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Article By Ehud Tokatly

[Comments are welcome at our Dialogue Corner]

The Seventh State

In The Beginning, our forefathers were nomads who had neither a state nor a homeland. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob led a humble tribe on a voyage of vision among the nations, without written laws or formal institutions.

Only after their descendants came out of Egypt, received their constitution - the Torah, and entered the Promised Land, the First State of Israel was created. It began as a loose federation of twelve autonomous tribes, who formed temporary alliances when faced with external threats.

This structure changed completely when King David succeeded in uniting the Israelites around his royal capital of Jerusalem. The Second State became the mighty empire of David and Solomon, which shaped our national unity and the central role of Jerusalem and the Temple.

The Third State appeared after King Solomon, when the monarchy was split into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel. Later, they were both destroyed and our people were exiled from our land.

The Fourth State was founded when the exiles returned from Babylon. They set up a fragile autonomy under the rule of the Persian Empire, struggled to defend their settlements from hostile neighbours and managed to rebuild the Holy Temple.

The Fifth State was founded in the Hellenistic Era. The Hasmoneans' revolt, which started as a rebellion against religious oppression, led to the creation of the sovereign State of Judah. It soon became a monarchy that went through trials and tribulations until its final destruction in Roman times.

The Sixth State of Israel was founded in 1948, after many centuries of exile and persecutions. Modern Israel is defined as a Parliamentary Democracy, internationally recognised as the national home of the Jewish People.

The Seventh State must be born next, to ensure the wellbeing of the Jewish nation in its homeland. While the Sixth State has served a vital role in our history, its current conduct and structure may fail to secure the achievements of the Zionist enterprise.

Israeli society is going through a moral, social, cultural and political crisis. The old Zionist ideologies seem to have lost their meaning in today's reality and are slowly replaced by new trends that endanger the Jewish character of the State and the foundations of its democratic regime. The dubious conduct of Israel's political system in recent years is clearly leading to the creation of a less democratic regime with less commitment to the cause of Jewish national liberty.

A New Zionism is urgently needed for saving our national home. The Jewish State is dominated today by a small social group that has gradually adopted a Post-Zionist agenda. They control the civil service, our legal system, most mass media organs and most centres of economic power. Their influence presents a growing danger to Israel's very existence, since a confused, divided society would be unable to meet the challenges of the future.

While returning to fundamental Jewish and Zionist values is absolutely essential for our very survival, Zionism must also adapt itself to the changing realities of the New Age.

The Root Cause of many of our problems is the centralised regime in Israel. The unwritten constitutional structure of the Sixth State has allowed a tiny social group to take control of all the power centres. The ruling Oligarchy betrays the Zionist value of securing personal safety and freedom to every Jew, denies the democratic value of civil equality to all citizens, shows hostility toward Jewish tradition and defies even basic human morality in the public arena.

Recent opinion polls show that most Israelis are highly concerned about corruption in our political system. Many call for strict legal actions against corrupt politicians. Yet very few attempt to understand the root causes for the widespread corruption. Indeed, legal measures are important, but a deeper treatment is urgently needed.

Corruption is directly linked to the general problem of disrespect of law and order. Many Israelis tend to break the law when no police officers are present. The general atmosphere in Israeli streets tends to border on anarchy. In a way, Israeli politicians faithfully represent their public by bending the rules and acting dishonestly. The only cure for this is a fundamental change in our education.

But the deepest cause is the centralised character of our political system. Nearly every step that citizens take requires some involvement of the authorities. The various branches of government hold enormous powers and influence our lives on a daily basis. Politicians who get elected or appointed to these powerful positions often cannot resist the temptation to use their power for their own benefit.

Moreover, the centralised structure of the Sixth State leaves most Israeli citizens with little or no control of their daily lives. Israeli society comprises a large number of ethnic, religious, cultural and ideological groups. Many of these feel oppressed by the ruling culture and standards and thus, feel less loyalty to the State. The founding fathers wanted to create a place where every Jew would feel at home, yet today, many Israeli Jews feel rejected and humiliated in their own country.

