Opinion

Israel's Party Leaders Are Elected by Political Rot and Corruption

There is a simple way to be rid of both the evils of the primaries in both Likud and Labour, and the enervating arbitrariness of parties led by one autocratic leader

A Likud primaries polling station in Tel Aviv, Israel, February 5, 2019.
Meged Gozani

Three days ago, Likud held its primary. In three days, the Labor Party will follow. Media coverage of these events is enthusiastic, gushing even, along the lines of “red-letter day for democracy.” It’s time to tell the truth: the primary process is outmoded. It has become corrupting, occasionally corrupted and in any case completely irrelevant.

Conclusive proof is the fact that large numbers of voters repeatedly vote for parties such as Yisrael Beiteinu, Yesh Atid, Kulanu and Hosen L’Yisrael — none of which holds primaries and some of which have an autocratic, near-draconian constitution. No voter, as far as is known, has ever hesitated for even a second to vote for a party due to the lack of “democratic process.”

In Likud, the primary system pushed aside Dan Meridor, Reuven Rivlin and Benny Begin, in favor of Oren Hazan, Miki Zohar and Nava Boker. It made possible the hostile takeover by settler extremists of the Likud Central Committee. It allows registered party members who don’t vote Likud in the general election to determine the composition of its ticket. T

he “theft law,” as Benny Begin called the legislation that could bring Israel’s leadership to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, was imposed on a feeble party leadership by MKs who, terrified by the approaching primaries, went against the wishes of Likud voters and the national interests of the state. There are other examples.

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The primaries also raised the stature of “vote contractors.” Party chiefs attend their family events, mumbling praise and embracing people they’ve never met. They generated corruption: party registration fees reimbursed in cash; fictitious “supplier deals”; jobs during the campaign (and often for years) afterward) for relatives. In short, deep rot. And for what?

In the Labor Party, the primaries have been the root of a number of evils, including dodgy membership registration. Every primary campaign leaves in its wake parties whose human fabric of trust and solidarity has been rent and scarred, often for years.

The system in the so-called personality parties — in which a single individual, aided by associates or whim alone, draws up the list of candidates — isn’t necessarily more attractive. By definition, this is far from any reasonable understanding of democratic process. These parties often include heavy hitters, but these individuals are bound to be disappointed or to gradually disappear in the face of the party’s autocratic structure.

I’ve often witnessed the heartbreaking sight of an experienced, highly talented figure waiting helplessly to be told, by the secretary of “the leader,” how to vote in a meeting of the inner cabinet. Is that the proper alternative to primaries? Definitely not.

There is a simple way to be rid of both the rot of the primaries and the enervating arbitrariness of the one-person parties. There are half a dozen democracies around the world, including the Netherlands, where the ranking of candidates is assigned — can you believe it? — to the voters. In the voting booth on Election Day, at the voting booth, the ballot for each party lists all the candidates: The voters rank them in order of preference.

An end to corruption, vote contractors, forged voter registrations and the whims of instant political stars. The voters, and only the voters, will decide. Why not expect this of our leaders, at the very least? What’s so hard to understand?