There is no disagreement any more that Israel’s democracy is sick and weakened at the core. The signs are many: Prime ministers and senior ministers do what they want, and many of them have proved to be corrupt. It’s the senior officials who are actually determining policy. They decide what to do and what not to do -and not on the basis of laws or government decisions.
The defense establishment and the military set policy and carry out moves as they wish. MKs have essentially no influence; parties are led by “leaders” who were “elected” through internal manipulation; corruption at all levels is on the rise. Tycoons essentially decide a large part of policy; many groups (Israeli Palestinians, women, Ethiopian Jews, gays, lesbians, etc. ) are discriminated against and excluded. Above all, in the vast majority of cases, the citizenry has no influence on where the power goes. Just look at the social workers strike or the movement to bring about the release of Gilad Shalit.
To solve these problems, proposals are put forward to reform Israeli democracy. Academics propose a change in leadership, or adopting a presidential system, and in recent days the Israel Democracy Institute has proposed changes to the structure and organization of the system of governance. These recommendations include increasing the number of MKs and raising the vote threshold for entering parliament, among others.
These recommendations are not original “inventions” of the institute. Most of them, and others like them, were put forth by the Katsav Committee several years ago, and were publicly discussed, but not one was adopted.
That is why Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin was right when he strongly opposed a presidential system, saying that “we are tired of the endless attempts to alter the Israeli parliamentary system.”
But Rivlin was wrong when he agreed to some of the proposals of the institute – selecting the prime minister from the largest party and combining a national and a regional election system.
It is essential to understand that all organizational reforms in the electoral system, in the conduct of parties and the Knesset, in the political supervision of the civil service ranks, etc., will change nothing in the failing Israeli democracy. This is because the reasons for the poor condition of the formal democracy run much deeper than the organizational and structural problems.
These elements are connected to a basic lack of recognition of the fact that the citizens are the real sovereign, and not the Knesset, the government or the “leaders.” So there is a fundamental need to meet the wishes and the demands of the citizens; it is necessary to overcome individualism, political apathy and the self-indulgence of many in Israel. It is necessary to avoid repeated mention of the security threat. This provides people in power, with links to the defense networks, with near complete control over what takes place here. It is necessary to infuse the entire public, and all the politicians, with the missing understanding of the essence of effective – not formal – democracy.
All this depends mostly on understanding that there is an essential need to alter the political culture in Israel fundamentally before changing the structure or function of political institutions. Given the persons and political institutions in Israel, such change appears to be unreal. But if it does not take place, the political system in Israel will decline further, and sooner or later, it will become an authoritarian regime.