About 10 years ago, when Einat Wilf was Shimon Peres’s foreign policy adviser, she witnessed countless conversations he had with world leaders. They all had enormous respect for Israel’s elder statesman, who at the time was vice prime minister, and enjoyed his analysis of international and Middle East affairs. But for one particular issue he routinely failed to arouse his guests’ sympathies: when he complained about Israel’s flawed electoral system. “Imagine having to try to get anything done with 12 parties in parliament; it’s impossible!” Peres once told Francois Hollande, who today is president of France, Wilf recalls in her new book. The situation in Paris wasn’t much better, Hollande retorted. “Nothing ever gets done in France without a revolution! The only way we are ever able to accomplish anything is by placing guillotines in our town squares,” the French socialist leader said.
A similar exchange occurred between Peres and Barack Obama, then a junior senator, Wilf writes. “After a wide-ranging conversation in which the senator sat absorbed, Shimon Peres proceeded to detail the failings of the Israeli system with its 12 parties. Barack Obama listened coolly and responded calmly, ‘Oh, but we have 12 parties too — they just all happen to be within the Democratic Party…”
The demand for a thorough reform of Israel’s electoral system — in which currently any party that garners more than 2 percent of the vote enters parliament, ostensibly yielding unstable governments held hostage by small and avaricious sectoral factions — seems to be one of the few issues on which almost all Israelis agree. But Wilf, an outgoing member of parliament for Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s Atzmaut (Independence) party, which is not competing in the January 22 elections, is trying to convince the Israeli public that, actually, no such reform is needed.
In the new 165-page book, “It’s Not the Electoral System, Stupid! Or: Why the Israeli Electoral System Is No Worse Than Others and Should Not Be Changed,” the soon-to-be ex-MK engages in an eye-opening study of comparative politics that challenges the accepted notion that things would be so much better if only Israel would amend its voting process.
Wilf does not claim the current electoral system is perfect or without serious flaws. “I’m only arguing that it’s no worse than other systems, and that in order to deal with problems that we do have, we have to deal with them directly rather than by hoping that there’s a shortcut.”