Below is the full text of WJC
President Ronald S. Lauder’s remarks at the Jerusalem Post Conference on
September 12th 2022.
Thank you, Yaakov and thank you for the clear, constant and, especially honest journalism that you produce every day in the Jerusalem Post.
It is sadly all-too-rare – to read truthful coverage on Israel in foreign newspapers. I’m not saying papers should be pro-Israel only. I’m just saying the reporting should be fair and honest. That shouldn’t be too much to ask for.
It is my great pleasure - once again – to be part of this conference sponsored by the Jerusalem Post.
I will now tell you that I had a beautiful speech prepared for this morning. It focused on the many outside challenges facing Israel and the Jewish people, including the need for a two-state solution, and a new Marshall plan for the Middle East.
It was a great speech but last night, I threw it away. I threw it away because I realized there is one huge problem facing Israel that almost no one is really talking about it. It’s like the elephant in the room. On one hand, it’s so obvious because everyone sees it, and on the other hand, it seems so complicated that no one wants to deal with it. Well, we all have to deal with it and that is what I want to talk about right now.
There have been 5 elections in Israel in just 3 years. Whoever wins this next elections, will win with 61 or 62 seats. That means there will another election right around the corner, and some small faction will be able to hold the next government hostage, just like the last one. No country, no business, no organization, nothing can function properly with that kind that can be blackmailed by any group.
Israel, like the United States and many other countries right now … are divided almost equally between the right and the left. But in the U.S., four congressmen cannot bring down the Presidency, which is exactly what can happen in Israel. That means that one small political faction can topple a government in order to get something it wants.
That’s a recipe for disaster.
Some people – when they go to bed – need to count sheep to help them fall asleep. Today, an Israel Prime Minister needs to count Knesset members: “59, 60, 61” and then count them again in the morning to know if he’s going to the office that day.
That is counter-productive, it strangles creativity, it wastes time, it just doesn’t work and it hasn’t worked for the last four elections. It’s actually a testament to the indomitable spirit of Zionism, of Eretz Yisrael, and of the Jewish mind and spirit, that Israel works as well as it does.
Israel has faced existential threats since the very first day of its existence.
And Israel has survived threat-after-threat because of its incredible courage, its ingenuity, and it’s strong far-thinking leadership. Israel still has that courage, Israel’s ingenuity is the envy of the world.
But Israel’s government, especially it’s electoral system is so dependent on small groups who can bring down the government. All recent Israeli Prime Ministers to has been held hostage to this system.
I have had the opportunity to travel to over 40 countries as President of the World Jewish Congress over the last decade. What I hear over-and-over is that leaders in these countries believe Israel does not have a stable government and for too long, it did not even have a full-time Foreign Minister that they could deal with. It’s probably the only country in the world that did not have a Foreign Minister.
With the threats that Israel is facing, especially from Iran, it cannot afford to be seen as unstable right now. Most people around the world must scratch their heads every time the Israelis go back to polls – they can’t figure out how any democracy can possibly work with that kind of constant upheaval.
Israel’s Parliamentary system may have worked from 1948 through the 1950s, when the Labor Party dominated the country. It may have been somewhat workable during the late 1970’s when Likud won for the first time. But that was almost 50 years ago.
Israel’s future cannot be determined by one small political faction that holds the rest of the country hostage for its own narrow-minded benefit. Do you realize that in today’s current 120 member Knesset, there are 22 different political parties? The U.S. has 2 main parties. France has 2 main parties. Great Britain has 2 main parties. Israel - 22!
Remember the famous definition of insanity – Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?
I can’t tell you what the answer is, but I know that what is in place right now does not work. But this has to change and here is a suggestion. I know the presidency in Israel is basically a ceremonial position, but today, I call on President Herzog to save his country and be the impetus to push the Knesset to form a bi-Partisan Commission with people knowledgeable in Democracy, Elections and Government.
He should be entrusted to create and guide it in the creation of a new electoral system that would finally pull Israel out of this mess. This commission should look at other systems, the U.S., the French Republic, the British Parliamentary system.
As I mentioned earlier, the U.S. right now is also equally divided politically, but once a president is elected here, he cannot be removed when five or ten members of congress might want something for their district.
What would happen if an Israeli Prime Minister were elected directly by the people with a solid 4 year term?
He or she would have the ability to appoint Ministers based on their expertise and knowledge of their ministries, not on how many seats they bring to the table. Can you imagine a Minister of Transportation who actually knows something about trains, bridges and highways? A Treasury Minister who knows economics? A Foreign Minister who has served in embassies around the world? This would guarantee stability.
I know the original system created in 1948 was modeled somewhat on the British system. This past weekend, we all watched the news of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. It’s interesting, the Queen’s reign lasted almost as long as Israel has existed. Shortly before she died, the Queen accepted the papers of her 15th Prime Minister. Had Elizabeth been the Queen of Israel, she would have been meeting her 30th Prime Minister.
To those in the room who might say: Who is this American telling us what we should do?
You would be right to say this, however, since no one else is saying it, it needs to be said. Sometimes it takes an outsider to see things that insiders might be blind to or don’t want to tackle.
As the winds of conflict grow stronger in the Middle East and the rest of the world, it is absolutely vital that Israel revamp its electoral system in order to maintain a strong democracy. This is no time to continue this selfish game of politics. This is the time for a unified and stable Israeli government.
That is my message today and I can’t think of anything more important right now for Israel’s future. As Theodore Herzl said, if you will it, it is no dream.
To all of you in this room, stay engaged. Stand up for Israel and the Jewish people. And always take great pride in who you are, take pride in the long arc of history that we are all part of, I do every single day.
We have given the world so much. We are, indeed, an extraordinary people. And we are a people – with one foot firmly planted in our traditions … and the other always willing to try new ideas. That is exactly what I am asking you to do here today.
I thank you for listening. May God continue to bless our people, to keep us strong and always be willing to do what is right.
Am Yisrael Chai.