Push the Button: Ep. 20

Hosted by Carrie Keller-Lynn and Aliza Landes

August 4, 2021 00:53:45

What are the fundamental dynamics driving the Israeli Knesset and the decisions it makes? What Flexibility do individual MKs have to vote for their consciences, versus rubber stamp for their parties? And even though Israelis elect 120 MKs, why do only a handful wield real power.

In our last episode of season 1, Carrie and Aliza speak with Michael Oren, Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. and later Member of Knesset, to get the inside baseball on how the Knesset operates and what power individual legislators do - and don't - have to represent Israeli citizens.

Episode Transcript

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:00:06] 

Hi, I’m Carrie.

 

Aliza Landes [00:00:07] 

And I’m Aliza, and you’re listening to Us Among the Israelis.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:00:12] 

We are two friends who moved to Israel over a decade ago, and this year we made a podcast baby together.

 

Aliza Landes [00:00:18] 

Yes, we did. I sometimes think maybe this is the reason that we both moved to Israel and stayed here, was to make a podcast baby.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:00:26] 

OK, like I didn’t expect to get really emotional when you said that, but I kind of did, because just to give some background, our friendship started in 2008, 2009, and all along the 12-plus years of our friendship. Oh my God, I’m dating ourselves, you and I have been connected by an intense love of both Israel and truth. And I feel like this was our way, our latest way, from you know, taking large groups to Israel, from advocating for Israel, from writing, from speaking about it, from being involved in the government. I feel like this podcast has been our latest way to express our love of Israel to others. And it’s been really fun to share with you!

 

Aliza Landes [00:01:08] 

Yeah. So Carrie, I would add onto that, that part of what was so fun for me in making this podcast was it was an opportunity to learn something new about how Israel works and what it looks like and the different opinions and the different groups and the different issues that exist here.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:01:26] 

Every episode I felt like I learned something new and I actually want to thank listeners for joining us on this journey and giving us the impetus to go on this ourselves. And what was also really cool about this journey is that from Episode 1 to Episode 20 now at the end of Season One, we’ve actually come full circle.

 

Aliza Landes [00:01:43] 

Yeah. So we started episode one with Haviv talking about how coalitions work. So fundamentally, how governments are formed in Israel. And now in this episode, we’re about to speak to a really distinguished guest about how the government actually works, what happens in the Knesset, what does that look like?

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:02:04] 

Right. So we’re taking Israel from formation to function on the government. And before we bring on our guest for today, who is Michael Oren, I want to say that for me, this episode feels very full circle personally too. Michael was actually my professor at Yale when I was twenty, nineteen, twenty. And he has been instrumental in helping me figure out how to both move to Israel, how to join the army here, how to integrate. So I think it’s pretty cool that today he’s helping us, as well as our listeners, understand what it’s actually like to be a part of the government here. And so the reason why we asked Michael to come on, in addition to being a statesman and an educator and a fantastic explainer of things complicated, is that Michael has actually been in the trenches and he’s been in the trenches in a couple of ways. Michael was the ambassador from Israel to the US, and so he’s seen the way that the Israeli government has worked on the highest diplomatic levels, as well as foreign governments, especially the United States government. And then after that, when Michael came back to Israel, he was a member of Knesset and he served in Israel’s parliament. He was a deputy foreign minister. He was a committee head. He’s seen how this government has worked inside out, and he has very interesting insights to share.

 

Aliza Landes [00:03:19] 

So without further ado, let’s talk to Michael Oren.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:03:25] 

Michael, hi.

 

Aliza Landes [00:03:26] 

Hi, Michael.

 

Michael Oren [00:03:27] 

Hi, everybody.

 

Aliza Landes [00:03:28] 

Thank you so much for joining us.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:03:30] 

So, Michael, we were hoping that you could just kind of give us a quick overview of a long career. How did you find your way into Israeli politics?

