Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Democratic Systems So Far Produced
Pompous Asses in Every Parliament, as Well as
Hitler, Netanyahu, and Trump
By Uri Avnery
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, May
Trump with Netanyahu, in Jerusalem, May 22, 2017
Parliamentary Riffraff (Rubbish)
WHEN I first entered the Knesset, I was shocked by the low standard of
its debates. Speeches were full of clichés, platitudes and party
slogans, the intellectual content was almost nil.
That was 52
years ago. Among the members were David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Levi
Eshkol and several others of their kind.
Today, looking back,
that Knesset looks like an Olympus, compared to the present composition
of that non-august body.
AN INTELLIGENT debate in today's
Knesset would be as out of place as a Pater Noster in a Synagogue.
Let's face it, the present Knesset is full of what I would call
parliamentary riffraff (rubbish). Men and women I would not drink a cup
of coffee with. Some of them look and behave like walking jokes. One is
suspected of owning a bordello in Eastern Europe. Several would be
rejected out of hand by any self-respecting private employer.
These people are now engaged in an unprecedented competition of
outrageous "private" bills – bills submitted to Knesset vote not by the
government, but by individual members. I have already mentioned some of
these bills recently – like the bill to recognize Israel as the
"National Home of the Jewish People" - and they multiply by the week.
They do not attract any special attention, because the bills introduced
by the government are hardly more sensible.
necessarily arises: how did these people get elected in the
In the old parties, such as the Likud and
the Zionist Camp (a.k.a. the Labor Party), there are primaries. These
are internal elections, in which the party members select their
representatives. For example, the head of the workers' committee of a
large public enterprise got all the employees and their families
registered in the Likud, and they got him on the party list for the
general elections. Now he is a minister.
dispense with all this nonsense. The party founder personally
selects the members of the party list, at his or her pleasure.
The members are totally dependent. If they displease the leader, they
are simply kicked out at the next election and replaced by more obedient
THE ISRAELI system allows any group of citizens to set
up an election list. If they pass the electoral threshold, they enter
In the first few elections, the threshold was 1%.
That's how I got elected three times. Since then, the threshold has been
raised and now stands at 3.25% of the valid votes.
was a great supporter of the original system. It has, indeed, some
outstanding advantages. The Israeli public has many divisions - Jews and
Arabs, Western Jews and Eastern Jews, new immigrants and old-timers,
religious (of several kinds) and secular, rich and poor, and more. The
system allows all of these to be represented. The prime minister and the
government are elected by the Knesset. Since no party has ever achieved
a majority in elections, governments are always based on coalitions,
which provide some checks and balances.
At some stage, the law
was changed and the Prime Minister was elected directly. The public
quickly became disillusioned and the old system was reinstated.
Now, seeing the riffraff that have entered the Knesset, I am changing my
opinion. Obviously, something in the existing system is extremely wrong.
OF COURSE, there is no
perfect election system. Adolf Hitler came to
power in a democratic system. All kinds of odious leaders were
elected democratically. Lately, Donald Trump, an
unlikely candidate, was elected.
There are many different
election systems in the world. They are the results of history and
circumstances. Different peoples have different characters and
The British system, one of the
oldest, is very conservative. No place for new parties or erratic
personalities. Each district elects one member, winner takes all.
Political minorities have no chance. Parliament was a club of gentlemen,
and to some extent still is (if one counts gentlewomen).
The US system, much younger, is even more problematic.
The constitution was written by gentlemen. They had just gotten rid of
the British king, so they put in his place a quasi-king called
president, who reigns supreme. Members of both houses of parliament are
elected by constituencies.
Since the founders did not trust the
people too much, they instituted a club of gentlemen as a kind of
filter. This is called the Electoral College, and just
now they elected (again) a president who did not obtain the majority of
The Germans, having learned their
lesson, invented a more complicated system. Half of the members of
parliament are elected in constituencies, the other half on country-wide
lists. This means that the one half are directly responsible to their
voters, but that political minorities also have a chance of being
IF I were asked to write a constitution for Israel (we
have none) what would I choose? (No need for panic. According to my
calculations, there is about a one trillion to one chance for this to
The main questions are:
(a) Will members of
parliament be chosen in constituencies or by country-wide lists?
(b) Will the chief executive be elected by the general public or by
Each answer has its pros and cons. It is a decision
about what is more important under the existing circumstances in each
I was very impressed by the recent elections in
France. The president was elected in a direct
nation-wide vote – but with an incredibly important and wise
institution: the Second Round.
In a normal
election, people first vote emotionally. They may be angry with
somebody, and want to express their feelings. Also, they want to vote
for the person they like, whatever his or her chances. So you have
several winners, and the final winner may be somebody who has got only a
minority of the votes.
The second round repairs all these
faults. After the first round, people have time to think rationally.
Among the presidential candidates who have a chance to win, who is the
closest to me (or the lesser evil)? In the end, one candidate
necessarily gets a majority.
The same applies to the candidates
to the Assemblée Nationale, the parliament. They are elected in
constituencies, but if no one gets a majority at the first try, there is
a second round there, too.
This may impede the arrival of
newcomers, but lo and behold – the election of Francois Macron shows
that even in this system an almost complete newcomer can become
Sure, an expert can probably find faults in this
system, too, but it seems reasonably good.
OVER THE years I
have visited several parliaments. Most of their members left me
No parliament is composed of
philosophers. You need a lot of ambition. cunning and other unseemly
traits to become a member. (Myself excluded.)
I grew up admiring
the US senate. Until I visited that institution and was introduced on
the floor to several members. It was a terrible disappointment, Several
of them I spoke with about the Middle East obviously had no idea what
they were talking about, though they were considered experts. Some were,
frankly, pompous asses. (Pompous
Asses are a category well represented in every parliament).
I learned that the real business of the Senate is conducted behind
the scenes by the consultants and advisors of the senators, who are far
more intelligent and informed, and that the role of the members
themselves is to look good, collect money and make highfalutin
TV IS changing the picture (literally) everywhere.
TV cannot show party programs, so programs are obsolete. TV
cannot show political parties, so parties are disappearing in many
places, including Israel. TV shows faces, so the faces of individuals
count. That explains why good-looking politicians in Israel create new
parties and appoint the Knesset members, including the riffraff (some of
them also good-looking), who would never be elected in a direct
When Adlai Stevenson ran for the presidency,
he was told "Don't worry, every thinking person will vote for you."
"But I need a majority," Stevenson famously replied.
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