April 2, 2020

The Trouble with Israel's System of Government

“Is Israel a democracy? Yes, essentially, but there are major flaws in its political and electoral systems. For example, votes of parties that do not pass the threshold are discarded, and members of Knesset are not accountable to voters. This explains why so many Israelis (roughly one-third) don’t bother to vote.

When I immigrated to Israel 40 years ago and was going to vote for the first time, I was told: “No matter whom you vote for, you get Shimon Peres.” Israeli elections, one concludes, are meaningless because they are about personalities, not policies; they are superficial, not substantial. The real government is run by the “deep state,” bureaucrats such as directors general of ministries and professionals who provide continuity and expertise, but are unaccountable. Politicians who become ministers are usually not experts in the subject of their position; they rely on an experienced staff.

Many Israelis believe that judicial institutions, such as the High Court and the Prosecutor’s Office, are not responsive to the people and represent a left-wing elite. This is apparent in the “judicial revolution” engineered by former chief justice Aharon Barak that gave the High Court virtually unlimited power to intervene in any government decision. It was also apparent when one of Israel’s finest legal experts, Prof. Ruth Gavison, was rejected as a candidate for the court because she was considered “too independent.””

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