Archive for July, 2008
See the excellent post by Jameel @ Muqata entitled Attitude: the Oleh’s Best Friend. Here he goes through a bunch of examples that describe of how in some ways things are very messed up things are in Israel, while in others, things are getting better. In the end:
The choice to make is this; are you going to have a positive attitude and approach every problem as a challenge? Are you going to view the absorption process with a smile? Are you going to make the best of a difficult situation because we have no real alternative home?
Fixing the problems (or trying to) is the best possible solution — so that Israel will be a better place for our children, and the olim that follow us.
I would add that today, aliyah is not for everyone. If you are looking to come to Israel in order to make the gashmi, physical, day-to-day aspects of life better than they were in the US, then it isn’t for you. In all likelihood, you will not get a better job, salary or house here, gas will cost double, you will have to learn a whole new system, and lots of things just wont make sense.
However, if you would like the chance to perform many important mitzvot, and potentially improve all of the spiritual and religious aspects of your life to an exponential degree, then it might be very well be worth it. Like Jameel said above, it all has to do with your attitude. (And then once you are here, you can help to influence and fixall of the other things in society here that need fixing).
Well, it looks like my recent blog post on How Israel Can Become a Better Democracy is really making some waves. (Just kidding, but the coincidence is a bit strange). I just read that the selection process for Supreme Court judges was just changed to make it less subject to poltics. The selection committee is made up of the President of the Supreme Court and two other justices, the minister of justice and one other minister, to opposition members of Knesset and two representatives from the Israeli Bar association. It used to be that a simple majority (5 out of 9) would be needed to approve any judge (including the Supreme Court). Now 7 are needed, making the votes less susceptible to blok voting for political reasons. (Knowing that the Israeli Bar association and Supreme Court have traditionally tended towards the “Left” in politics, it is pretty easy to see how the old voting structure could lead to a perpetual flow of like-minded judges throughout the Israeli legal system). Definitely a step in the right direction.
This morning we went to the US Consulate in “East” Jerusalem. We needed to register Chananya’s birth, get a passport for him, and apply for his Social Security number (the most important part, since this will enable me to include him on my US tax returns for the next 17 years, thus adding another $1,000 worth of child credit per year).
All in all, it took us about 3.5 from when we got in line in front of the building, until we left. From what I have heard, this is typical (and it can be much worse). The interesting part though is the number of different lines that we had to stand in.
- Enter the building. We had to present our meeting reservation printout (which I made three months ago) and got a number to be used inside.
- Go through one security checkpoint. Get buzzed through to the preliminary waiting area.
- Wait for at least half an hour until our number is called.
- Go through another security checkpoint.
- Go to the main waiting room (much more crowded than the first one). Wait in the checkin line (to let them know what we are there for).
- After checkin, site down and wait a while for our name to be called.
- Name is called, go through all of the different documents. Do our business.
- Pay the cashier.
- Go to the courier service upstairs, pay them for the envelope in which our passports will be “delivered” (ie: they bring it to their office in downtown Jerusalem and we go and pick it up)
- Wait by the person who helped us in step 7, give her the receipt and envelope.
- Wait (a long time) to be called to sign our documents in front of the consul (or consul assistant). Go through an interview to establish that we lived in the US before. Sign the documents and head out the door.
I can’t help but compare this with a visit to Misrad haPnim in which we got a birth certificate and passport:
- Go through security checkpoint.
- Get a number. Sit down and wait.
- Number is called. Do our business, pay the person and leave (with the passport in hand).
Although in most aspects so far, Israeli beurocracy has lived up to its reputation as being, well, large, overgrown and completely obtrusive, in this case it wins hands-down. (Advice to anyone going to the Consulate: make sure you do your research beforehand on what you need, have everything filled out with all documents handy and copies made – one missing piece of paper and you go home empty-handed, one missing form and you go to the back of the line).
Israel is known as the best democracy in the Middle East. This is a true statement. Compared to all of its neighbors, the personal freedoms afforded to citizens in Israel far surpass those given to citizens in neighboring countries. However, this does not mean that Israel is perfect in this respect. Far from it. Coming from the US, I have noticed and been bothered by aspects of the US system of governance that are missing in Israel, resulting mainly in unrestrained abuses of power and corruption in certain branches of the government. Below is my list of five changes that could be made to the way that the government runs in Israel, the implementation of which would make Israel into a more complete democracy and a better place to live.
- Supreme Court: The Judicial sector needs some definition as to its scope of power. Some form of checks and balances. In the US, supreme court justices are appointed by the Executive Branch, and must be affirmed by the Legislative branch. In Israel, the supreme court justices appoint their own successors, declare what their power is, what their jurisdiction is, meddle in political decision-making, and answer to no one. Justice Secretary Friedmann is doing something to try to curtail this, but there is still a long way to go.
- Direct Legislative Election: Most Israeli citizens today despise the government (or at least do not approve of its continued existence). Yet, somehow, it remains in power. One of the factors in play is that the leading party is supported by a coalition or other parties. Each party is free to make deals, receiving money or power in order to help keep Kadimah propped up. And the individual legislators are answerable to no one. In the US, where congressman and senators represent specific people, if those people no longer like the job that their representative is doing, they vote them out of office. Not so in Israel. Here, no one is directly elected. Instead, everyone votes for specific parties. Those parties have central committees which decide who will be on the party list. It is a very confusing system, where a criminal like Chaim Ramon is able to become the next-in-line to the Prime Ministership merely because he is friends with Olmert (the same way that Olmert got into power as well). And people like Eli Yishai and Ehud Barak are guarunteed to hold onto their power, regardless of how many people disaprove of their actions (yes, I know that their own parties membership can throw them out, but the system is built to make this hard to do). Until Knesset representatives are answerable for their actions, there will be no end to members and parties in the Knesset acting to further their own power while sacrificing the security and well-being of the country.
- Equal Enforcement of the Law: Enforce the law equally, in all sectors. That means against both settlers and Israelis who live in pre-1967 Israel, against Jews, Arabs and Christians, and in both East and West Jerusalem. Free speech for all (and not just for those who the Supreme Court or current ruling party favors).
- Cabinet Members Cannot be Knesset Members: Today, the positions in the cabinet are given out by the Prime Minister to the ruling members of his coalition parties as a reward for supporting the government’s coalition. This leads to ill-suited cabinet appointments (anyone remember who the defense minister was during the Second Lebanon War) as well as misuse of Cabinet positions. Cabinet positions are extremely powerful – the secretaries of the different government ministries have the ability to positively and negatively affect nearly all aspects of life in the country. The Prime Minister and his government should have every right to fill these positions; however, these appointments should be based on the appointees ability to fill the office and expertly run his/her ministry – they should not be based on political gamesmanship and cronyism.
- Constitution: Israel needs a constitution. Right now, there is none, and therefore there are no clear legal principles guiding what rights the government has, what rights people have. It is based on a mish-mash of laws inherited from British Common law and the US, along with the Basic Law, but there are no defined standards. Is Israel a Jewish state or a Democracy? Search and Seizure? Are there any standard rights that all citizens have? Whether or not today’s secular state is to be ruled by Torah and halacha is a separate issue. Is there to be an equivalent of the US Bill of Rights? But at least have something clearly defined. Nearly all of the above issues would be solved if Israel had a constitution that was accepted and observed to the degree that the same document is in the United States.
(Cross-posted on Newsvine)