Israel's Dying Democracy

Our representative democracy never developed. On the contrary: It is dying or nonexistent in the workplace, the local government, the military, and the occupied territories.

Democracy grants its subjects the rank of citizen by means of their vote. In exchange, the citizens must obey the law and the rules of the game. Once every four years, or fewer, they are asked to choose their rulers and give them legitimacy once again. As long as the voters do not take their representation too seriously, this is an excellent deal from the perspective of the regime, which is based on a majority and, in the absence of a constitution, can do almost anything it wishes. It can even sing nonsense, including analogies with “the Western democracies” regarding the so-called governability law and the electoral threshold.

In various democratic regimes, the power of the state is decentralized in various ways. It is too easy to natter on about the high electoral threshold in Germany and not know that there are also 16 elected administrations in the states of the federal republic, and the right to vote there is broad and has a greater influence than our own does. In Italy, representation is decentralized — in other words, the citizens can influence their future — over the administrations of 20 regions and 110 provinces. In some countries, even judges are elected by the public. Israel has none of this kind of representation except for the Knesset elections. In addition, the State of Israel has no constitution, so the country can discriminate against its Arab citizens and disregard their right to vote.

But the MKs’ ignorance, in the latest debate over “governability,” speaks for itself: The overlords have no need of persuasion. All they need are worn-out cliches and an overwhelming vote. Yesh Atid and Lieberman’s party fight against minorities for precisely that reason. This alliance is nourished by the same hostility to democracy as a mosaic, a hostility that you meet among army officers and among the financial elite under the slogan: “Why are people trying to stop us from doing our job?” What job? The job of ruling. It’s no coincidence that both of these well-disciplined parties, which are fighting to raise the electoral threshold, were appointed and are controlled by the bosses. For them, this is democracy. Representation from above.

MK Adi Kol of Yesh Atid is an illustration of the coarseness of her party colleague Ofer Shelah and his overlord. The fact that Israel has always been a society with wretched representation, given to the subjects as an act of grace, is more important: “Be grateful that we brought you to a democracy.” Indeed, millions of immigrants were brought here and were immediately granted “veteran” representation by the government: functionaries in the various institutions, from the Jewish Agency to the Mossad, Iraqis, Moroccans, Yemenites, Romanians. That is how the Mizrahim were represented in the 1950s and the 1960s; that is how the immigrants from the former Soviet Union were organized over the past two decades in politics by those who came as Zionists in the 1970s. The Arab minority had mukhtars who “represented” it during the military administration.

Our representative democracy never developed. On the contrary: It is dying. Democracy is disappearing in workplaces — in other words, the places where workers once chose their unions in the most central arena of their lives, where they earned their livelihood. Local government is entirely dependent on the government and the Arrangements Law. The army — a state within a state — is, of course, immune to any representation. Add to that the millions of subjects of the occupation, who have no representation (our “referendum” about their future is the most obvious expression of this rottenness), and you’ll get the master’s face of the state. A certain amount of power for the weak is “extortion,” like the government and the media call the political power of small minorities. Now, imagine a new Mizrahi party as an opposition to the ruling hegemony; with an electoral threshold of three or four percent, does it have a chance?

This is also an explanation for the populist comments on the Internet, online petitions that address no one but the glass ceiling, the viral smearing, and even the “Turkel scandals.” They stem from powerlessness, from lack of ability to truly influence our future. We are left with a cynical parliament, an automatic majority and hedonistic elites that want only to increase their power. Where exactly can the masses have any influence? In the voting for “Big Brother” and “A Star is Born.”