The centralised regime is also directly connected to the huge social gaps in Israel. Private initiatives face tremendous obstacles and only few succeed in overcoming the difficulties. Moreover, favouritism and nepotism are widespread in our establishment and those who were born to the wrong social group stand little chance of improving their economic status. These corrupt standards can be found in all systems, from local authorities and government ministries to the Defence Forces and even the Supreme Court!

Unstable Government seems to be the most surprising of Israel's problems. Presumably, the centralised political system should have produced a strong executive branch, yet the Sixth State was ruled by 30 governments in its first 57 years.

However, a closer look at Israel's system would reveal that centralism contributes to instability when mixed with a majoritarian parliamentary system. Since our society contains many ethnic, religious and cultural communities, as well as a large number of ideological movements, their proportional representation in the Knesset creates a highly divided house with a multitude of parties and no clear majority. Each of these parties is committed to serving the vital interests of its voters. In a centralised system, this often means securing the voters' basic civil rights, such as equal resources for education, employment and the right for religious freedom. The need to form a parliamentary coalition forces the politicians to turn these democratic rights into bargaining chips in the political game.

The current political system in Israel could best be described as a highly offensive mixture of authoritarianism and anarchy. Many members of larger groups have little respect for the legitimate rights of minorities and instead of treating all citizens fairly and equally, force minority leaders to demand their fair share in return for supporting the ruling coalition. This reinforces the negative image of the minorities that are seen as blackmailers who demand bribes for their Knesset votes. When the small parties happen to represent Orthodox Jews, the public resentment often carries overtones that are strikingly similar to classical anti-Semitism.

This grim reality harms the democratic culture of our society, contradicts the basic Zionist goal of opposing anti-Semitism, leads to a terrible waste of funds on early elections and violates the fundamental civil liberties of many Israeli citizens.

Human Rights Violations are inevitable in the Sixth State's political atmosphere. The centralised system, dominated by a powerful minority, tends to treat individual citizens and minority groups as pawns in their power game. Many non-Jewish Israelis have protested for decades against ethnic discrimination. National security is hardly a true explanation for the unfair treatment of the Druze community, whose men have been serving in our army and police with great sacrifices.

A similar policy is now aimed against right-wing Jews, mainly the settlers, with an emphasis on religious Zionists. The same citizens, who were once acclaimed as brave pioneers, are now despised and grossly mistreated. The recent "Disengagement" operation has set a most dangerous precedent of a massive population transfer for political and demographic reasons.

No true democracy can accept actions of ethnic cleansing, yet Israel's legislature, judiciary and executive branches have all endorsed this policy. Since Israel has no formal constitution, politicians and judges feel free to interpret the "Basic Laws" according to their personal preferences. The Supreme Court's growing power allows its members to impose their views on the politicians, even when the latter faithfully represent the opinions of the overwhelming majority. Moreover, all three branches violated the Zionist principle of not uprooting Jewish settlements and seriously damaged long held Israeli foreign policies by questioning the legitimacy of our presence in Gaza and the West Bank.

The Solution is obvious. Changing the constitutional structure is vital for the very survival of Israel as a Jewish-democratic state. The Seventh State should adopt a system of government that would suit the new realities and serve the national goals of the Jewish Nation.

Decentralisation must be the first goal. Classical Liberalism has always strove to minimise the influence of the authorities and empower the individual citizen, the family cell and the voluntary community. This approach is also inspired by the legacy of Judaism, where personal free will, traditional family values and strong community ties shaped our moral strength and ensured our unique identity.

A Governmental Reform should be our second object. The failed majoritarian, parliamentary system must be replaced with a more democratic structure that would allow for a more stable government, and at the same time, enhance equality and fair representation of all social groups in our society.

The Constitution of the Seventh State should express the above principles, as well as guarantee the character of Israel as the Jewish national homeland. It must be a binding, written constitution that would leave no room for subversive interpretations that might endanger either the democratic standards or our national values.

The Community Democracy concept is proposed as the constitutional structure for the Seventh State and the political goal of New Zionism. It is not a new ideology, but rather, a practical solution based on well-tested precedents. It has no intention of changing human nature, but rather, it aims to adjust the political institutions to human realities in our times. The model has been endorsed by experts in political science and constitutional law.

