Sometimes, from the safety of America, the Israeli electoral system looks like democracy run amok.
We Americans look at it from the security of our binary system – in primaries, the extremes run against the center, someone wins and everybody else loses; in general elections, Republicans run against Democrats, someone wins and someone loses. General elections always are on election day. Each office has its own term. The system has its pitfalls, certainly, but lack of structure is not among them.
The Israeli elections, on the other hand, seem to be an adventure in extreme parliamentary democracy, unlike the English model unmoored to geographic particulars smaller than the state itself. It’s like a vast science experiment. The Petri dish that is the land of Israel, filled with the agar of Jewish longing for it, was stocked with sturdy pioneers, Zionist ideology, Jewish theology, socialist understandings, European customs, and the worldview of the Jews and Arabs who already were there. That by itself was a heady mix. As time went by, infusions of more and more immigrants, some Shoah refugees and survivors, some from Arab lands, some from the former Soviet Union, some from other farflung places across the world, each with their own customs; increasingly inflexible theology; an always present and ever increasing threat from hostile neighbors; increasing distance from the rest of the world, and a changing relationship with supporters in North America all went into the mix.
It’s volatile. But we’re not done.
The political system that allows minor parties to exert major influence, forcing the oddest of bedfellows into the unlikeliest of alliances, is hard at work in this Petri dish, bubbling away in the process, right now, of producing an election that is so puzzling to us that it is virtually impossible for many of us to figure out what we’d do were we there. In some ways, it seems closest to the raucous primaries at the very beginning of our presidential campaigns, when many of the candidates are unknown and most of the politics are retail. But those elections often revolve around single issues; the upcoming Israeli elections will not.
The stakes in this election are high. We hope that Israelis will have the clarity of vision and wisdom to allow the best possible coalition to be formed.