A new bill by MK Amit Halevy seeks to abolish the prohibition on anyone who serves as an appointed committee member at the head of a local authority, or who heads it by virtue of such an appointment, from running in municipal elections in that authority. The one who is expected to benefit if the law passes is Boaz Yosef, chairman of the committee appointed in Tiberias, who is considered a close associate of Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri. Yosef, it will be recalled, was appointed by Deri when he was interior minister, after the dismissal of former mayor Ron Koby, who failed to pass an approved budget to the authority.
The proposal received an exemption from the requirement of a discount in the Knesset and "promotion" to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, perhaps because of the difficulty in standing behind it and explaining it. Recall that an appointed committee is "directed" by the Minister of the Interior to replace the council and the head of the local authority in an extreme state of dysfunction, which greatly impairs the authority's ability to operate. This is an unusual tool, but recently there has been criticism of its increasing use and damage to democratic independence.
The prohibition on running in elections before a cooling off period has passed stems from concerns about improper exploitation of the powers and public resources, granted as professional appointments, to promote political interests – both personal and partisan. The new bill, as noted, is also intended to allow professional appointments to run without restriction. According to Halevy, the right to be elected is one of the most basic and important rights in a democracy, and should be limited only in extreme cases. The proposal also ostensibly retains the right to vote: residents will be able to choose as they see fit, without restrictions.
But this is a naïve argument, at best. In principle, the moment you give the chairman of an appointed and unelected committee, however talented and professional, a relative advantage, and harm the real ability of the local residents to run equally, the democratic idea is effectively sterilized from its purpose. Democracy is a dialogue with the people, and this dialogue is crumbling – in Tiberias and wherever it happens.
Moreover, the upcoming local elections will be a test of the power of the parties at the national polling stations. The concentration of effort in the local arena in Tiberias, and everywhere, has a clear goal of increasing power in the local authorities, and on the way to mobilize support for the parties in the national elections as well. If the proposal passes, Yosef could run for mayor of Tiberias in October. Thus, in effect, the Likud will give a substantial advantage to the appointment of a professional, clerk, affiliated with Shas, who actually functions as mayor, who will be able to take advantage of a mechanism committed to him in order to maintain Shas hold on Tiberias' municipal politics.
The Likud public does not lose sight of the fact that not a single Shas member signed the personal bill, which was intended to consolidate the party's power in Tiberias. The Minister of the Interior from Shas has an inherent conflict of interest. As responsible for supplying part of the budget to the local authority, he cannot give a significant comparative advantage to the appointment he desires, or to consolidate his party power.
If the bill passes, the head of the appointed committee in Tiberias will run in the elections for mayor of Tiberias – not as first among equals, but as first above all others. This is not a defense of the freedom to vote and be elected, it is an unacceptable political exploitation of professional appointment, and an opening for a dangerous practice of circumventing democratic decisions in the future.
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