Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Israeli Election Blog Series: ‘Proportional vs. Representational Systems’

I have, for many years, been afflicted by an insufferable addiction to politics; there exists no cure, or even a “race for the cure”, for my kind of affinity for all things campaign-related.

Since moving to Israel over a year ago, I’ve been eagerly anticipating sinking my teeth into Israeli politics. My spare-time in Canada was, for several years, spent in campaign offices at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels, and I frittered away an abnormal number of hours in local riding association meetings or helping out at constituency events.

This all led to my being more than a little disappointed when election season in Israel rolled around with a whimper instead of a bang. Interviews with and stories about party leaders consume the print media in the predictable way, and busses and billboards are plastered with pictures of party leaders, but something is missing that is integral to Canadian politics: Local organization is simply non-existent.

Israel, unlike Canada, has no ridings, and operates under a system of proportional representation. That means that candidates are ranked on a pre-determined party list, and their election to the Knesset is dependent on the percentage of the vote their party gets.

Unlike Canada, where over 300 local candidates and their campaign teams each vie for the votes of just over 100,000 people in their riding and where party leaders jet across the country trying to bring up the ticket; Israeli campaigns are completely leader-centric. That means no local teams, no door knocking, no literature dropping, and no phone banks at a local level; everything is run centrally, and based around the star power of the top of the ticket.

While this, arguably, allows for a more organized, disciplined campaign, the truth is that local concerns are being completely missed, and a significant number of candidates are being elected to office without being thoroughly vetted.

In Canada, while voters may return a beloved or effective local politician election after election, notwithstanding the ups and downs of his or her party’s popularity, Israeli politicians have no such local ties.

There are voices in Canada that have long argued the need for proportional representation in order to give smaller parties a chance to govern as part of the ruling coalition. It is certainly true that this has been the result of proportional representation here in Israel, and there is a case to be made that our democracy is stronger for it. However, it would behoove those same voices to understand, upfront, that this would lead to a drastically different campaign culture, with local concerns and particularities playing second-fiddle to national issues.


Blogger Bio: Ilan Mann is a Toronto-born, former CJPAC intern and fellow, who made Aliyah in 2011.  His hobbies include writing, baking (poorly), and running for extended periods of time while 20-year old Israeli commanders bark orders at him.