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Stop Smearing the Israeli Election System!

Bernard Lewis, writing in The Wall Street Journal becomes about the millionth American friend of Israel to assert that Israel’s election system is the source of its problems. The people making this argument tend to know exactly four things about electoral systems:

  • Israel uses party-list proportional representation.
  • So did the Weimar Republic!
  • Israel’s politics is messed-up.
  • In America we use a different system!
  • Q.E.D.

Really. This is the argument:

This system of voting by lists is the source of many of the difficulties which plague Israeli public life. In the English-speaking countries — the oldest and most stable democracies — voting is by constituencies. The founders of the state of Israel preferred the Weimar model — hardly an auspicious choice.

The system used in Israel is D’Hondt Method Party-List Proportional Representation and it’s not some idiosyncratic Weimar-and-Israel thing, it’s in use in many medium-sized democracies and most of the small ones. In alphabetical order they use it in Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, East Timor, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, The Netherlands, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Scotland, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, Venezuela and Wales. The similar Sainte-Laguë Method of list PR is used in New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Latvia, Kosovo, and is partially used in Germany.

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Nobody ever writes op-eds in the United States about how list-PR is killing Denmark or Portugal or how local government will never work in Scotland until it’s abandoned. This is simply the system that’s usually used in small countries. And Israel is a small country. So they use the appropriate system.

With regard to the Weimar Republic note that in 1932 a majority of Germans voted for either the Nazis or the Communist Party. Given that underlying distribution of opinion, how was a different electoral system going to change things?