Yisrael Medad offers an excellent analysis of the Israeli political system that is confusing for most of Israel’s American supporters. Please read this in its entirety if you want to be more educated on the subject.
Why Isn’t Israel More Like America?
On Monday, a last-minute compromise saved Israel from yet another election. Just minutes before a 9:00 p.m. deadline, Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to a three-month postponement to present a national budget, without which the Knesset would have dissolved.
What makes governing in Israel so complicated and fragile? Why has no Israeli government in the last three decades lasted a full four years? Why do American governments seem so stable in comparison?
To make some sense of Israel’s political system, The Jewish Press recently spoke with Yisrael Medad, longtime director of education at the Menachem Begin Center in Jerusalem. Medad holds a BA from Yeshiva University and a MA from the Hebrew University in Political Science. He also served as parliamentary assistant to three Knesset Members, most notably Geulah Cohen, for over a dozen years.
The Jewish Press: Why is Israel’s democracy so different than American democracy?
Medad: Israel’s system grew out of the framework adopted over a century ago by the World Zionist Organization. Seeking to give as much representation to as many groups within the Jewish people as possible, Zionist leaders opted for proportional representation whereby almost everyone could participate as the threshold was set unusually low – at one percent [later changed to 3.25 percent].
But that also meant it was difficult for one party to gain a majority, and that led to the political balagan with which we are all familiar. Since almost anyone could reach one percent, you ended up with many small parties and factions.
In the 1950s and until 1977, the Mizrachi and Agudah went with Ben-Gurion. In doing so, the lowest common denominator of allegiance became jobs, positions, and funding for pet institutions. Ideology was to be shouted out in the city squares, in the Knesset plenum, and the party newspapers, but the real business became who could be more corrupted.
That phenomenon leads to unethical and even a jaded view of politics. In 1977, when Begin rose to power with the support of the religious parties, politics became more of a gentleman’s game, but the system itself – with its proliferation of parties – remained unstable.