Intraparty Democracy Works

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, internal party primaries are the worst way to choose a party’s Knesset candidates, except for all the other ways.

Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu votes in the Likud primary, December 31, 2014.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu votes in the Likud primary, December 31, 2014. Credit: Emil Salman
Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens

The recent Likud primary showed that democratic procedures within political parties work. Many people were disappointed, while others were pleased to see that the list of candidates that emerged from the Likud primary was well-balanced list and representative of the party’s electorate. Small pressure groups that had aimed to take over Likud were left far behind. Prospective candidates who had built up good records over the past two years came out on top. There is little doubt that the results of the primary will increase support for Likud in the coming election; future public opinion polls could well give the party close to 30 seats in the next Knesset.

How much criticism has been heaped in recent years on the party-primary system of selecting a Knesset slate? It was claimed, correctly, that prospective candidates need access to financing and that small pressure groups can attain undue influence over a party. It was even said that this is the worst of all systems. Some suggested that the “nominating committees” of the old days of Israeli politics were superior. Others went so far as to admire the “star-studded” slate that is dictated by a party “leader” such as Avigdor Lieberman or Yair Lapid. And then along come the Likud primary. So there you have it! To paraphrase Winston Churchill, internal party primaries are the worst way to choose a party’s Knesset candidates, except for all the other ways.

It is an object lesson for voters in the upcoming election. They should examine not only the lists of candidates that the parties field but also the methods used to choose them before deciding how to cast their ballot.

And here is a lesson for Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog. For many years Labor has been one of Israel’s two main parties, a real party, not a fly-by-night party — here today and gone tomorrow — like so many others. A party that has made tremendous contributions to the establishment of the State of Israel and its development. A party with many tens of thousands of members and many more supporters. Whatever made him merge this great party with a nonparty, actually with a single person, Tzipi Livni? And to top it all, to coopt her as the leader of the combined structure and to promise to rotate the premiership with her, should he win? It is a wild gamble that may cost the Labor Party dearly.

As for Livni, Herzog must have known her credentials before he struck the Faustian bargain with her. She holds the world record for skipping from one party to another. From Likud, to Kadima, to Hatnuah and now to Labor. With each jump she left behind followers and colleagues who felt betrayed. In the party she led, Kadima, and in the party she created, Hatnuah, she left behind her wrack and ruin. With her sharing the helm with Herzog, the Labor Party better watch out.

Livni has changed her mind and her views 180 degrees. Everyone has the privilege to conclude that he had been wrong in the past. But when someone in a leadership position concludes that he or she had led or misled followers in the wrong direction, one might expect that he or she would leave politics. Having been wrong once, she might very well be wrong again.

The initial polls indicated that the merger with Livni gave the combined Herzog-Livni ticket a boost. It was, no doubt, part of the “anyone but Bibi” mood that had intoxicated Israel’s left when the decision was made to hold early elections. In the weeks to come it is not at all sure that this trend will continue, as people sober up the morning after and fully realize the consequences of this move. Herzog may yet rue the day he made that move.

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