Israel's Election System Is Bankrupt. Why Not Try These Extreme Out-of-the-box Alternatives?

From election-by-raffle to a sectarian system like in Lebanon, here’s some out-of-the-ballot-box thinking for how Israel might finally get a functioning government. Sounds crazy? Not any more than a fifth election in the summer

Linda Dayan
Linda Dayan
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Could the Pirate party provide Israel's next prime minister? There are worse ideas, as you will see below.
Could the Pirate party provide Israel's next prime minister? There are worse ideas, as you will see below. Credit: Yossi Zamir/GPO
Linda Dayan
Linda Dayan

Israel’s political system works on paper. It served the country pretty well for its first 70 years, until it got stuck in this “Groundhog Day” rut of never-ending election cycles, starting in March 2019.

As Israelis lose hope of ever getting another functioning government (and the sorely needed budget that comes with it), this is clearly the perfect time to admit that the present system has failed us and we must consider more radical options – unexplored avenues that the state can try at least once, just to see what happens. 

The following ideas are not necessarily good, but they are also not necessarily any worse than endlessly repeating the current process and expecting a different result... 

Option 1: Raffle system

After the next election and before the votes are counted, one of Israel’s many ballot boxes will be randomly selected by computer. That ballot box is brought before the president, who sticks his hand inside, gives it a good stir, and pulls out one of the sealed envelopes. The leader of the party whose ballot is enclosed in that envelope gets to be prime minister. Votes are then counted and the duly elected parties can squabble about forming blocs and committees.

The obvious benefit of this system is that, from the outset, Israelis know they’re in the hands of someone favored by fate. This system also ensures diversity in the state’s leadership: there’s no telling who the prime minister will be. Israel may see its first-ever leader from the Pirate party, its first Islamist leader. Israelis may wake up to legalized marijuana or a literal theocracy – it’s all up to God.

The drawback is that it’s a terrible idea.

Likely outcome: Shas victory

Option 2: Lebanese sectarian electoral system

Like Israel, our northern neighbor is comprised of various population groups that are deeply and fiercely divided along confessional, political and ethnic lines. Yet instead of attempting to overcome this strife in their political system, they have warmly embraced it. Lebanon’s different religious groups and sects are allotted a particular number of parliamentary seats, filled by elected candidates. The parliament elects a president, who is a Maronite Christian, who appoints the prime minister, who is a Sunni Muslim.

One day, Israel could be like neighboring Lebanon at election time. This picture was taken in the northern city of Tripoli. Credit: REUTERS

Adopting this system would acknowledge what we already know: there are many Israels. There is the secular island of Tel Aviv and the ultra-Orthodox autonomy. There is the First Israel of the Ashkenazi gatekeepers and the Second Israel of the Mizrahi underclass. There is an Israel that speaks only Russian and an Israel that speaks only Arabic. There is an Israel that makes its post-army trip to Thailand its entire personality.

In the current system, the political parties pander to their tribes (and occasionally to others, with mixed results). But more and more, the tribes are showing that they’re not willing to reconcile to form a government: Bezalel Smotrich has made it abundantly clear that his tribe of extreme religious Zionists is not willing to join hands with Mansour Abbas’ tribe of Islamists, even though they have much in common – or theocracy and homophobia, at least.

Perhaps it’s time to embrace, rather than fight, our inborn sectarianism and give a position to each tribe. Make sure the majority is represented by the nation’s leader, and give everyone else their allotment.

The drawback is that it already doesn’t work in Lebanon.

Likely outcome: 15-year civil war

Option 3: Battle royale

After the new parliament is sworn in, instead of recommending a candidate to the president to form a government, the new lawmakers will gather in the Knesset arena. They will not be allowed to bring their own weapons, but each will be given one plastic chair.

In the arena, there are no parties, no allegiances, no decorum and no campaign promises – only victory. The MKs will fight until a single candidate is literally the last person standing, who will be crowned prime minister. The runner-up will become Knesset speaker.

One benefit to this system is that the slates will start to trend toward the young and feisty. Younger, fresher, more battle-ready politicians will inject new lifeblood into the parliament. The hand-to-hand combat aspect also levels the playing field between the former IDF generals, who have increasingly become a prerequisite for most parties, and those who never had a military career.

It will also make the decision to descend into the murky world of politics a much more selfless act; by definition, it would mean getting punched in the face at least once.

The drawback is the months of recovery time the Knesset will need before it can start functioning.

Likely outcome: Decisive Avigdor Lieberman victory (with Knesset Speaker Tamar Zandberg)

Tamar Zandberg and Avigdor Lieberman (back row, first and second from left) posing for a photo at the start of the 20th Knesset in 2019, just three election cycles ago. Credit: Emil Salman

Option 4: Election draft

Israelis are no strangers to being plucked from their everyday lives to serve their country. Israel Defense Forces reservists know they can be called at a moment’s notice and be expected to pack their musty sleeping bags and ill-fitting olive drab to roll around in the sand and eat canned tuna for a week. They shoulder this burden knowing it’s the price of their safety, and that they are a small cog in the much larger machine that is the Zionist project.

Why not make politics work the same way? After an Israeli turns 21 or completes their military service, they are automatically added to the roster. Every four years, 120 random Israelis will be drafted to the Knesset. Like other significant drafts – the NBA, the Vietnam War – it will be televised, and there can be some musical guests in between or something.

Once selected and after the initial shock subsides, the newly drafted lawmakers can form their own blocs and committees. If one of them actually wants to be prime minister, they can give some speeches and the public will vote, so we can still call ourselves a democracy. Knesset members will keep the same salary they had before (and get a nice bonus for Passover, maybe a spa gift card), and pause their careers for the betterment of the nation.

The drawback is that the Knesset will be full of people who do not want to be in the Knesset – though that may be preferable to having a Knesset full of people who do want to be in the Knesset.

Likely outcome: The guy from your office who puts the milk in before the cereal now runs the Judicial Appointments Committee

Option 5: We only let lesbians vote next time

Israel’s LGBTQ community has been demanding equal rights for decades. If marriage, equal rights to adoption and increased trans welfare are off the table, then one fun way to even the scales is to start taking rights away from everyone else – starting with suffrage.

Lesbians are responsible people. They own many golden retrievers, cats and houseplants. They wake up early on weekends to go kayaking and bake sourdough. They can patch their own drywall. This system is already better than the Electoral College.

The only drawback is how hard it will be to prove you’re a lesbian at the polling place when the usual markers – a side shave, understanding how to propagate succulents, knowing the lyrics to “Fast Car” – have gone mainstream.

Likely outcome: Merav Michaeli supremacy

Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli. A shoo-in for prime minister with just one minor voting tweak.Credit: Sebastian Scheiner/AP

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