 

Michael Oren [00:03:39] 

When I was 15 years old, I met Israel’s ambassador to the United States. I was on a youth mission to Washington. I shook his hand. His name was Yitzchak Rabin. And when I was 15, I vowed I would be someday Israel’s ambassador to United States, and I actually designed my whole academic career to get that job. I learned how to interview on TV and how to write op-eds, I just wanted to be ambassador. Then I became ambassador, and then one day I wasn’t ambassador. So think about someone who, like, throws a javelin from age six and gets a gold medal when they’re, you know, 24 and then, OK, what am I going to do with a javelin now? So I came back from Washington in 2014 and you know, what to do now? And someone suggested actually my my former college roommate, who was then the publisher of Foreign Policy magazine, suggested well, obviously, you’re going into politics. Me? What? Politics? I’m not a politician. You’re a politician, trust me, you’re a politician. You’ve survived in Washington for five years. You can survive in Knesset. And whether that was true or not, I decided the party I wanted to go with. That party took me in what’s called a realistic position, which means that we could have done abysmally in the elections and I still would have been a member of Knesset, or as Netanyahu once said to me, because I was a member of his party, he says, I understand, you’ve got a freebie, he said. You got a freebie. So I got a freebie into Knesset. And I was thrilled. You know, many people come up to me and said, oh, you poor guy, you had been ambassador and now you’re just merely a member of Knesset. And my response was, no, you’ve got it backwards. I’m a member of the first democratically elected government of an independent Jewish state in 2000 years. And just how incredibly remarkable is that? And I would often remind myself of that. And when other Knesset members came in and would talk to me, I would give them that line, you know, 2:00 in the morning, just stop in the hall and pinch yourself and remind yourself of where you are, who you are, and the great privilege you have, because sometimes at two o’clock in the morning, it’s very difficult to do that. So that was my political career. And there are aspects of politics that I very much miss. I do.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:05:30] 

Yeah. Michael, I don’t understand actually how things actually get done in the Knesset.

 

Michael Oren [00:05:36] 

You mean things, you mean legislation. You mean laws, right? Because many things get done in the Knesset, you have hearings, you have investigations, you have many things.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:05:43] 

You have budget and you have laws.

 

Michael Oren [00:05:45] 

I headed a clandestine committee that dealt with super-secret and sensitive issues in Israeli security and and foreign affairs. It was a multipartisan committee. We got along very, very well. It was held in a secure room. It was that kind of classified type of committee. And we dealt with very serious issues indeed. OK? And I’m not even at liberty to discuss them. And we got serious work done, very serious work done. So many things are going on in that Knesset. But if you talk about legislation that will begin either with the party or with individual members of the party, they’ll come up to the head of the party and said, listen, I have an idea for a law. The head of the party will say, OK, begin to develop that law.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:06:24] 

No no, not how it gets done on paper.

 

Michael Oren [00:06:26] 

What?

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:06:26] 

How does it actually get done? Like, is it like in the lunchroom, someone says, hey, like let’s talk about horse-trading. Like, how did these things actually get done?

 

Michael Oren [00:06:36] 

Yes, that gets done that way, too. Lunchroom is very important. It depends! There’s different laws. There are laws that are party laws and coalition laws, that many of which have been determined already before the coalition is sworn in. But some of them are laws that are born in the lunchroom. I’ve had some interesting discussions in those lunchrooms. You don’t miss lunch in the Knesset. Some of them are done in the coffee shop. Some of them are done by just visiting other members of Knesset in their offices. It happens in different ways. It depends on the nature of the law. If it’s a very controversial law, it’s going to originate in the party and in the government. It’s going to be a law that’s just, you know, theoretically, is going to be like the nation state law. That’s not going to be a law you’re going to develop in a multipartisan way. It’s going to come out of the coalition. But if it’s a law, for example, of cleaning up the environment, it could be very different.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:07:24]

What was the biggest initiative that you pushed in the Knesset?

 

Michael Oren [00:07:28] 

I pushed the initiative to reform the foreign ministry and strengthen the Foreign Ministry. And I did it together with Ofer Shelah, who was the number two man in Yesh Atid.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:07:36] 

Right. So how did you do that?

