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January 27, 2015 / 7 Shevat, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Coalition’

Understanding and Fixing the Real Problem with the Israeli Political System

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Politicians love to blame the plethora of small parties for the electoral mess we’re in, and their solution for the past few decades has always been to raise the electoral threshold required for a party to get into the Knesset.

But what if they’re wrong? (And they are.)


The Misconception Two legislative revolutions happened that radically changed the Knesset’s makeup and voter habits, which brought us this mess we’re currently in.

But first, let’s clear up a common misconception — that there are suddenly too many parties in the Knesset.

Historically, the number of parties in the Knesset has ranged from 10 to 15 parties. The average since 1949 has been 12.5, and the last 3 governments have only had 12 parties in the Knesset. That’s less than the historical average.

So blaming the problem on the number of parties is incorrect.

But there is something significantly different about all the parties currently in the Knesset, it’s just not about how many parties there are.


The History Before 1992, the Knesset consisted of a big party, generally a second medium party or two, and a lot of small one to four man parties.

In fact, between 30% to 50% of voters voted for small parties – presumably because Israelis want a closer and more responsive relationship with their elected officials.

So what changed?

Before the 1992 elections, Israel had a low electoral threshold (1%). One man parties were common.

That threshold was raised to 1.5%, then to 2% in 2003, and now to 3.25% in 2014.

The big parties keep trying to kill the small parties, thinking it will help both the big parties and the coalition’s stability.


The Unintended Consequence

Voters got cheated in the 1992 election, after the small one-man parties failed to pass the threshold. This resulted in the Right losing control of the coalition and Rabin getting in, even though more citizens voted Right than Left.

But there was a more significant unintended side effect.

It was also the first time since 1977 that the Knesset had more than two parties with more than 10 seats.

Before 1977, it was common, but back then, the leading party always had a very significant lead over the next largest parties.

Since 1992, with more than one medium-sized party, as well as larger “small” parties with 6 to 8 seats, we begin to see that these medium-sized parties having more influence and power than their size should allow.

Individual parties begin to become key to coalition building, and political extortion became the name of the game.

In 1996, there was second change — in the right direction, but not radical enough.

Instead of both direct elections for Knesset members and the Prime Minister, Israel only voted directly for the Prime Minister.


The Second Unintended Consequence

Direct Elections allowed voters the freedom to choose the party they wanted, separate from the Prime Minister – which they eagerly did — but for the first time ever in history, no party had more than 40 seats.

And ever since 1996, no ruling party has even came close to approaching the 40 seat minimum, except Sharon in 2003, who had 38.

This one-time experiment was enough to influence voting behavior ever since.


Voters Fight Back

Legislators had hoped to game the system against the will of the voters, but the voters realized that with proper voting strategies, they could game the system in return and perhaps get the government they wanted.

Voters learned that even without direct elections, they could get the Prime Minister and policies they desired by voting for the medium sized coalition partners they wanted – a wise choice for voters looking for more influence in the political process.

Thus leaving us with lots of small-medium to medium sized parties, and without any large ones.


The Lesson

The lesson is incontrovertible, the higher the electoral threshold, which removes alternatives to choose from, the “smaller” parties become more and more indispensable to any coalition, and the more desirable it becomes to vote for a medium sized party — and not for a large one.


Understanding the Voter

What can be done to fix the situation, to create a more stable government?

First of all, it needs to be recognized that Israelis want to vote directly for their politicians, and not for parties. This is why small one to four man parties were so popular until the big politicians banned them.

Lots of small parties may be unruly, but they don’t result in the exaggerated influence of the midsized parties to disrupt or control the government.

But, even if the threshold laws were canceled, which they should be, I don’t see voting patterns rushing back to their pre-1992 formats, though to a limited extent it will, just not enough to be useful.

After all, voters now understand the power of medium-sized parties.

Increasing the threshold won’t work either, as we’ve seen, each increase just gives more power to the third-tier parties.

