Gideon Doron: Meeting with Limor Sharir – What’s needed is a revolution: Further to a meeting with Professor Gideon Doron

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As Yom Kippur [The Day of Atonement] approaches, a person begins to conduct an internal reckoning, pondering her or his life, achievements, and failures. But because no one lives in a vacuum, there is value in also pondering about the society in which that person lives, or the country in which the person resides.

And so, when I sat down to write these words after meeting Professor Gideon Doron, a smile was on my face, and laughter mingled with sorrow in my heart. Yes, sometimes the reality here in Israel appears insufferable, to the degree that it seems ripe and ready for some kind of small government revolution, or a war of everyone against everyone else: Jews and Arabs, secular and religious, Ashkenazi and Sefardi, foreign workers and police, police and thieves, murderers and the murdered, and only the terrible heat of an Israeli summer exhausts and thwarts every such option.

And perhaps it’s the very reason that such scenarios never take place, I muttered to myself, while walking deep in thought from the parking lot to the adjacent café where Professor Doron waited for me. I felt as though I’d collapse any second. I wondered to myself about waking up in recent mornings from disturbed sleep, feeling that if I was only able to, I’d dismantle myself in order to restructure myself. It’s a very strange sensation, I admit, but those feelings of confusion and destruction contain creativity and hope. Just think if everyone was able to adopt an imaginary system where, up until now, nothing had happened, and as of tomorrow, a new reckoning would begin, and from the old foundation stones a new world would be constructed, a better one, a more creative one, a more organized one. Imagine that not only individuals were capable of instituting this procedure but entire nations could, instilling a new order in the way it conducted itself in all spheres of life rather than the extant order, which is no more than an assemblage of patches.

And then what would happen? According to Professor Gideon Doron, a vastly improved and properly conducted country would shape itself here. The bottom line of what I’m trying to say in very simple words is that, based on Professor Doron’s outlook, the State of Israel must adopt a Constitution. Professor Doron tried so hard to bring about this change that it led him to establishing a political party for the last round of Knesset elections, which he named “The Israelis,” although he was not successful.

It would seem that Gideon Doron operated from a kind of Quixotic perspective. I was already imagining how, in a different life circumstance, I might have come across his gaze, deep in thought, somewhere in the Dan neighborhood’s metalworkers area as he tried to persuade me of the advantages of a certain mechanical welding method over other options. Without any doubt, he’d have succeeded. Ask me: why am I relating this oddity to you? Because it’s not too far from the truth.

Professor Gideon Doron was born in the Shapira neighborhood, where he lived with his parents and siblings: five people in a small two room apartment. His mother was a homemaker, and his father an artisan carpenter. His father began working in construction carpentry and in return, received a tiny apartment in Ben Ezra Street, north Tel Aviv at the time. Initially Gideon studied at the Hakallir school, but because there were too many students, with some 50 per class, he was moved to the Ben Yehuda elementary school and as “a child with a nice Polish education,” was designated to study at the vocational school, finding himself a student at Ort Singelovsky where he ended up with specialized qualifications as a mechanical metalworker.

On completing his military service, he worked as a welder in the Dan neighborhood but eventually decided to leave and “go see the world” which, in those times, basically only referred to Europe. And so Israel lost a very good mechanical metalworker, and gained a professor of international renown in the field of political science. Doron completed his matriculation in an external program, and went on to earn his BA and MA in political science from Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

Professor Doron received his Doctorate from Rochester University, New York, in 1978. His dissertation was supervised by Professor William Riker, renowned for the Theory of Political Coalitions. In the mid-1980s, Doron was among the founders of the Department of Public Policy in Tel Aviv University, and its first manager. Doron has taught Political Science at Tel Aviv University for many years, and in the early 1990s additionally served for two years as the department head. Among his students are Gideon Saar, Ofir Pines, Silvan Shalom, Gilad Ardan, Anat Maor, Dov Hanin, and many others who will likely become more familiar to us over time.

