It’s been a quiet week, really. Nothing too much of interest happening. There’s a general election coming up again in a fortnight’s time in the country in which I live but you’d be forgiven if you thought there was no such thing in the offing. Except for a couple of large posters of a potential prime minister and a possible PM-maker (should he decide this time around to do something positive) along the Ayalon Freeway in Tel Aviv and an ad for some probable also-rans on the backs of buses and vans, there’s hardly an inkling that anything is supposed to take pace on March 2.
It’s not surprising, really. This will be the third time Israeli voters are undertaking this exercise in less that 11 months. To say that people are apathetic might be going a bit too far because most of us understand why it’s happening again but I fail to recognise anything resembling enthusiasm among the voters. The last time I left the polling station, on September 17, as my ID card was returned to me, I wished the young people checking the voters’ lists all the best and told them I’d see them again in the Spring—only half-jokingly. This time round, I suppose I’ll tell them—only half jokingly—that I’ll see them again in August-September after two or three more months of non-negotiation on the part of the politicians and another two- or three-month reprieve for the serving Prime Minister.
The Israeli electoral system is a mess. There was a time as an active academic when I was interested in electoral reform and I wrote about this a year ago before the first round of voting that got us nowhere. If I didn’t think that electoral reform was the epitome of an “academic” topic, I might have stuck with it. Or if I had in my persona some germ of activism, I might have gone on making a nuisance of myself by not giving up and telling people why the current system is so awful and what we could do to make it better. But we’re stuck with it. The people are not apathetic just unaware that there are other electoral systems out there in the wider world that would serve them better. The politicians, for their part, don’t want to countenance any change at all because they feel comfortable with the system that exists and know how to work it.
The main problem is that Israel’s elected politicians represent nobody but themselves and their buddies in their respective parties. There are no constituencies or electoral districts; the country as a whole is just a single electoral district. In order to get elected, an individual candidate has to be placed high enough on the list of candidates that the parties present to the Electoral Commission. That means that each of them has to be active within his own party and is beholden only to the party members.
Voters—people like me—get to choose a list of people, most of whom are unknowns to the electorate at large. We can’t even express any preference by promoting or demoting this or that candidate on the list that we choose as is possible in some other countries that operate a list system. Not only that but one’s vote has to be cast at a polling station designated by the address that appears on one’s ID card. There is no absentee vote; no postal vote. If you can’t be there on the day and the predetermined place, you can’t cast a vote; it’s as simple as that—unless you are either a diplomat or a member of merchant marine serving out of Israel on election day.
What this means is that the 120 members of the Knesset are in no way individually beholden to any recognizable group of voters in any specific geographical area. The system, so I once read, was adopted and adapted from the one used by a newly independent Poland after the First World War and was used to elect the people representing the Jews of Palestine opposite with the British authorities. In that sense, it served the people well in that it gave the British to understand that there were many views among the Jewish population. It was then adopted when Israel became independent without any change and so it has remained. The only thing that has changed is the quota, the minimum number of votes needed to gain representation in the Knesset. This currently stands at 3¼% of the valid votes, giving the smallest parties in he Knesset four sets out of 120. (The quota for many years stood at 1% and the plethora of parties then was even more indecent than it is today.)
What is entirely lacking in Israel’s political system is something which engenders a minimum of humility in the elected members, something that reminds them that as individuals, rather than as members hidden behind a party leader and concealed within the blanket of a party list, to get re-elected they have to show to a specific electorate that they are worthy or re-election. They can be as corrupt as they want but as long as they’re hidden inside a list and the voters can’t “push” them down the list, all they have to do is keep on good terms with their party colleagues.
Sadly, no such reform is likely to occur in the foreseeable future and in its absence, we will continue with the charade that we are electing people who represent us rather than just a party that sort of reflects our views. It’s sham really, in this day and age!
While it’s been quiet around Israel despite the upcoming election, politicians have been busy elsewhere. The President of the United States, emboldened by his recent acquittal in the trial by the U.S. Senate, is now apparently attempting to take over his country’s justice system. The British Prime Minister and his principal adviser has gone through Round One of cleansing the government of people whose absolute loyalty cannot be counted upon. And Sinn Féin almost became the largest party in Ireland after that country’s general election last weekend, prompting me to think that Gerry Adams might finally do some good and be made Minister for Improvement of Community Relations!
So now it’s time to clean things up a little.
There’s a touch of spring in the air in Tel Aviv. The last couple of weeks have seen a couple of warm and sunny days around 20ºC. I have no doubt that there’ll be a couple of more storms blowing through before spring eventually lands but the best part of the winter is probably over.
Not that winter in this part of the world is winter as other people know it. The gentleman in the photograph below drinking his gin and tonic on his deck in Syracuse, NY, reading about the The Age of Decadence is enjoying a decent day in what looks to me like a proper winter.
The previous week, he sent me a picture from his summer camp near Thousand Islands, looking out across Lake Ontario towards Canada. He wrote me that he and his wife have come to enjoy the winters. When he took the photo, there were ice floes and it was utterly silent. There were also a flotilla of ducks out there in the lake. Well, best of luck John and Patricia but I can’t say that I really miss snow and ice.
The placidness of Lake Ontario in the winter contrasts with the “action” on the Mediterranean during the same week as seen from Tel Aviv Port.
Not, of course, that you need to compare between continents to observe differences. In the two photographs below, it’s clear that there quite a difference that just a single day can make.
The wind was so strong one day last week that I photographed the Yarqon stream below looking towards the north bank. The sea (i.e., downstream) is to the west, looking left, but the water is apparently flowing towards the right, i.e., upstream. The river is so shallow and the wind was so strong that this apparent counterflow could be observed.
Not that this made any difference to the ladies engaged in calisthenics on the south bank of the river.
And as for calisthenics, the slightly overweight I also engage in it once a week. I haven’t quite figured out whether it’s a 21st century version of some ancient Chinese torture or European mediaeval torture but the stretching it involves seems to be doing me some good!
A springlike day brought the birds out in force.
It also brought out the people. This was, apparently, a lesson in kick-boxing as is evident from the angle at which the gloves are being held.
Friday morning, as usual, brings out the best of colours at the Farmers’ Market in Tel Aviv Port.
In the warm weather the other day, I couldn’t figure out whether she was taking it all off or putting it all on but she stood there, apparently immobile, for long enough for me to size it up and take the photo.
And in the Port, once again, I noticed again the difference a day can make. One day he’s there and another he’s not.
And while I’m not thinking about what to write in this week’s blog post, I’ve been busy drafting a memory book, responding to the suggestion of a colleague from Colorado. It’s tentatively entitled: Maps to Photographs: Inadequate musings of a journeyman academic, 1945-2020. I never thought I would do it or could do it—and I have yet to read through the 90,000 words I’ve written. I’ve given the first four chapters a quick read through and I think it’s not bad. I’ll give it a critical reading in a couple of week’s time, after the election. Nevertheless, it’s more than likely that I’ll end up like the chap below.