 

Michael Oren [00:07:38] 

I sat with Ofer. We worked it out, our staffs worked it out. A program for reforming the Foreign Ministry. It didn’t happen in the end. It doesn’t matter. The process itself was very interesting. Another law that I did originate before I became deputy minister was a law, what I would call it, the grandparent law. That’s interesting. You know, in the state of Israel, you guys don’t know this yet. But if you’re a parent, maybe Aliza, you may know this. If your kid is sick, you can take a sick day off from work, legally. Right. You don’t have to be sick. But if your kid is sick, the state will pay you or your business has to pay you to take that sick day. Well, in the state of Israel, you have grandparents now who are in their early forties and the kids, you know, get sick and parents can only take so many days off of work. So I passed a piece of legislation. It was very popular, multipartisan, by the way, that said that a grandparent could also take a sick day to take care of grandkids who are home.

 

Aliza Landes [00:08:27] 

That’s awesome.

 

Michael Oren [00:08:28] 

Now no one’s gonna object to that. That was a nice law. It was a handy piece of legislation. And I, I was on the news a lot with. It was called, you know, as we call it, the “Chok HaSavta”, Grandma’s Law.

 

Aliza Landes [00:08:39] 

Oh, my God. OK, so wait, how long does it usually take to pass legislation from like, conception to conclusion?

 

Michael Oren [00:08:46] 

It could take years or it could take months. Depends on the nature of the law. And that piece of legislation was already budgeted because my party controlled the finance ministry. So we knew exactly how much that would cost the State of Israel. So it was budgeted and ready to roll. You know, other ideas I had, I was instrumental in the whole effort to get American recognition of Israeli sovereignty of the Golan Heights. And I went to the White House several times to talk about it. And we, was developing legislation that would have developed the Golan Heights, move 100,000 Israeli citizens up to the Golan Heights in 10 years. And, you know, that had wide bipartisan support. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been enacted.

 

Aliza Landes [00:09:25] 

OK, so, Michael, you have been ambassador for Israel to the United States, you have been a member of Knesset for four years. You were a deputy minister. If you could sum up Israeli political culture in one word, what would that word be?

 

Michael Oren [00:09:44] 

Massada.

 

Aliza Landes [00:09:45] 

Massada? Oh, OK. And there’s a lot more to unpack back there than I was expecting. Let’s go.

 

Michael Oren [00:09:51] 

The reason why Massada is that the first rule of Israeli politics is that Israeli politicians always prefer collective to individual suicide.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:10:00] 

Oh, gosh.

 

Aliza Landes [00:10:03] 

All right, you want to, you want to explain what that means, providing examples?

 

Michael Oren [00:10:07] 

Exhibit A, Benjamin Netanyahu. OK? Now, Benjamin Netanyahu is now the head of the opposition. If he were not the head of the opposition, then Likud would join the government and you’d have a solid right-wing government. Meretz and Labor would leave the government. You’d have a much more stable government, but Benjamin Netanyahu won’t leave the opposition.

 

Aliza Landes [00:10:30] 

Wait, Michael, I want to take a step back for a second because Bibi, as much as he wished he could have been just a one-man show and control absolutely everything. There are a hundred and nineteen other members of Knesset and supposedly they all have jobs to do because they are elected officials and they’re supposed to represent the population. How does that work? Right. Do you see members of Knesset working together across the aisle, creating legislation or across the aisle like members from the, MKs from the coalition and the opposition working together? Or is that something of years past?

 

Michael Oren [00:11:12] 

Leaving Bibi aside, now we’re talking about members of Knesset?

 

Aliza Landes [00:11:15] 

Everybody talks about Bibi. Nobody talks about what actually goes on behind the curtain. Right. Like we don’t, the only thing we see is the screaming and yelling on TV.

 

Michael Oren [00:11:24] 

What makes you think there’s anything other than that?

 

Aliza Landes [00:11:27] 

Well, that’s, that’s what I want you to tell me!

 

Michael Oren [00:11:30] 

Right. OK, let’s deal. Let’s talk, let’s talk about being a member of Knesset, okay.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:11:33]  

Yes, please.

