The shenanigans that characterized the Likud internal elections have brought us a wave of demands that party elections for the list of Knesset candidates be modeled on the American primary system. It doesn't seem to matter that the Israeli system of government does not resemble the U.S. system, and that ours is, in fact, entirely different; disgust with the latest results is so great that it appears that anything would be better than the system that has brought about such absurd results. So why not American primaries?
This is reminiscent of the days after Shimon Peres' so-called "dirty trick" brought down the national unity government and disgust with the subsequent coalition-haggling brought forth a wave of demands that we abandon the parliamentary system of government and move to "American-like" direct elections for prime minister.
Led by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, headed by Eliad Shraga, the hysteria that was whipped up brought us the law for the direct election of the prime minister. It took us six years to clear up that mess.
Now, again, Shraga and his movement are beating the drums, calling for a postponement of the Knesset elections and "open primaries;" and without much further thought, many are prepared to follow their call.
Can you blame the politicians for again falling victim to such hysteria? As baseball great Yogi Berra said, "It's deja vu all over again".
But whereas direct election of the prime minister within a parliamentary system of government had never before been tried anywhere (and as a result of the Israeli experience, probably never will be) - and with its adoption, Israel was moving into the unknown, which many preferred to visualize as bringing a better future - open primaries of the type currently advocated have already been tried in Israel by Labor and Likud alike.
Considerable thought and research has already been invested in studying the advantages and disadvantages of open primaries in Israel. Noteworthy in particular is the study conducted at the Israel Institute for Democracy by Gideon Rahat and Neta Sher-Hadar in January 1999, and all Israeli lawmakers would be well advised to study the contents of this research.
Their comments regarding "open primaries" are generally negative. In their summary, the authors' conclusion of the experience with "open primaries" in Likud and Labor is: "The tendency of the big parties toward `openness' did not justify itself. The application of methods that seemed more democratic was more destructive than useful."
Open primaries seem patently inconsistent with the system of proportional representation in use in Israeli elections - a system in which the individual votes for the party of his choice rather than for his favorite candidate. A close connection between the party and its representatives in the Knesset is, therefore, called for; this connection is weakened by "open primaries" and could, as a result, serve to destabilize government coalitions.
In any event, it should be clear that it would be dangerous to rush into new legislation before thorough discussions have been held in the Knesset and other public forums on an issue so important to Israeli democracy.
As for the unfortunate experience in the recent Likud elections that seems to have led some to the hasty conclusion that immediate legislation regulating internal party election are called for, it would be advisable to recall the following series of events that led to the results of the Likud voting:
The membership drive preceding the elections to the party convention involved innumerable violations of the Likud constitution and Israeli law. The convention itself was not preceded by the usual preparatory work setting the convention's agenda and preparing the much-needed changes to the method of electing the party's candidates for the Knesset for submission to the convention. And modifications to the existing method that totally distorted the upcoming elections were illegally railroaded through the opening session of the convention.
None of this would have happened if the party's tribunal had not been persuaded to abolish the party secretariat whose task it was to oversee and guide all of the aforementioned steps. These mishaps are no justification for legislating "open primaries" at this time.
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