Federalism is one of the most important concepts of Classical Liberalism. It seems to answer most of Israeli society's needs and offer solutions to most of the problems described above.

Federal states successfully distribute the power between the central authorities and those of the autonomous member states, provinces or regional units. The Community Democracy is a federal system that would decentralise Israel's political system and transfer much of the central government's power to autonomous communities.

However, unlike existing federal states, the Seventh State would not be divided into autonomous geographical regions, since Israel's various communities are rarely concentrated within distinct territorial boundaries. The Community Democracy is a federal state that comprises autonomous communities that are not necessarily defined in geographical terms. Indeed, some of the communities may wish to exercise their autonomy in specific regions (e.g. Ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods, Kibbutzim or Arab towns and villages), but most other Israelis would reject the idea of moving into segregated areas that may seriously damage our national unity and even lead to ideas of secession. These considerations also apply to the rejection of adopting an electoral system based on territorial constituencies, which would leave many communities with little or no representation and increase their sense of alienation.

Non Territorial Communities may also reflect more faithfully the social realities in today's democratic countries. While traditional federalism evolved in an era when local communities had distinct political interests and cultural traditions, many of the communities in today's society are dispersed in many locations and most areas have extremely diverse populations. Granting autonomy to non-territorial communities may greatly improve our society and empower individual citizens.

The non-territorial nature of the proposed communities would mean that joining or establishing communities would only be possible on a purely voluntary basis. Having joined the community out of free choice, each member would have a much deeper commitment to society.

It is recommended that a special law would strictly prohibit any type of coercion or unfair temptation in recruiting new community members. The national law must also ensure that all communal institutions observe proper standards and avoid corruption.

The voluntary membership would also allow each individual to join several communities at the same time. For example, one may wish to join a certain professional association, another religious community and a third community for its cultural services. Thus, each citizen's personal freedom would be greatly enhanced.

The Pluralistic Nature of the Community Democracy system may contribute to an important change in Israeli public life. Obviously, no single formula can miraculously solve all our problems, but non-territorial federalism can dramatically reduce the power of central government and thus, decrease both corruption and discrimination of cultural and ideological communities.

The model is based upon both Liberal, democratic traditions and on our national heritage. Federalism and pluralism are as much Liberal values as they are typical of Jewish life, from the ancient alliance of the twelve tribes, to the present solidarity and mutual respect between Jewish communities with different cultural customs. The equal status for all communities would provide all the existing social groups with the opportunity to lead their lives according to their chosen values. This should also contribute to reducing the current tensions between various ethnic groups, religious groups and secularists, nationalists and cosmopolitan citizens and more.

Each Community would be allowed to set its own regulations and institutions. The Knesset would disallow only extreme cases where a special majority would vote against customs that are considered exceptionally cruel or unacceptable.

New Communities would be accepted as members in the Union with the consent of all existing communities, much like the procedure in the US Senate. This would secure the interests of minority groups and protect them against the tyranny of an accidental majority. It would specifically prevent the creation of an artificial majority that would strive to change the Jewish character of the Seventh State of Israel.

All official communities would receive equal resources and equal representation in all branches of the central government. This would require more structural changes in the federal government.

The Governmental Reform should focus on the democratic structure of all central authorities. Most importantly, the three branches of government must be separated and strengthened to provide proper checks and balances. The current Sixth State has only one institution that is democratically elected - the Knesset - while all other branches are selected by the Knesset Members. The mutual dependency between the judiciary, legislature and executive branches eliminates any significant checks and balances and allows for distortions in representing the will of the citizens.

The Executive Branch should be elected by the people in a separate ballot. The presidential system would allow for stable government, eliminating the need for the present parliamentary coalition, including its rising corruption and improper tactics.

The President and Vice President should be elected personally in general and direct elections (unlike the American system of the Electoral College that suffers from many flaws). If no candidate wins 50% of the votes, a second round would determine which of the two leading runners is appointed to the office.

