The Main Flaw Is Human

The outgoing Knesset will be remembered as the Knesset in which some members were caught in voting fraud, others came to the brink of blows and still others received favors bordering on bribery.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin says the moment when he was forced to call in the police to investigate the double-voting incidents in the plenum was the most difficult of his tenure. On the one hand, he knew he was hurting the Knesset's sovereignty; on the other hand, he understood he had no choice; this filth had to be cleansed from the holy of holies (his words).

Rivlin relates to the Knesset in proper normative terms: as the essence of Israeli statehood, the jewel in the crown of democracy. However, this conceptual world seems to be a mockery when it is applied to the 16th Knesset, which this week is to declare new elections and bring about its dissolution. The outgoing Knesset had nothing to do with honor or majesty. It aroused scorn and disgust. It will be remembered as the Knesset in which some members were caught in voting fraud, others came to the brink of blows and still others received favors bordering on bribery. All in all, it resembled a screaming marketplace in which the public interest was traded in keeping with the strength of brutish lobbies.

The human makeup of the outgoing Knesset illustrates the contradiction between the body as the authentic representative of the voting public and its calling as the institution that guides the people's way of life by virtue of its authority to enact laws. The three years of this Knesset's term aggravated this contradiction because unworthy people were elected who did not have the necessary entrance ticket: an attitude of reverence for it. MKs Michael Gorlovsky, Yehiel Hazan, Yair Peretz and the like behaved as if they saw the Knesset as a mall where they could catch as catch can. They appeared not as emissaries of the public who came to the legislature to serve it (in return for a fine salary), or to promote their political beliefs, but to benefit themselves. Brazenly, they provided for their own needs as if they were the least of the neighborhood tough guys.

Israel has tried different electoral systems, and the woeful results speak for themselves. Many democracies are struggling with this issue: how to achieve an optimal electoral system that will allow maximum representation of the will of the voters, yet at the same time ensure proper parliamentary work and the ability to govern. There is no perfect solution, and changing circumstances do from time to time require the system to be updated and fine-tuned. But one important lesson comes up repeatedly with regard to the outgoing Knesset: It is the political culture that determines the image of the legislature. When the rules of the game in the big parties permit the purchase of votes in primaries, along with forgeries, coerced deals and the involvement of underworld figures in the electoral process, the result is lists of MKs that include people with a criminal past or those who reach the docket because they applied the methods acceptable in their parties to their parliamentary work.

A different electoral system will not change this contemptable environment. The remedy is in the hands of the voter: to punish the parties that sent to the 16th Knesset inferior representatives who tarnished its image and harmed its stature.

To its credit, it must be said that the outgoing Knesset was able to pass in an orderly fashion the sensitive laws with regard to disengagement and the previous finance minister's controversial economic programs. But this achievement, as important as it is, does not compensate for the main flaw: the human element.

Rivlin has called a public commission headed by retired justice Yitzak Zamir, which is now working on a new ethical code for the Knesset that will allow it to sink its teeth into wayward MKs and even suspend them. That will be a useful step, but it will not amend that which is fundamentally damaged. The parties must conclude on their own that it is squarely in their interest to present the voter attractive lists of candidates of unassailable human material who will not shame them. Otherwise, the next Knesset will look no different than the outgoing one.