Special Interview Waiting for a Constitution

The proposed constitution contains vast changes in the way Israel is governed. Uriel Reichman, dean of the Tel Aviv University Law Faculty, said under the present situation the government cannot meet its responsibilities to the public, and Ministers have no discipline and frequently ignore government policy to promote their own standing in the country and in their party. The Knesset has no independence, with 25 percent of its members either Cabinet Ministers or Deputy Ministers.

Under the proposed constitution, the Prime Minister would be elected directly by the public. If no one gets 45 percent of the vote, then a runoff would be held by the two candidates who received the most votes.

The Prime Minister would appoint and fire members the Cabinet, but decisions would have to be taken by a vote after discussion.

The proposed constitution would have 50 percent of the Knesset elected by districts and the other 50 percent by at-large votes as at present. Reichman explained that this was proposed so as not to push the small groups out of the system and into extralegal measures.

Both the Prime Minister and Knesset would be elected at the same time and the government would fall if 60 percent of the Knesset approved a non-confidence motion. But then both the Prime Minister and Knesset would have to seek a new election.

Reichman said under this system the “blackmail power of the small parties would be reduced because they could no longer point a pistol at the head of the Prime Minister” to force him to meet their demands or the government would fall. Israel would have two major blocs contesting for office, although the small parties could still gain Knesset seats if they received 2.5 percent of the vote in the at-large election.

There are also proposals to require a quorum for the Knesset to act, to allow the Knesset to grant permission to a committee for an inquiry, to reduce the immunity of MKs and to reduce conflict of interest in which today many members of the Knesset, who are lawyers, represent clients dealing with the government.

Israel’s President would remain the same, elected by the Knesset as the symbolic head of the country.

ENDING THE ‘STATE OF EMERGENCY’

Reichman said the constitution also would end the “state of emergency” under which Israel has existed since its founding. He said the present laws are adequate to deal with terrorism and national security. A state of emergency would only be declared in the case of war or other threatening crisis, and this would also be subject to judicial review, Reichman said.

He said proposals on municipalities are now being circulated. These would give the municipalities more autonomy, since now they do not have the right to impose taxes and all their bylaws and many other acts must be approved by the government. Reichman said he hopes that Jews in the U.S. and elsewhere will take an interest in the proposed constitution and express their views. “While the majority of money should come from Israeli sources, we would welcome support, especially seed money to continue the campaign,” he said.

“I see here a unique opportunity of creating a new partnership and renewed interest, in the most positive and beautiful sense, between Jews in the diaspora and Israel.”

While the decision is up to Israelis, full discussion and support from the diaspora will help stop the present “drift” that is occurring between Jews inside and outside Israel, Reichman stressed.

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