And finally, forcing a two party system down the voter’s throats with (for argument’s sake) 45% thresholds, would just leave the voters feeling very cheated.


An Initial Proposal

One solution is to disconnect the executive and legislative branches.

Separate votes, separate powers, real check and balances – basically the American system.

That, tied with direct elections for Knesset members would be the optimal solution.

Only, I don’t see anyone implementing it in the foreseeable future.


A Solution Within the Existing Framework

So what can be done now with what we have? (Not that this is the best solution).

If Israel wants to stay with the parliamentary system, the solution is not as as complex as you might think. It requires two steps.

First of all, remove the minimum electoral threshold. Let people vote for whom they want.

The second is, let the head of the largest elected party become the Prime Minister, automatically, with no requirement at all to assemble a coalition to form the government.


The Intended Consequences

What do I foresee happening?

Only the die-hards will vote for the small parties. Most everyone else will want to make sure the Prime Minister comes from the biggest party that represents them the closest.

We would see a lot of parties consolidating automatically.

There will be a natural push to make sure the Likud or Labor becomes the biggest party.

If the Prime Minister wants to appoint ministers from other parties, he (or she) is welcome to (for instance, if he thinks it will help pass votes in the Knesset), but it won’t be needed.

It could even result in Israel getting professional and not political ministers.


Would It Work?

Would this system be governable?

I believe so.

It would probably require better delineation and definition of powers, and it admittedly could result in a Likud Prime Minister facing off against a large Labor + Arab ad hoc coalition in the Knesset, but if each branch had checks and balances against the other, it would either force them to work together, or create an absolute stalemate.

Resolving the stalemate issue could be done through direct elections of at least some of the Knesset members.

Creating direct electoral accountability means that at least some of the MKs would vote across party lines.



There is a valid concern that one party could win 61 seats. And even though that could happen now, it would be more likely under this system.

A possible solution for that is requiring mid-term elections for half the Knesset in such a case – without affecting the sitting Prime Minister’s government.

Another issue it that Israel is a mosaic of very different sectors.

Having such wide and disparate representation in the Knesset is a good thing. This idea might hurt that, as it’s not clear how well the two big parties would represent the smaller sectors – though I suspect they would court them very nicely.

And of course, its unlikely the MKs would vote for a system that would minimize the size of their own parties. But with all the party talking consolidation right now, it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds.


Bottom Line

This isn’t the only solution and not the best solution, but it does accurately explain the problem we’re in and how we got there.

I’m throwing this idea out there to hear what you think.

So — what do you think?

Israel May Call Early Elections Next Month

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will likely call early elections next month as controversy continues over the Jewish nationality bill and other measures — and as the second-largest political party, Yesh Atid, fights for control of the government.

The prime minister has slammed the 2015 budget proposal advanced by Finance Minister Yair Lapid, chairman of Yesh Atid, saying the budget would hurt the IDF and jeopardize Israel’s security.

A bill proposed by Lapid to drop the VAT (sales tax) to zero was also criticized by Netanyahu, who said the plan would “waste billions, won’t lower the cost of housing and will help only contractors who are close to Lapid advisers.”

More to the point, Netanyahu maintained Lapid is blocking him from governing the country effectively — and said new elections were preferably to the “back room deals” he said were sabotaging his leadership.

“The coalition will only survive if I can govern,” he said Friday. “I’m not sticking to my chair. I was chosen to run the country and the nation as I see fit but I cannot run the country this way. If Yesh Atid and Lapid continue their irresponsible behavior it will be right to go back to the voters.”

In response, Lapid told an audience at a cultural event in Tel Aviv that Netanyahu had not spoken to him in the past month. “Housing reforms are stuck, the budget is stuck, our international relations are deteriorating. Insteading of passing the budget and dealing with these issues [Netanyahu and his advisers] are dealing with petty politics,” he complained.

