Long ago the Sages of the Jewish people puzzled over an oddity in the Torah: the weekly reading in which God gives Moses the Ten Commandments bears not his name but that of his father-in-law Jethro, the gentile priest of Midian.
On reflection, though, as the parasha unfolds, the choice begins to make sense. The reading opens with Moses’s “homecoming” from the Exodus. Jethro embraces his 80-year-old son-in-law and together they rejoice over the miraculous escape from Egyptian bondage. They raise a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God and celebrate with a feast.
The next day, though, it is back to work for Moses judging the people who come to him with their questions and quarrels, and Jethro can only look on in awe and exasperation: awe at the divine brilliance of Moses as he renders judgment between individual people but exasperation at his management skills. As a judge of people in their individual lives, Moses was unsurpassed. But not as an administrator.
Jethro says to him, “You are going to wear yourself out and all the people waiting on line will be worn out too.” So Jethro steps in to teach Moses how to delegate authority, set up a court system and a constabulary to enforce law and order.
Now, these events took place over three thousand years ago, but it seems the Children of Israel still today remain clueless about how to administer society judging by Israel’s ridiculous political system. Every two years elections that change nothing and at great public expense.
In our time, Israelis and their supporters brag that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Yes, but only barely. Compared to other democratic systems in the free world, ours is junk and hardly deserves the name “democracy.”
For example, it is common in Western democracies for people to vote for representatives to a national assembly according to geographical district – but not in Israel.
It is also common in democracies for voters to choose their representatives individually by name; vote them into specific offices, vote for them again when they succeed or vote them out when they don’t and displease their constituents.
But not in Israel. Here Knesset Members have no constituents with individual names and problems. Whoever heard of an MK voted from office by dissatisfied voters? It has never happened because no MK has constituents. He gets his job from the party bosses.
By contrast, in the United States, each Congressman maintains an office in Washington and one or more back in his or her district where staffers spend their days answering telephones and trying to help constituents, or just register their praise or criticism for the representative’s vote the day before, or to ask him to vote a certain way the next day.
But not in Israel. Our MKs receive no phone calls from ordinary voters over some issue who threaten not to vote for them next time.
In this sense Israel has no democracy but a “partyocracy” whose politicians run not a government of, by, and for the people but of, by, and for politicians akin to members of a medieval guild.
It is also common in democratic societies to have a high court whose judges are appointed by another branch of government. As in the U.S., this commonly leads to balance in legal philosophy between left and right.
But not in Israel. Here the High Court is a private club monopolized by one philosophy only.
It also happens in democracies that two big political parties tend to dominate, which makes natural sense. The body politic, like the human body, is bi-lateral. If a human being has a head and a heart, a left brain and a right, so the body politic commonly splits left and right.
The two-party system also forces different social groups in society to work together by limiting their choice of parties.
But not in Israel, which has about as many active parties today as the number of its tribes thousands of years ago.
Ergo, Israel has a political system that generates chronically dysfunctional and ridiculous coalition governments, and ergo our system has to go.
The Zionist movement succeeded in creating a vital Jewish state splendid in so many ways — but not in the exercise of self-government
What Israel needs is a constitutional convention. But only after its best legal minds go abroad in search of Gentile “Jethros” in the democratic West to teach them how to run a real representative democracy.