 

Michael Oren [00:11:35] 

Nobody really knows outside of the Knesset what a Knesset member does. And we used to always complain that Knesset has lousy public diplomacy, that we don’t explain ourselves very well. Knesset, if you do it right, is intense, intense work. And yes, the prime minister doesn’t get much sleep, but neither do members of Knesset. Why? OK, first of all, let’s start with the fact, a basic fact, that per capita, Israel has the fewest parliamentary representatives of any democracy in the world. We have the same number of members of Knesset that we had in 1949, and it’s linked to the numbers of members of the Sanhedrin, you know, 2000 years ago. That’s great that we have this, you know, sentimental tie to the number 120, but our population has grown 14-fold and we should have over 200 members of Knesset. Now, what does this mean? It means, there’s simply not enough members of the Knesset. A minister and a deputy minister cannot vote, not in committee. They can’t be members of committee. But you have the same number of committees with smaller numbers of members of Knesset and members of the Knesset. And you’ve had, the number of ministers have grown. They’ve grown from 18 now to 28. And all these ministers have deputies. So do the math. So one of the first jobs of a member of Knesset, certainly if you’re not a deputy minister, and there was a short period when I wasn’t the deputy minister, is to come into the Knesset early in the morning and you are greeted by two runners who run you from committee to committee to committee. As you run into the committee, they’ll tell you that you’re gonna vote, yes or no. You have no idea what you’re going to vote about. You have no idea what committee you’re in. Soon as you vote, they drag you and run you to the next committee. OK, I used to do-

 

Aliza Landes [00:13:16] 

Wait wait wait, no, no, no, no.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:13:17] 

Who’s deciding?

 

Aliza Landes [00:13:18] 

Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, hold on. Because I feel steam collecting inside of my headphones right now. How is that legal for people to go in and vote for something that they don’t know anything about? I’m serious. How is that possible?

 

Michael Oren [00:13:33] 

I’m not done yet. You think steam is coming out of your ears? Just wait till the flames come out. The voting in the Knesset. Now the Knesset passes more pieces of legislation than just about any other parliamentary group in the world. It passes about 4000 pieces of legislation per year. We also have one of the lowest levels of enforcement in the world. About thirty-five percent of our laws are actually enforced. And that’s a huge problem in this country. I would say it is potentially an existential, it’s an existential problem in this country. No, the good news is that we reach across aisles and we pass legislation. You asked me about reach across the aisle, in order to pass that number of legislation, you’ve got to reach across the aisle, not just one. You have to reach across multiple aisles. And the voting is not determined by you, it’s determined by the coalition agreement, which started back with Shimon Peres in the 80s, it was about a page or two. Now it’s the size of what used to be called the New York phone book. And it tells every member of the coalition, every party, every faction how their members are going to vote. And you have two layers of discipline. You have coalition discipline and you have party discipline. Once a week, the party gathers in a room and the head of the party tells you exactly how you’re going to vote on every piece of legislation. Now, he could give you freedom to vote, but as the head of my party once told me, nope, there’s no such thing as a secret ballot. Everybody knows how you vote. And if you vote against your coalition, vote against your party, there’s a price to be paid. If you do it publicly, you can be suspended. I voted against my party, my coalition on an issue of gay marriage, and I was suspended from my Knesset chairmanship for two weeks.

 

Aliza Landes [00:15:05] 

What happens when you get suspended? Because there was just a situation in which the family reunification didn’t pass because one of the members of the Yamina party didn’t vote in alignment with the directive of his party head, who’s also the prime minister?

 

Michael Oren [00:15:22] 

Yes. And he would pay a price for it. If he was a chairman of a committee, he could be suspended from that committee.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:15:27] 

But what does suspended mean?

 

Michael Oren [00:15:30] 

It means you cannot sit at the head of that committee for that period that you’re in, you know, purdah.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:15:34] 

While you’re in your purdah, Michael, if someone’s telling you, you know, running you from committee to committee anyway and telling you what to vote and telling you what your position is, does it really matter if you’re a head of a committee?

