Israelis desperately want peace.

Recognition of Palestine by the U.S. would harm Israel––the authors’ claims notwithstanding––and it would do nothing to end the hostilities. As Golda Meir often said, “Peace will come to the Middle East, when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.

The Fear and Loathing of the Jewish-American Left

The Jewish-American Left is apoplectic about Likud’s electoral victory, which they attribute to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s last minute appeal to his constituency by announcing no Palestinian state will be created during his watch and warning his voters that foreign money was financing left-wing NGO’s busing of Arab voters to the polls. The latter comment may have been injudicious, but it was not racist as is claimed.

Racism is the Left’s favorite (and last ditch) card to use against anyone who is beating them in a contest of any type. That’s because the term has become so overused that it no longer has any real meaning while it remains effective in labeling the target as someone it’s okay to dismiss.

The concept of race was invented around the turn of the nineteenth century by those who wanted to justify policies that treated certain groups differently than others. At one time or another it has been used against Europeans, including Poles and Italians, against religious groups, including Jews, against Native Americans, Asians, and against those of African descent.

It had no basis in fact then and it has none today. Racists are people who believe that a group of people––however defined––are members of a unique race and that individual members of that group possess certain qualities or attributes in common. For example, anyone who says all Jews love money are making a racist statement. Someone who says a certain Jewish individual loves money is not.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s warning to his constituents that NGOs were busing Arabs to the polls is not a racist statement because he doesn’t attribute any negative characteristics to Arab people other than he assumes most of them will vote against him. That’s simply a statement of fact. Were he talking about any other voting block, such as residents of kibbutzim or Jews living in a certain neighborhood, it would not have caught anyone’s attention.
But wasn’t Netanyahu appealing to the baser instincts of his constituents? Leftists love to believe those they disagree with are racists. They forget that the union movement in America for decades refused to admit African-American workers and the Democratic Party established Jim Crow in the American South, refusing to give it up until well into the 1960s. The racist canard only works on Netanyahu if one believes Lukid’s voters are racist bigots. In this case who are the real bigots?

I believe Netanyahu had to have drawn certain logical conclusions to make the statements about the two-state solution and Arab voters.

He has concluded that the leaders of the Palestinian Arabs living in Gaza and the so-called occupied territories have no desire for a two-state solution as evidenced by their actions and their words. He has seen that whenever Israel has given in to their demands it has made matters worse. Vide: Gaza. Hence, unless those leaders change their behavior and their views or are replaced by leaders who do not call for Israel’s destruction, no sane Israeli would give them the means to attack Israel more effectively than they have done in the past.

Netanyahu also knows that the three Arab political parties that made up the Arab list are proponents of policies that would harm Israel and make it more vulnerable than it is today. Hence, his hope that his supporters make their voices heard. Thank goodness, his wishes were fulfilled.

The question is to what extent will the Jewish-American Left abandon Israel and those Israelis who returned Netanyahu to prime minister? If they believe he won using illegitimate tactics, they may support the Obama administration’s desire to shove a two-state solution down Israel’s throat. That such would even be conceivable tells us to what extent leftist (i.e., anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist, anti-imperalist) ideology has replaced Judaism as the religion these people follow.