Don't Raise the Election Threshold

The proposal to raise the election threshold, just like the law calling for the direct election of the prime minister, could lead to a result that is actually opposite from the one intended.


To the credit of the Forum for Political Reform in Israel, set up by the Israel Democracy Institute, it did not fall into the trap of recommending that Israel switch over to a presidential system. The forum's chairman, former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar, did well to explain the virtues of the parliamentary system that is customarily found in most of the world's democratic countries. At the same time, it's necessary to differentiate between the various proposals put forward by the forum to the speaker of the Knesset - which can be described as positive, marginal or damaging.

The proposal to limit the number of cabinet members to 18 ministers and six deputy ministers is certainly positive. The inflated composition of the current government, which is motivated solely by party and coalition considerations, does not reflect any of the country's actual needs; it turns the cabinet into a miniature Knesset, impedes its efficacy and creates a situation in which a record number of Knesset members from the coalition serve as ministers or deputy ministers.

This overblown composition also broadcasts an unacceptable situation, in which hedonism and setting up jobs for cronies is the norm; this all serves to make politics even more repulsive in the eyes of the citizens. Countries that are larger than Israel make do with a smaller number of ministers. There used to be a restriction on the amount of ministers, but this was eradicated by Ehud Barak's government.

There is also no justification for increasing the number of Knesset nembers, especially if the number of cabinet ministers and deputy ministers is reduced. Every MK brings in his wake assistants, secretaries, and a lifelong pension and benefits - and there is no evidence to suggest that a larger number of MKs would serve the voters more effectively or improve their democratic representation.

The forum's most problematic proposal is to raise the election threshold to four percent. The reason for this proposal is clear - the repulsion toward the small parties that manage to squeeze concessions from the majority, beyond what should stem from their representation. The solution, however, is not to be found in raising the election threshold; the voters for these smaller sects will not disappear if it is raised. Instead, the small religious parties will unite to form one list - which will actually increase the power of the religious public. That is also true of the Arab parties. There is no reason to encourage such tendencies.

Israeli society is complex, diverse and genuinely pluralistic, and there is no justification for preventing this pluralism from being reflected politically. The rifts among the religious public are not coincidental, reflecting different concepts starting with religious Zionist viewpoints and ending with non-Zionism. And the same can be said of the Arab public, whose various parties represent authentic hues among the Arabs - starting with those close to fundamentalist Islam, including secular nationalism, and ending with remnants of the Communist Jewish-Arab cooperation.

There is even a positive side to the rift within the Jewish religious camp, as it makes it possible to create coalitions to which some of the religious parties are partners. If the Lord did not bring about the crystallization of a united Jewish religious camp, what reason is there to assist in forming one?

The proposal to raise the election threshold, just like the law calling for the direct election of the prime minister, could lead to a result that is actually opposite from the one intended. Moreover, the forum concentrated on the formal aspects of representation, while the problems of Israeli democracy really lie in the parties' internal structures. They are contaminated by the system of "primaries," which encourages populism, personalism and ignores any problems related to principles and ideology. In refraining from touching on this vital subject, the forum missed the opportunity to significantly change the political system in this country.