Other politicians are also gearing up for what appears to be an inevitable drive towards early elections.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, chairman of Yisrael Beytenu, has released a diplomatic plan to Hebrew language dailies — but Liberman had started his political posturing already during this past summer’s counter terror Operation Protective Edge.

Former social services minister Moshe Kahlon also held a rally as part of preparations to form a new political party and he too has been making statements to media in what clearly appears to be preparation for elections.

Hareidi religious political parties are holding talks with all sides in order to see who will give them the best deal, as usual; United Torah Judaism has long had a handshake with Yisrael Beytenu, trading local votes for favors in small towns and cities throughout the country. In return, it is likely a similar deal will come into play at the national level when early elections are held.

Shas: For 0% VAT on Basic Goods, We’ll Join Coalition

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Shas head Aryeh Deri said this evening on Radio Kol Chai that if Netanyahu met his two non-negotiable conditions, Shas could join the coalition.

The first condition is removing the VAT tax on basic items [editor: such as bread, milk, fruits and vegetables], instead of Lapid’s plan to remove VAT on select apartment sales.

The second is raising minimum wage to NIS 30/hour.

The implication of the first condition is that Yair Lapid’s party would no longer be part of the coalition.

ISIS ‘Prince’ of Iraq’s Anbar Province Killed

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

The “prince” of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Anbar Province is dead, according to a report by Al Arabiya.

Senan Meteeb, the so-called ISIS “emir” of western Anbar, was reportedly killed early Wednesday in a coalition air strike.

At least 24 other ISIS fighters were also allegedly killed in the attack, and numerous others were wounded.

The strike came one day after ISIS terrorists slaughtered 25 people from the Albunimr tribe in Anbar, Al Arabiya reported. Hundreds from the Sunni Muslim tribe have been murdered by ISIS.

Tribal fighters are demanding more air support from the U.S.-led coalition and Baghdad. The tribe’s cooperation with the Iraqi government — which is Shi’ite-led — is seen as key in order to defeat ISIS in the province, where the terrorist group has made considerable gains.

Un-Caged Knesset Beasts Claw Each other as Election Bait

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Virtually every Knesset party went wild Monday to claw the coalition government to near-death, leaving enough oxygen for resuscitation before forcing elections that, if held, should focus on blaming all the beasts for leaving their cages.

Israel’s establishment media, especially the center-left electronic and print outlets, always use a day of quiet from riots and rocket attacks to whip up the winds to blow apart the collation headed by Binyamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister that it hates because he is so successful.

The coalition’s main partners are the Likud, headed by Netanyahu; Jewish Home, headed by Naftali Bennett; Yisrael Beitenu, headed by Avigdor Lieberman; Yesh Atid, headed by Yair Lapid; and HaTnua, headed by Tzipi Livni.

Not one of the parties really loves the other, and more accurately, everyone hates each other. Bennett and Lapid started out the coalition as the oddest of odd couples, but its life span was pre-destined to be short.

Lieberman for years has said that he will be Prime Minister one day, and Netanyahu looks over his shoulder so often that he is under constant medical treatment for a stiff neck.

Bennett, the most unseasoned of them all, swings back and forth from tree to tree, depending on whether he wants to please the settlers or Lapid’s voters.

Livni, whose party has only six seats in the Knesset and which will barely squeak into the next Knesset, according to polls, throws around borrowed weight that hides her hapless political performance and destiny.

In the background, the Haredi parties are breathing fire through their nostrils, begging to be begged to help Netanyahu form a new coalition or possibly Lapid to form an alternative coalition.

Don’t worry. The lion is not about lie down with the sheep.

Left-wing Meretz and center-left Labor want new elections because they have nothing to gain by their somewhat weak standing as opposition parties that roar like a mouse.

So will new elections be held soon?

Here are three of several rules in Israeli politics:

First, there are no rules, even the one that says that there are no rules.

Secondly, if elections were held every time the media reports that a coalition will not survive, Israelis would be going to polls twice a week.

