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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Why Israel's government is unaccountable

Many of you often ask why Israelis don't rise up and throw their government out. I have tried on several occasions to explain how difficult it has become to depose a sitting Israeli government and I have told you that I believe that most Israelis are too depressed about what's going on here to leave their homes and go out into the streets for useless demonstrations. Why are demonstrations useless? As Caroline Glick explains, the Israeli government sees itself as accountable only to foreign opinion and not to its own voters:
THE NOTION of running a campaign for an Israeli presidential pardon of Israeli citizens in the US is alarming for what it says about the Halamish supporters' perception of Israeli democracy. Specifically, as Datya Yitzhaki from Pidyon Shevuim who has spearheaded the campaign argues, they believe that domestic pressure will have no impact on either Israeli political leaders or on the justice system because in their view the Olmert-Livni-Barak government feels no need to account for its actions to Israeli citizens. Indeed, they contend that the only force that can hold the government and the legal system accountable is international pressure and fear of international condemnation.

Organizations like Women in Green and Pidyon Shevuim who are running the campaign cite as precedent the case of Tzvia Sariel. Sariel, 18, was arrested last December on assault charges. She was accused of attacking Arabs who entered her community of Eilon Moreh on December 4. Sariel was incarcerated for three and a half months.

On March 5, the allegedly assaulted Arabs appeared in Kfar Saba Magistrate Court and recanted their accusations against Sariel. One claimed that since he is illiterate, he had no idea what he was signing when he signed his complaint against her. Yet, despite the fact that the prosecution's case fell apart in front of her, trial judge Nava Bechor ordered a continuance until April 4 and sent Sariel back to prison for another month.

An outcry ensued and activists in the US began calling the embassy and the State Department. On March 19, Bechor dismissed charges against Sariel and sent her home. Her supporters believe that without their US campaign, Sariel would still be sitting in prison for a crime that she didn't commit.

Depressingly, activists fighting against civil rights abuses of right-wing opponents of government policies are probably on to something. Through their own actions, Israel's leaders show daily that they are willing to ignore strategic imperatives and their domestic political opponents. Their actions show that indeed, the only pressure that seems to get them to change course is international pressure.
Read the whole thing.

What Caroline doesn't explain is why the Israeli government is so unaccountable to its own citizens. After all, our politicians lecture us endlessly about how we're a 'democracy' and about how the actions of 'right wing activists' damage Israel's 'democracy.' And the truth is that Israel is a democracy of sorts, but it's missing two major components: representative government and a balance of powers between the different branches of government.

Israel is missing representative government because no Israeli has a specific MK who is "my MK." When I want redress for my grievances against the government, I have no one to call. We vote for parties here and the actual people who sit in the Knesset are determined by the parties (in some cases, without primaries or any other sort of internal election). As a result, each MK is out only to protect his own interest within the party (or in the smaller parties that have no primaries, the interests of those people who sent him or her to the Knesset). The reason we have kept this system of government in which we vote for parties is because the larger parties fear that if we elected individual MK's, the leadership of the large parties (to whom I often refer as the branja) would lose control over the country. The small parties, who generally hold the balance of power, play along with this notion because they fear that if we went to a system of electing individual MK's, they would lose their power and their special interests would no longer be protected (and yes, that includes the religious parties). In the US they solved that problem through a bill of rights as part of the constitution. But to make a bill of rights that has teeth, you need more than a Supreme Court that's willing to declare laws unconstitutional: you need a Supreme Court that all elements in society see as fair on the whole even if they don't agree with every individual decision. And that's the second element.

The Supreme Court is very selective in its enforcement of rights and very biased in favor of its own world view. Many - maybe even most - people who disagree with the court's secular humanist, leftist view (which, as I have explained in the past, is self-perpetuating through the judicial selection process and all-encompassing by the abandonment of the concepts of standing and justiciability), don't feel the court gives them a fair shake. The largest demonstration in this country's history was not for or against the 'peace process' but against the 'Supreme Court' and it took place in Jerusalem in 1999 when Binyamin Netanyahu was in power and the left claimed there was no 'peace process.' The court has stepped into many vacuums created by the Knesset's inability to act and the Prime Ministers' (note that's plural) ineptitude, and the corrupt politicians are more than willing to have the court - which is unelected and whose members face nothing but retirement - face the heat on matters on which they are unwilling to do so. There is no balance of powers in Israel. The legislative and executive powers have largely been abrogated to the court and to world opinion.

Until Israel becomes a true democracy with a true representative government, none of these issues will be resolved. You will see more and more of Israeli political questions being played out in the world media and through the halls of the US congress and the governments of other countries that may choose to support Israel in the future. In the meantime, the next time someone asks you to call your congressman about the Halamish brothers (if you see Caroline Glick's article that I linked above, you will know who they are), please do so. Because no one here effectively can or will.


At 10:01 PM, Blogger VinceP1974 said...

My own frustrations with the increasingly inept and nonresponsive American Federal Govt has made it possible for me to understand now how the Israelis feel.

I feel totally impotent and ignored. I live in Chicago. I have the two worst Senators, Durbin and Obama and a chicago hack politician as my House rep.

They're far too invested in their vendetta against Bush to respond to me when I contact thier offices about what the hell their doing about the security threats to this country.

At 11:36 PM, Blogger Yaacov David Shulman said...

How about a demonstration of the kind that brought down the Ukrainian government? That is, a demonstration that goes on for as long as it takes, of tens of thousands of people in the streets. Of course, there has to be a definite goal and--concurrently--leadership. But it can be done.

At 5:04 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Israel's institutions are in need of reform. But the very people with a vested in the status quo won't do it since they stand to lose their clout and no one expects things to change in Israel until the imperative to effect change can no longer be disregarded.

At 12:50 AM, Blogger Michael Travis said...

Thank you for this Carl. It is embarrassing as well as frustrating trying to make people understand our non-representative government. It is an unfortunate truth that our government views the Israeli public/taxpayer as "the enemy"....and has long been pre-occupied with making our lives as miserable as possible.


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