Israeli Politics Have Killed the Primaries

Primaries are far from perfect, but they are immeasurably preferable to omnipotent leaders who decide political fates with a mere word.

Raviv Drucker
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Israeli politicians Isaac Herzog, right, and Tzipi Livni listen during a tour along the Israel and Gaza Strip border Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014.Credit: AP
Raviv Drucker

As part of the dream deal that Hatnuah chairwoman MK Tzipi Livni struck with Labor chairman MK Isaac Herzog last week, Livni received places high enough on the joint slate for her faction to have a reasonable chance of securing Knesset seats. But by press time last night, Livni had yet to say for whom these seats would be reserved, and who in Hatnuah would be cast aside.

Why is the new candidate for prime minister taking so long to decide who will receive these coveted slots? Obviously, she is seriously considering the advantages and disadvantages of each. Oh yes, and also, until Friday, two of them – MKs Elazar Stern and David Tsur – can legally split from Hatnuah and take with them millions of shekels in party funding. Could it be that Livni planted the hope in Stern and Tsur that they might be the selected ones, so they not consider splitting – and then, when Friday comes, it transpires that MK Amir Peretz has been chosen?

Moshe Kahlon. Gets the select the Kulanu slate for the next two Knesset elections.Credit: Rami Shalosh

One thing is for sure – none of this story’s heroes has considered, for even a second, the idea of running in a party primary. That thing called running for election has gone out of fashion. Only a few years ago, when the new “stars” parachuted into politics, they would not have dared do things except by the right way. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Ami Ayalon, MK Shelly Yacimovich, former Likud ministers Dan Meridor and Benny Begin, MK Merav Michaeli, Pensioner Affairs Minister Uri Orbach and MK Miki Rosenthal – they all ran in primaries for a place on their party’s ticket. Today, no one would even consider the possibility.

Yoav Galant (a candidate for a number of parties), Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg (apparently not headed for Moshe Kahlon’s new Kulanu party) and Michael Oren (headed to Kahlon’s party, apparently) are on the way. And IDF Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin (there is probably no party that can meet his expectations), former National Security Adviser Giora Eiland (who will apparently say no to Kahlon), Zvi Hauser (to Habayit Hayehudi?) and dozens of other ostensibly glittering names are negotiating with various parties, with two pointed provisos: An assured place on that faction’s Knesset slate, and a potential ministerial post. Any less and they won’t play.

Only mere mortals need run in primaries. For the first time, the Likud chairman has ring-fenced some places, while the chairman of Habayit Hayehudi has arranged assured places for the first time. Kahlon wrote his own party regulations, a la Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, so that he alone decides who the candidates on his ticket will be, both for the 2015 Knesset and the one after that. As for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Lapid – forget about it. In short, primaries are dead.

Yes, primaries have quite a few problems, but they are immeasurably preferable to omnipotent leaders who decide people’s political fates with a mere word. And by the way, this has not brought us better governance.

If our politicians have killed internal democracy within the parties, at least let them go one step further and announce that they are appointing experts as ministers, without reference to their presence or position on the faction ticket. If Lapid is omnipotent in his party, where did his commitment come from to appoint someone who, by her own admission, did not know at the time of her appointment about private medicine practiced in hospitals? In what world would Yael German be a minister and Prof. Roni Gamzu, a man with decades of experience in the health-care system, be the director general of that ministry? What connects Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir to his portfolio? His arbitrary placement on the Yisrael Beiteinu slate? Does Tourism Minister Uzi Landau really have a passion for that ministry?

Lapid, Kahlon and Lieberman will soon be presenting their slates. There will be many new faces there, sharing very little in common (except an oath of allegiance to their leader). Together, they will bring in between 30 and 40 Knesset members. The three of them have enough wiggle room in negotiations with the people they anoint to at least say to them, “Friends, don’t expect ministerial posts; when we get the portfolios, we’ll appoint the best people from the outside.” Gamzu would probably make an excellent health minister without having to pretend that he believes in the abilities of Lapid/Kahlon/Lieberman to be prime minister.

The writer is a journalist with Channel 10