 

Michael Oren [00:15:44] 

It does. It does. Because for a member of the Knesset who’s not a minister or deputy minister, being a head of a committee is power. And you also get additional staff. There’s all things you get as committee heads and there are benefits being committee heads. And some Knesset members would prefer to be the heads of a certain committee than rather being a low level minister, like to be the head of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is better than being a low level minister. But I want to talk about voting, guys. So what does this mean that the fact that your party and your coalition tells you how you’re going to vote? Outside of my building here, we have a homeless guy. I don’t know what his name is. He’s just out there all the time. You could take that man off his bench and put him into the Knesset. And he only has to know two things. He has to know what red means, it means neged, and green means by ba’ad, because the coalition chairman, before each vote, will yell out, “Coaalitzia ba’ad, Coaalitzia neged.” And if you’re voting on several hundred bills in a single night, it’s all night. Ba’ad, neged, ba’ad, neged, ba’ad, neged. In many cases, in most cases you don’t know what you’re voting for. And so, you know, that begs the question, you know, is the Knesset really a coequal branch of government? The answer is emphatically no. Is it a rubber stamp from the government? Mostly, yes. And do you need any particular talent or any particular background to vote yes or no for six or seven or ten hours straight? You don’t. What you need is a certain amount of ability to stay awake.

 

Aliza Landes [00:17:11] 

I’m so depressed right now.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:17:13] 

It’s an emotional roller coaster.

 

Michael Oren [00:17:15] 

OK, I’m going to take you out of your depression. So hold on, strap on your seatbelts.

 

Aliza Landes [00:17:19] 

Ooo, okay. All right. Great. Quick, quick, quick, quick word from our sponsors.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:17:29] 

And we’re back, Michael. So what are we actually electing when we elect the Knesset?

 

Michael Oren [00:17:34] 

OK, so let’s get, who are we actually electing? Let’s talk about the good. Why is it OK apart from the homeless guy who’s going to be voting yes or no all night, why should anybody be in Knesset? Why shouldn’t we be proud to be in Knesset? And here’s the reason. First of all, the committee worked themselves. And the committees have hearings and the hearings are multipartisan and the hearings are fascinating and the hearings are substantive. I participated in hearings that would never have ever entered the Great Hall of the Congress of the United States. I participated on, in hearings on homophobia in the health care system, on the need to educate Israeli teenagers about transsexuality, desensitize them to the challenge of transsexuality. Hearings about Diaspora’s relations. I established the first caucus for lone soldiers in the Knesset, and I held a series of hearings on lone soldiers and different organizations to do a mapping, just even what was out there. I did a series of hearings on Israel humanitarian aid around the world, invited the heads of all the different humanitarian organizations to come in and talk. This is fabulous work. This is essential work. Israel has the deepest and most multifaceted civil society of any country in the world. We have more NGOs per capita than any country in the world. And they come into the Knesset. And they participate in these committee meetings. They participate in the hearings. And that interaction between the elected officials and voluntary Israel is highly dynamic, highly dynamic. It’s a thrill to watch. It’s also very loud. But the most important work of a Knesset member is what goes on between the committee meetings, the voting, and what goes on is your interaction with your constituents. Now I say your constituents, we don’t, we are not geographically, for the most part, you know, divided. But every Knesset member selects her or his constituency. So mine was lone soldiers. Mine was Olim Chadashim. I dealt with Druze, I dealt with Bedouin, I dealt with women’s rights. I dealt with foreign affairs. These were my issues. Everyone takes different issues. And outside your door is a long line of people waiting to get in, who have problems, who have interests, who have causes. You don’t breathe. You don’t breathe. You know, one of the unfortunate imports we receive from the United States of America is is the filibuster. And I say filibuster in Hebrew, to impress your friends at a cocktail party. How do you say filibuster in Hebrew? Anybody know?

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:20:07] 

(In Israeli accent) Filibuster?

 

Michael Oren [00:20:09] 

Filibuster, a filibuster. So filibustering in Israel is happens when, especially when there’s a very close coalition like we have now. Fifty-nine to sixty-one. And any bill, every member the opposition can speak for five minutes. So it’s five times fifty-nine. And that goes on all night. But at any moment the opposition can call a snap vote and they can drop from fifty-nine people speaking to two people speaking, which means that the coalition members cannot leave the building. A whip will come in and literally drag you out of the bathroom to vote. Poor Yehuda Glick, they tried to literally drag him out of his wife’s funeral to vote. It wasn’t funny. It really wasn’t funny. I mean, you could you could be dying in the hospital, they’re going to drag you out with your IVs trailing to vote.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:20:52] 

Which sounds weird. They should almost let you proxy vote if they’re going to tell you what to vote anyway.