Professor Doron was among the founders of the Political Communications track in Tel Aviv University’s Department of Political Science. Between 1997 and 2000 he served as the head of the Public Policy Department in Ben Gurion University’s Faculty of Business Management. He also lectured for years at Binghamton University in New York, and was a guest lecturer at New York University, Queens University in New York, and Yeshiva University in New York.

With 17 books in Hebrew and English, and dozens of professional articles, Doron covers a wide range of subjects, among them political and economic strategy, public policy and administration, election methodology, political communication and manipulation, and game theory. Doron also served as academic consultant to the Yezreel Valley College Department of Political Science. He was a long time member of the Israel Political Science Association, serving as its chairman. This association also incorporates the Political Research Association whose members include researchers and teachers in the field of political science working in Israel’s universities and                    colleges. Between 1993 and 1999, Professor Doron was a member of the International Political Science Association board.

“How do you envision the future of our country?” Gideon asked me, “and what’s your vision for life here in Israel?” With care and persistence, he led me to finding the most concise response: I would like everyone to live here without feeling the need to prove anything, without continually reciting the mantra of our link to the Land of Israel from Biblical times, continuing to turn up archeological findings which prove that link and yet continue apologizing for them.

“Americans live in America without any need to prove or apologize,” he said. But Israel isn’t America, I remember thinking; and then asking myself: why shouldn’t it be? Why shouldn’t the State of Israel have a Constitution that anchors the relationship between the State and the citizens, that defines the rules between authorities and government, that sets the State’s limitations, and if we do forego land, why shouldn’t we know exactly what we’re giving up? Why shouldn’t every issue in the country be anchored in a way that prevents government manipulation by a random majority? The current method, according to Professor Doron, would bring about an utterly absurd legislation.

“If laws aren’t set in advance,” noted Gideon, “then we could find anti Nakba legislation, anti minorities legislation, and so on, bringing about the collapse of Israeli democracy instead of aspiring to an integrated system.”

Professor Doron wanted all groups, Arabs, ultra-Orthodox, Zionists and anti-Zionists, to be part of the collective, and enjoy it with full equality. Everyone must pay tax, everyone must be recruited for military service, everyone must respect such a constitution and thereby shape a modern liberal country in which all its citizens will be able to find their place. Sound utopian? Indeed it does.

“And how do you propose to bring that from concept to practice?” I asked Professor Doron.

He suggested reproducing the Constituent Assembly of 1949 such that every party would appoint representatives based on its members in the Knesset, for a total of 120 representatives. These individuals would sit in a separate space in the Knesset until they reached an Israeli constitution.

“That sounds so simple, except for the fact that everyone in Israel has at least three opinions, particularly if she or he is a public official,” I pondered aloud, imagining the fiery arguments, even fisticuffs, cursing and shaming, and who knows what else, as the process progressed, perhaps even ending in surrendering the opportunity and grinding to a halt. That’s because ‘everything is possible’ when it comes to Israelis…

“At the pyramid’s base is government,” Doron said. “A constitution would set the limits of government, its sovereignty, and the nature of the country’s governance. It would define who the country’s citizens are and what the country’s obligations are towards them. It would also define the status and rights of those citizens and their obligations towards the state. A pivotal point in the constitution would deal with defining the method of government and the principles for differentiating the authorities on which government is structured.”

According to Professor Doron, the electoral method used in Israel is outdated and unsuitable. A national and regional electoral system should be instituted, based on a single representative. In this framework, the majority of Knesset members would be chosen in single representative regional elections. The quota for the remainder of Knesset members would be based on a weighted calculation of votes at the national level. The method would encourage suitable representatives who must report to their electors rather than to party officials.”

