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Das System

By       Message Uri Avnery     Permalink
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TO A foreigner, like myself, the US election system looks cockeyed.

The president is elected by an "electoral college," which does not necessarily reflect the will of the people. This system, rooted in the realities of the 18th century, has no connection with the conditions of today. It easily leads to the election of a president who has attracted the votes of only a minority, depriving the majority of its democratic rights.

Because of this archaic system, the final three days of the campaign are devoted solely to "swing states" -- those whose electoral college votes are still in doubt.

At best, a curious way of electing the leader of the world's mightiest power and self-proclaimed champion of democracy.

The system of electing governors, senators and representatives is also very dubious, as far as democracy is concerned. It's the ancient British system of "winner takes all." This means that there is no chance at all for ideological or sectarian minorities to be represented in the entire political system. New and controversial ideas have no chance.

The philosophy behind such a system is to prefer stability over full democracy, slow down change and innovation or prevent it altogether. It is typical for a conservative aristocracy.

It seems that no serious voices in the US advocate change in the system. If President Obama or President Romney is elected this week by a tiny majority in Ohio, whatever the popular vote nationwide, so be it. After all, the system has worked well enough for more than 200 years, so why tinker with it now?

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IN THE Israel elections, on the contrary, several parties talk incessantly about "The System." "The System is bad." "The System must be changed." "Vote for me, because I am going to change The System."

What system, exactly? Well, that's up to you, the voter. You can read into it whatever you like (or, rather, whatever you dislike). The elections. The economy. The courts. Democracy. Religion. You name it.

Frankly, whenever a politician starts to talk about "The System," I get goose pimples. Translate these two words into German, and you get "Das System."

"Das System" was the main propaganda target of Adolf Hitler throughout his 13-year struggle for power. It was incredibly effective. (The second most effective one was his condemnation of the "November Criminals" who signed the armistice after the defeat of Germany in World War I. Our own fascists now speak about the "Oslo Criminals".)

What did the Nazis mean when they spoke about "Das System"? Everything and nothing. Whatever their audience hated at any particular moment. The economy, which condemned millions to unemployment and destitution. The republic, which was responsible for economic policy. Democracy, which founded the republic. The Jews, for sure, who invented democracy and ruled the republic. The political parties, who served the Jews. And so on.

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WHEN ISRAELI politicians thunder against "The System," they generally mean the electoral system.

This started right from the beginning of the state. David Ben-Gurion was a democrat, but he was also an autocrat. He wanted more power. He was disgruntled by the proliferation of political parties, which compelled him to cobble together cumbersome coalitions. Who needs them?

The State of Israel was but a continuation of the Zionist movement, which always had some kind of elections. These were strictly proportional. Every group could set up a party, every party was represented in the Zionist congresses according to the number of its voters. Simple and democratic.

When the Israeli state was founded in 1948, this system was automatically adopted. It has not changed to this day, except that the "minimum clause" was raised from one percent to two. At the last elections, 33 parties competed, 12 of which passed the 2% threshold and are represented in the Knesset, which has just resolved to dissolve itself.

On the whole, this system worked reasonably well. It assured that all segments of society -- national, ethnic, confessional, socio-economic and so on -- were represented and could feel that they belonged. New ideas could find political expression. I myself was elected three times.

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