Israel is known as the best democracy in the Middle East. This is a true statement. Compared to all of its neighbors, the personal freedoms afforded to citizens in Israel far surpass those given to citizens in neighboring countries. However, this does not mean that Israel is perfect in this respect. Far from it. Coming from the US, I have noticed and been bothered by aspects of the US system of governance that are missing in Israel, resulting mainly in unrestrained abuses of power and corruption in certain branches of the government. Below is my list of five changes that could be made to the way that the government runs in Israel, the implementation of which would make Israel into a more complete democracy and a better place to live.
- Supreme Court: The Judicial sector needs some definition as to its scope of power. Some form of checks and balances. In the US, supreme court justices are appointed by the Executive Branch, and must be affirmed by the Legislative branch. In Israel, the supreme court justices appoint their own successors, declare what their power is, what their jurisdiction is, meddle in political decision-making, and answer to no one. Justice Secretary Friedmann is doing something to try to curtail this, but there is still a long way to go.
- Direct Legislative Election: Most Israeli citizens today despise the government (or at least do not approve of its continued existence). Yet, somehow, it remains in power. One of the factors in play is that the leading party is supported by a coalition or other parties. Each party is free to make deals, receiving money or power in order to help keep Kadimah propped up. And the individual legislators are answerable to no one. In the US, where congressman and senators represent specific people, if those people no longer like the job that their representative is doing, they vote them out of office. Not so in Israel. Here, no one is directly elected. Instead, everyone votes for specific parties. Those parties have central committees which decide who will be on the party list. It is a very confusing system, where a criminal like Chaim Ramon is able to become the next-in-line to the Prime Ministership merely because he is friends with Olmert (the same way that Olmert got into power as well). And people like Eli Yishai and Ehud Barak are guarunteed to hold onto their power, regardless of how many people disaprove of their actions (yes, I know that their own parties membership can throw them out, but the system is built to make this hard to do). Until Knesset representatives are answerable for their actions, there will be no end to members and parties in the Knesset acting to further their own power while sacrificing the security and well-being of the country.
- Equal Enforcement of the Law: Enforce the law equally, in all sectors. That means against both settlers and Israelis who live in pre-1967 Israel, against Jews, Arabs and Christians, and in both East and West Jerusalem. Free speech for all (and not just for those who the Supreme Court or current ruling party favors).
- Cabinet Members Cannot be Knesset Members: Today, the positions in the cabinet are given out by the Prime Minister to the ruling members of his coalition parties as a reward for supporting the government's coalition. This leads to ill-suited cabinet appointments (anyone remember who the defense minister was during the Second Lebanon War) as well as misuse of Cabinet positions. Cabinet positions are extremely powerful - the secretaries of the different government ministries have the ability to positively and negatively affect nearly all aspects of life in the country. The Prime Minister and his government should have every right to fill these positions; however, these appointments should be based on the appointees ability to fill the office and expertly run his/her ministry - they should not be based on political gamesmanship and cronyism.
- Constitution: Israel needs a constitution. Right now, there is none, and therefore there are no clear legal principles guiding what rights the government has, what rights people have. It is based on a mish-mash of laws inherited from British Common law and the US, along with the Basic Law, but there are no defined standards. Is Israel a Jewish state or a Democracy? Search and Seizure? Are there any standard rights that all citizens have? Whether or not today's secular state is to be ruled by Torah and halacha is a separate issue. Is there to be an equivalent of the US Bill of Rights? But at least have something clearly defined. Nearly all of the above issues would be solved if Israel had a constitution that was accepted and observed to the degree that the same document is in the United States.