Former Israeli ambassador to United States discusses upcoming Israeli legislative elections

BY KRISTIN QIAN      CONTRIBUTOR      MARCH 8, 2015

Israeli elections occur too often, Danny Ayalon, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, said about the upcoming Israeli legislative elections which will take place on March 17, in a lecture on Sunday.

Although proportional representation makes the Israeli government more democratic, elections occur approximately every two years, he said. Elections happen all the time because to form a government, a prime minister only needs a simple majority, there is only one house, and the entire country represents one district.

Moreover, anyone can run, and for that reason, there can be close to 50 parties involved in a single election, he said. The Knesset, the legislative branch of the Israeli government, has the power to vote out the prime minister by a no-confidence vote, and this impeachment process happens quite frequently, Ayalon added.

However, this also means public officials have to be responsive to public opinion, he said.

“If they’re not watching, if they’re not performing, they can fall,” Ayalon said.

Due to these quick changes in government, from an “insecure” cabinet to the minister’s constant preoccupation with political survival, long-term planning remains difficult and uncertain, he added.

“We live in a very unforgiving surrounding, and we cannot afford making a mistake,” he said, adding that Israeli politics remain quite animated.

Two ideas for political reform in Israel could be helpful, Ayalon said.

First, the prime minister could serve securely for four years, which would give the Knesset a chance to make mistakes and correct them if needed, he said. If the Knesset is not working properly after four years, then there would be the opportunity to change the government leaders.

The second idea consists of more direct elections, in which people vote for representatives directly, instead of parties making back-door deals based on their allotted number of seats, he said.

However, in some ways, who is in power is only a secondary concern, given Israel’s strength in its strategy, economy, culture and defense, he said.

“The civil society in Israel is strong, and almost no matter who is in government there are some things that keep the balance,” Ayalon said in response to those who worry about the political instability in Israel. He added that he hopes this election will result in “a government that will last its term.”

The last change in government occurred on Jan. 22, 2013.

Current Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will likely remain in power in this round of elections, because it will be easier for him to form a coalition, Ayalon said. Netanyahu’s first choice would be to call on the Labor Party to join him in a national unity government, he added.

Although the concept of a national unity government may be unfathomable to most politicians now as they prepare to run for the elections, necessity will prevail, he said.

“National solidarity is our main asset,” Ayalon said.

The lecture, “Behind the Scenes of the Upcoming Israeli Elections,” was held at 5 p.m. in McCosh 50 and was sponsored by Chabad at Princeton University, the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination and the Center for Jewish Life.