“Yes, it’s a method which promotes responsibility and direct commitment by the elected official towards her or his voters,” I agreed. “The regional representative, with whom we’d be familiar by virtue of representing the region, would understand that disappointing her or his voters means there’d be no second term. The legislative authority, that is, the Knesset, would define its number of members and its modes of action and responsibilities. The Knesset would represent the citizens of the State of Israel , the composition of the population, and the country’s regions. “The Israelis” party would work to introduce this new electoral method to all parties vis-à-vis their own candidates, who would be their representatives for an electoral region as well as for the citizens of that region.”

The method’s objective would be to reduce the number of parties, in part by canceling “dealers” and “party centers.” A dream, I thought to myself. Can you even imagine a party without wheelers and dealers? Based on the new method, there would also be balanced symmetrical representation for women and men: what could be better than that?

The executive body, being the government, would be defined by the number of ministers and officers, and would be limited to vital government functions alone. Appointment of ministers and their authority relative to the legislative body and the Prime Minister would also be defined. The election of government ministers would be the Prime Minister’s prerogative. The Prime Minister’s considerations would be reviewed vis-à-vis authorization of appointments: was the candidate’s professionalism and functioning given preference? Nor must the ministers be members of the Knesset. The Prime Minister will be appointed from among Knesset members.

This method promotes a small professional government, I repeated to myself, internalizing just how much this concept, so far from current reality, appealed to me. Imagine the enormous savings on salaries that could be redirected to education, medicine, research and development, to science… truly a midsummer night’s dream, I smiled to myself bitterly. After all, it sounds so logical that in our country it could never happen.

Professor Doron was dee[;u involved in all events here, and his public and political activities were extremely broad. In 1992, as elections drew near for the 13th Knesset, he served as Yitzhak Rabin’s political strategist. From 1995 to 1999, he served as chairman of Channel Two TV & Radio Station. Over the years, Doron headed several public committees and was a member of numerous public and other organizations, among them the National Security team, the Public Service Appointments Review Committee (aka “the jobs committee”), committees to set municipal limitations, the Israel Film Council, and more. In 2003 he was among the founders of the “Citizens Employment Center” operating out of Tel Aviv University. This was a non-partisan and not for profit organization which sought to conduct research on government methods and electoral methods worldwide for the purpose of examining their applicability to Israel, and spreading knowledge about them to the general public. Doron served as the center’s vice president and is currently its academic consultant.

Professor Doron is the academic innovator and developer of the “National Resilience Index,” which incorporates the “Corruption Index,” publicized annually as part of the Sderot Social Conference. Doron serves as a member of the presidium for the Quality of Government Movement, and developed its “National Ethics Index.” He additionally serves as the local and regional assessor for the “International Transparency” organization which ranks the world’s countries according to their level of public corruption.

Professor Doron, highly vocal for many years now in support of establishing a constitution in Israel and changing the country’s electoral method, did not begin his support of these changes in the most recent elections. In 2005 he was a member of the public committee headed by Mr. Menahem Megidor, President of Hebrew University, Jerusalem. The committee examined the structure of government and Israel’s election system, and thereafter recommended shifting to a regional electoral system as well as instituting several further changes that would promote political stability and improve the quality of its activities.

Currently Professor Doron heads the “Yitzug Shalem” association that seeks to publicly share knowledge on the single representative regional election system, a method which integrates the principle of compensation for candidates who did not win their region’s vote but accumulated sufficient votes nationwide to enter the Knesset under the proportionate method.

In the past, Professor Doron headed the “Israelis for Change” movement, its goal being to work towards implementation of the committee’s recommendations and share the regional voting method’s advantages with the general public. I believe this to be of vital importance: to internalize the important principles which Professor Doron detailed during the time left until the coming election and not just in the immediate pre-election period. Doing so would allow those principles to set down roots and grow in the public’s mind.

Allow me, therefore, to quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel: “All that is needed is one person… and another… and another… to start a revolution.” Would you want that? It appears so. Is it possible? Perhaps. We must never give up hope.