Israeli Democracy Exploits Its Weakest Citizens

So long as democratic consciousness is so lax, and social discrimination is so egregious, this corrupt dance will continue.

There's no point dwelling on the Labor Party and its new dispute about voter registration. Nor is there any cause to fret about its system of primaries. There are worse systems, and no party has a better primaries set-up. True, I might have some nostalgic pining for the old, smoke-filled room on 110 Hayarkon Street where the party selected its candidates. All that's left of that venue is an old sign, and memories of mythological figures. Candidates were selected without money and without stuffed ballot boxes. But that was politics in the age of party bosses, and the Labor Party eventually got sick of it, exactly 20 years ago.

The primaries system has not really enhanced the quality of political parties in Israel. They haven't become more democratic. Instead, they've become more corrupt. The primaries have not injected new blood and talent into Israeli politics. Party hacks are still party hacks, and they seem to last forever.

The Labor Party's genetic make-up is not responsible for all this. Registered members of Kadima and Likud don't look much better, and they certainly do not produce better Knesset representatives. The problem is the genetic make-up of Israeli society and democracy. More precisely, the problem is the fragility of Israel's democracy and the weakness of its society. This is democracy for the poor - not only because it is shaky, and is at risk of fragmenting and collapsing at every moment; and not only because it lacks firm anchors, is based on ignorance, and is founded on the specious assumption that it's enough to stage elections and support government by the majority. What we have is a system that is based on exploiting the weakness of the poor, and on the helplessness of the exploited.

Who registers nowadays with political parties? Do you know anyone who has done so? Who registers for the major parties? Arabs, the poor and other weak sectors. When a quarter of Labor's registered voters are Arabs, and the actual number of Arabs who end up voting for Labor is negligible, there's something wrong, not with the system but with the social structure.

Since the days of Tammany Hall in the 19th and early 20th centuries, such politics has been based upon the shameless exploitation of disadvantaged social groups. Some portion of the Arab sector and other discriminated groups and poor people have little interest in political viewpoints, in legislation, in party platforms and candidates. These people just want jobs, if possible; they want building permits, if possible; they want phone numbers of people with clout. They want more food in the refrigerator. These are the voters who can be bought cheaply, at end-of-the-season prices, during primaries season.

This is the season when the weaker sectors register for political parties. Fifty forms can be filled out in exchange for a permit for a hunting rifle. One hundred forms will come in exchange for a job given to a relative, and a permit to build another floor in the house can result in 500 new registered voters. These people have no other way of getting what they want.

Look at who were the kings of the primaries - figures like Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. They knew how to make promises. Is there any other explanation for the fact that Arabs have registered for Labor, the party which exploited and marginalized them for generations, or for the fact that Arabs register for Yisrael Beiteinu, which is hardly logical, or for Shas?

There's no point in talking about changing the system. Its replacement would be no better. There could be a need to tighten up supervision, but that wouldn't help very much. So long as democratic consciousness is so lax, and social discrimination is so egregious, this corrupt dance will continue. It takes two to tango, namely, the cynical politicians and the hapless registrants.

Consider the survey published three months ago in Haaretz, which found that 60 percent of Israeli youth, the spoiled children of democracy, favor a "strong leader" more than the rule of law; and 70 percent think that security is more important than democracy. When the democracy's profile looks like this, it's hard to level accusations at the Labor Party. The roots of the problem are deep, and the danger is much more ominous than the selection of this or that candidate as head of Labor, with or without stuffed ballot boxes.