However, one must caution against adopting a presidential system without the other reforms. Stable government without federal decentralisation and parliamentary reforms can produce an Israeli president similar to the Syrian ruler, rather than the American example.

The Legislature should be divided into two chambers, to reflect the federal system. The Knesset's upper chamber would be the House of Delegates. Each community, regardless of its size, would receive two seats in the upper chamber and thus, secure the interests of all minorities against possible oppression by the majority. Each community would choose its delegates according to its own rules, customs, values and choices. Since all citizens would be free to join any community, there would be no danger of coercion.

The upper chamber would have the power to approve or reject any legislation passed in the lower chamber, which would be named the House of Representatives. The lower house would express the principle of "One Man One Vote" and the equal representation of all citizens.

The optimal democratic justice would be achieved through the balance between the majoritarian mechanism of the Knesset's House of Representatives and the protection of minority rights in its House of Delegates. Both chambers would be free of political considerations in securing a parliamentary coalition and thus, employ the checks and balances vis-a-vis the judiciary and the executive branch.

An Electoral Reform should be introduced along with the constitutional changes. The elections to the Knesset's House of Representatives must integrate the advantages of both the Proportional Representation and the regional systems.

While the current Israeli system secures the fair representation of most minorities, it grants huge powers to political parties, encourages corruption and fails to nurse a personal commitment of politicians to their voters. On the other hand, the regional system cultivates personal accountability, but its "Winner Takes All" rule often produces hideous distortions where slim minority votes win an absolute majority.

Proportional Representation must remain the basis for the Knesset's House of Representatives' electoral system. Denying fair, democratic representation from many small social sectors may present Israel with grave dangers. Marginalised communities can only blemish our democratic record and weaken the sense of social solidarity and national unity. Some extreme groups may well turn their energies into subversive and even violent channels.

For the same reason, the "Threshold Percentage" should be cancelled altogether. Since this proposal eliminates the need for parliamentary coalition, there is neither need nor justice in denying representation from small social groups.

Personal Elections , however, must be integrated into the current system. Several methods exist in Western democracies for mixing the two aspects. It seems that the best system for Israel would be to provide the voters with ballot forms that carry both the party name and a list of candidates. Since the voters would decide who would be elected to the Knesset, politicians are likely to do their best to win the support of the citizens.

Moreover, it is highly likely that the old parties would be gradually replaced in the new federal system by the new autonomous communities. This would contribute to the daily, personal contact between the electorate and its representatives.

Funding The Elections must also undergo a comprehensive reform. The new law must prohibit all forms of private funding. All candidates in all federal elections should receive equal resources from a central budget. To qualify for this budget, each candidate would have to produce a list of several thousands of supporters, which would be checked and verified by the Central Elections Committee.

Voluntary work for candidates would be allowed, but cash contributions would be illegal. Candidates who would use their own money for electioneering would face criminal charges and be barred from federal politics for life.

The Timing of the various elections should be spread apart. Many Israelis feel today that their voices are only heard once every four years. Once the Knesset is elected, the politicians forget about the citizens and break all their promises. It is highly likely that more frequent elections would improve the quality of our public life.

Therefore, it is suggested to separate the elections as follows: On year 1 of the four year cycle, Members of Knesset would be elected to the House of Representatives, for a four year term. On year 2, the public would vote for Mayors and delegates to Local Authority councils, also for four years. On year 3, a new President would be elected for four years. On year 4, community members would elect their delegates in the Knesset's House of Delegates.

This would also allow for "corrections" in mid-term and increase the politicians' awareness of public moods and demands.

The Local Authorities should also be strengthened in the Community Democracy. Since the autonomous communities would not necessarily be territorial, the regional aspects of civilian life should be handled more efficiently by viable authorities.

The Judiciary is probably the branch that needs reform more than all others. Recent reports have shown that most positions of power within the judicial branch are held by an alarmingly small social group. Nepotism and favouritism are widespread and there is no proper supervision by external elements. Therefore, it is proposed to reform this branch on two levels:

The Autonomous Communities would be allowed to operate their own courts. Just like the member states in the US have their own legislatures and court systems, the federation of communities would allow each member community to open its own courts for its own members. The legal basis for this exists even today, where any citizen is allowed to take his / her case to voluntary arbitration.