Thirdly, since only Netanyahu, Bennett and Lieberman probably would gain from new elections, the beasts probably will be back in their cages by next week, if not by this evening.

It is questionable whether the issues are the reason for the current crisis or whether they simply symbolize the need of the beasts to escape once in a while for exercise.

The big issue for months has been Lapid’s proposal to eliminate the 18 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on the purchase of new homes. The bill for zero VAT has so many holes in it that it could not pass as Swiss cheese, but no one in Israel likes to confuse the circus – or jungle – with facts.

Under the bill, if it is ever passed into law, the lucky buyer who won’t pay the tax will have had to serve in IDF – 18 months for a man and 12 months for a woman. The home must not be larger than 140 square meters and cost no more than 1.6 million shekels.. The buyers must be employed – bye, bye Haredim – and must not have owned another home in the past 19 years and must be at least 35 years old and have at least one child.

All of these conditions whittle down the potential buyers to a small minority, but the noise over the proposal has been enough to shake the nation to its foundations.

Proposed Conversion Bill, Change in Local Rabbinate Power Nixed by Netanyahu

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

A bill that would allow any chief rabbi of any city to create his own religious court for conversion has finally stopped at the prime minister’s desk.

The bill would effectively neutralize the authority of the nation’s Chief Rabbinate over the conversion process in Israel.

It is one that has been fought bitterly by observant Jewish parties across the spectrum.

And now the proposed Conversion Bill advanced by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party has gotten the axe by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

According to a report Monday by Channel 2 investigative journalist Amit Segal, the prime minister announced that he supports the hareidi position regarding conversions.

Netanyahu made the statement following months of skirmishes behind the scenes and quiet wrangling by both chief rabbis and hareidi political parties as well as members of the more moderate Bayit Yehudi party.

The prime minister allegedly also told heads of coalition factions that he will make sure the bill does not pass if it comes up for a vote, even if it is privately sponsored.

Because Livni’s credibility as a party chief may ride on this issue, however, the issue may be a deal breaker for her presence in the coalition.

Kurdish Female Suicide Bomber Kills Dozens of ISIS Terrorists in Death

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

A desperate act by a female Kurdish defender in the ISIS-besieged town of Kobani in Syria eliminated dozens of the savage global jihadists but they ultimately managed to breach Kurdish defenses.

Arin Mirkan blew herself up on the eastern flank of Kobani, allowing Kurdish forces to strike back at fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) who were shelling the town on three sides with tanks and mortar fire.

First reported by the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Mirkan’s suicide bombing significantly slowed down the ISIS advance, which was less than a mile away from Kobani at the time.

But on Tuesday, ISIS terrorists succeeded in taking several buildings in Kobani and gained attacking positions from two sides of the city, according to sources quoted by the Observatory. Two ISIS flags were still visible over the eastern side of Kobani, according to Reuters reporters watching from across the Turkish side of the border, who said they also heard sporadic gunfire.

More than 2,000 Syrian Kurds, including women and children, were evacuated from the town on Monday, according to the PYD Kurdish Democratic Union Party.

The Kurdish YPG (People’s Defense Units) reported the same day that 15 of its fighters had died in action against ISIS. Kobani spokesperson Idris Nahsen told the Observatory the current US-led Allied air strikes alone were not enough to help hold off the ISIS advance.

At least 33 ISIS fighters and 23 Kurdish defenders were killed during seven US-led coalition air strikes in the Kobani area, according to the Observatory.

“Of our martyrs was valiant comrade Arin [Mirkan], she was able to perform a fedai action [self-immolation] and kill dozens of ISIS mercenaries and stop their advance, such strong will and determination shown by comrade Arin will be the spirit of resistance in the hearts of all of our combatants of the People’s Defence Units and Women’s Defence Units,” said a YPG statement quoted by the International Business Times.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/kurdish-female-suicide-bomber-kills-dozens-of-isis-terrorists-in-death/2014/10/07/

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