Israel is a strange
place, a democracy in form, but weak in content. Of course, a statement like
that is made comparing Israel to the US, Europe, and a handful of other countries.
In comparison to much of the world, Israel shines as a paradigm of democratic
self-rule. The idea of representative government is firmly rooted in Israel.
In fact, so much so, that the "people's representatives" don't want the people
to decide for themselves a question of historic magnitude. Many of the "people's
representatives" have come out against the idea of holding a referendum over
the Gaza transfer proposal of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, some claiming
it to be "anti-democratic," others for "practical" reasons.
When one takes into account that Members of the Knesset -- Israel's Parliament
-- are not elected in constituent elections to districts, responsible to
a certain group of voters, but through national party lists, one can ask:
whom do they represent beyond the party or themselves?
So, when Minister of National Infrastructure Yosef Paritzky -- of the so-called
middle class Shinui Party -- spoke out against a national referendum on the
removal of the Jews from Gaza and its total transfer to the Palestinians,
claiming it contravenes the democratic principles of the country, it's legitimate
to ask, who does he represent?
Paritzky stated that the cabinet or Knesset must not unload the responsibility
of making pivotal decisions; decisions that parliamentarians were elected
to make. Paritzky's democratic idea, quite common in Israel, is that one
elects someone to be in charge, and then they do as they please. With no
feedback loops, no responsibility to constituents, little accountability
beyond toward the party, the "people" have to wait four years to decide if
they were happy or not with their elected officials' performance. There is
no recall vote, like was recently held in California; and no personal election
of parliamentarians to represent a particular group of voters in a given
district, who can later "dump the bum."
Paritzky's colleague in Shinui, Justice Minister Yosef (Tommy) Lapid also
expressed opposition to the referendum idea, stating such a move is not part
of our democratic process. And both politicians have a point; modern Israel
never has held a referendum.
Former Prime Minister Menachem Begin -- then a Knesset member -- in the early
1950's opposed the deal that then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion worked
out with West Germany to accept reparations after the Holocaust. Begin suggested
a national referendum to allow the people to decide whether to accept them
or not, but Ben-Gurion refused. In February 1958, Menachem Begin again suggested
using referenda to decide on various issues in the young Israeli democracy.
Ben-Gurion's ruling party, Mapai, responded, calling the proposal "Bonapartist,
fascist and totalitarian."
Certainly, referenda are neither fascist nor totalitarian. They are used
in many democratic states around the world to allow the citizens to directly
decide important issues. For example, referenda have been used by European
countries to decide whether to join the European Union, or once in, to adopt
the European Monetary System and replace their national currency with the
Euro. Many states in the US use referenda for a whole host of issues, and
the constitutional process of adopting a new state constitution itself can
include a referendum from voters.
Is there a more important issue today, pressing the people of Israel, than
the issue of territorial integrity or withdrawal from parts of its historic
homeland, the biblically promised Land of Israel? But in all truth, Israel
has in fact held a referendum already on this issue.
In the Torah, after the story describing the giving of the 10 commandments
comes the portion of Mishpatim-Laws (Exodus 21:1-24:18). In it, Moses conveys
a long list of further rules and regulations -- G-D's commands -- for the
Children of Israel to live by, including torts and damages, criminal law,
marital law and ritual law, the proscription against idolatry and the proper
observance of Jewish holidays. Then comes the promise -- by G-D -- of military
victory in the upcoming war; to bring the people into the land promised to
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give it to Israel.
"Do not make a treaty with these nations..." (Exodus 23:32)
"Do not allow them to reside in your land..." (Exodus 23:33)
It continues, "Moses wrote down all G-D's words" (Exodus 24:4), then "He
took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people. They replied,
'Everything G-D declared, -- Naaseh V'Nishmah -- we will do and obey'" (Exodus
There you have it, the description of the covenantal process between G-D
and the Jewish People, with the Jews adopting the Torah as their constitution,
by national referendum.
So, it's not true that Israel "has never" held a referendum. But when the
Jews voted to accept the Torah-Constitution for their nation, and implemented
the "promise to inherit the land" in the times of Joshua, they set down rules
for the nation, "for all time."
Everyone in the world knows that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish
People. Christianity and Islam are built on Judaism and both recognize this
fact. The nations of the world, through the League of Nations and later the
United Nations gave its stamp of approval -- after the fact -- also.
The use of referenda to generally resolve issues in Israel is perfectly democratic,
it builds social solidarity and wide consensus, contrary to the views of
the "people's representatives." But on the issue of territorial compromise
and expulsion of Jews from their homes -- such as the Gaza question -- something
that gets to the heart of Israel's national existence...
There is no legitimacy to such a referendum, the nation of Israel voted on it long ago...
Ariel Natan Pasko is an independent analyst & consultant. His articles can be read at: www.geocities.com/ariel_natan_pasko.