The difference between the present situation and the communal proposal is that the future courts would enjoy the recognition and the financial support of the State. This reform is highly important since many Israeli citizens feel today that the judges rule according to values and mentality that is completely alien to them.

Naturally, laws that concern public order, transportation and criminal cases would continue to be handled by the police and the federal courts.

The Federal Courts would be also transformed. Their conduct would be watched more closely by the Knesset and their freedom to interpret (and often - to distort) the letter and spirit of the Knesset's laws would be dramatically limited. Political issues would be taken away from the courts, so that they cannot continue to sabotage Israeli democracy by forcing the politicians to act against the wishes of their voters.

Moreover, all member communities would have the right to send representatives to the committee that appoints judges. Israeli courts must begin to reflect the social and cultural diversity of our public. Restoring the citizens' trust in the judicial system is probably one of the most urgent goals in our social situation.

The National Budget of the Seventh State should reflect the values of the new constitution. Instead of the wild, corrupt bargaining that leads today to discrimination and injustice, the Community Democracy would be based on totally equal funding of each community, according to the number of its registered members.

In the 1970's, Dr. Yaakov Hisdai proposed a simple method for equal funding of all civilian fields (education, welfare, culture, religion, sports etc.). This proposal adopts his concept and integrates it into the Community Democracy model.

The federal government would continue to collect taxes from all citizens and divide it into two chapters: The National Budget would fund all federal institutions, while the Citizens' Budget would be transferred to the autonomous communities via the individual citizens. Each eligible citizen would receive vouchers for the services and freely choose the communal institution to supply the actual service. For example, parents would receive an "education voucher" for each of their children, then choose a community school and register their children in exchange for the voucher. The community school would then receive funding from the federal ministry of education according to the number of vouchers it submits. Naturally, all vouchers would be totally equal in value and all children would be funded justly.

All Civilian Affairs would thus be controlled by the citizens. The people would be free to decide which cultural institution is subsidised with their tax money, how their religious services are managed, which educational standards their children receive and so on. There is little doubt that this method would minimise corruption, reduce the control of central government over our daily lives, cultivate each citizen's sense of responsibility and encourage private and communal initiatives.

The Advantages of the Community Democracy proposal go far beyond a mere improvement on the electoral system.

It has a realistic chance of gaining the support of most Israelis, since it would grant more freedom to each individual and each social group.

Therefore, the joint vision has a better chance of restoring our sense of social solidarity and national unity.

The model is perfectly in line with Liberal-Democratic principles, yet it allows traditional communities to better fulfil their values and aspirations.

Decentralisation is likely to contribute to relax cross-cultural tensions and reduce discrimination, corruption and waste of public resources.

The non-territorial communities would allow all social sectors to better control their lives, without forcing anyone into social or ethnic ghettos.

Reducing central powers would cultivate a sense of personal responsibility and encourage many citizens to start social, economic and cultural initiatives.

The irreversible constitutional declaration that Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish Nation, regardless of the population's majority, should secure the Jewish future in this land. The communal representation in the House of Delegates should protect all minorities against the tyranny of the majority and thus, remove any future demographic threat.

This in itself could greatly improve the chance for peace and remove all fears of population transfers. Many Arabs would support this proposal, since the freedom and prosperity under true Israeli democracy would never compare to the Palestinian Authority's corrupt dictatorship.

Impractical Utopia - is the most common objection to this proposal.

However, most of the proposal's ingredients are as old as Western Democracy and have a long proven track record. Experts have found the new combinations between the traditional elements more than possible and likely to gain success.

Moreover, the concept of non-territorial federalism cannot be regarded by Jews as innovative. Jewish communities have practised this very idea for thousands of years with great success. Today's new technologies can only enhance this legacy.

But above all, the real answer to the sceptics should be the famous quote from Dr. Theodor Herzl:

If you will, it is no fairy-tale!

Ehud Tokatly, 12/January/2006

About Ehud Tokatly and more of his articles

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