Haaretz Editorial || Primaries ruled by party hacks
There aren't many areas of agreement between the Labor and the Likud parties, but it seems that on one issue, it would be possible to achieve almost wall-to-wall support among the Israeli public, from voters and their elected representatives alike: disappointment with the primary system.
The list of candidates for the next Knesset will be closed in about a week. On Thursday, the Labor Party chose its slate; Likud, its eternal rival, did so earlier this week. There aren't many areas of agreement between these two parties, but it seems that on one issue, it would be possible to achieve almost wall-to-wall support among the Israeli public, from voters and their elected representatives alike: disappointment with the primary system.
During the early decades of the state's existence, party slates were chosen by "arrangement committees": The major parties were controlled by leadership cadres who dictated the composition of their slates, taking into account the competing pressures from special-interest groups. These cadres were deeply familiar with their regular electorates and able to count on their support.
At that time, the main considerations in casting a vote were the image of the leader, the party's ideological platform, a voter's social class and his livelihood. The assumption was that a party that wanted to survive would be wise enough to refresh its ranks from time to time. Parties that failed to do so, or that failed in ruling the country, lost support.
In recent decades, the arrangement committee's role was taken over first by party central committees, and then by the parties' members. In theory, this was democracy at its purest. But in practice, it became a Wild West for vote contractors. Instead of rule by the majority, power gravitated toward a minority within the minority.
The result was that excellent ministers and Knesset members were pushed aside, while candidates for the party leadership committed political suicide by caving in to the hacks who controled organized groups of voters. The fact that in the general election many party members won't necessarily vote for the slate they themselves determined has turned the entire process into a farce.
Indeed, more than a quarter of the members of the next Knesset will have been chosen by four people: Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid and Tzipi Livni of Hatnuah.
From now on, therefore, it would seem better to integrate the two systems: primaries that would have only a limited impact, alongside a committee that would enable high-quality candidates to be placed on the slate without having to curry favor with the vote contractors, who are supposed to decide whether they were sufficiently obsequious to be allowed onto the list of recommended candidates. This would not be a perfect system, and in any case, it would be wise for the political system to hold a comprehensive discussion of such a fundamental issue. But it would be an improvement over the current state of Israeli politics.