 

Michael Oren [00:20:56] 

But they won’t. But that’s one of the opposition. That’s one of the hammers they use to club you over the head. They will not let you pair off what’s called a Kizutz and you can’t travel.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:21:07] 

Which is to say, I wanted to vote for and you wanted to vote against. So we both would step out. Yeah.

 

Michael Oren [00:21:12] 

They do it in the Congress of the United States too. But here they’re not doing it because it’s become a tool of the filibuster. And the filibuster is designed to embarrass the government. It’s also designed to exhaust the government. So it’s a pure war of attrition. So usually between, you know, nine o’clock at night and five o’clock in the morning, what are you doing in Knesset? You’re receiving constituents. You aren’t, you aren’t napping very much. And everyone is intensely sleep-deprived, intensely sleep-deprived. And that’s what a Knesset member does. And when you’re not in Knesset, you’re traveling, you’re going around the country, you’re meeting with people.

 

Aliza Landes [00:21:46] 

So, Michael, maybe the one word that actually describes Israeli political culture is exhausted? Because that’s what it sounds like you are.

 

Michael Oren [00:21:56] 

I’ll never forget coming into my job as ambassador. I’ve never told this story. I came in to my job as ambassador and I was sitting with a high-ranking member of the foreign ministry and they were talking about the big differences between our position and the Obama administration’s position. And the, what the senior diplomat turned to me, he says, don’t worry, let them not sleep for six months and they’ll change their positions, you know. And I’ll never forget him saying that because everyone’s exhausted. And that’s why usually in the United States, people remain in administration for two years. That’s usually the longevity. It’s the longevity of many positions in Israeli government, particularly the national security adviser, just because physically you can’t do it. The big exception to that was, sorry to say this Aliza, is Benjamin Netanyahu, who apparently does not need sleep.

 

Aliza Landes [00:22:41] 

There you go.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:22:43] 

So let’s talk about turnover. You mentioned the standard tenure of a position. My understanding is that the Knesset most years, I think this year was the majority, was new Knesset members. You’re describing a highly complex system that is exhausting. It has its own rules, which we’ve just started to scratch the surface of. When you came in on day one, did you feel ready to go or was there some sort of learning period that you needed to absorb, like are new Knesset members? Effective.

 

Michael Oren [00:23:13] 

No, it’s very rare, especially if you’re coming from the army and used to giving people orders, they give you a crash course of three days. It’s called Kitah Aleph, 1st grade, they’ll actually say welcome to first grade. And they’ll sit there for a couple of days. You sit with members of all these different parties and it’s good to get to know them, too. But you come out of those three days and you’re you know, you land running. People come out with their legislation ready to go. But I got to tell you, honestly, I was in Knesset for over four years and at the end of four years, I began to realize how much I don’t understand about politics. Now, that’s bad because in the past, in an election, about a quarter of the Knesset would change. Now, as you said, it could be, it could be, it could be one-third to over a half the Knesset will change. And I mean, you have a coalition secretary who’s never been in Knesset before. That’s a senior position. You’ve got to know a lot about politics. And they also say that there’s a general rule of thumb that Knesset members who become ministers right off the bat and are not in Knesset first almost always fail because you have to learn Knesset from the bottom up, not from the top down. It’s very important to be a foot soldier like you are in the army before you become an officer and certainly before you come the chief of staff. So politics is a profession, it’s a skill. And you don’t learn it overnight. You don’t. And some of these people have been in Knesset for 20 years. They’ll eat you alive. They will.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:24:31] 

So what was that like for you? You walked in your first day, you just finished your three day Kitah Aleph. What was your first committee meeting like?

 

Michael Oren [00:24:39] 

My first committee meeting was the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. And listen, I know my stuff in that way, but I was not a yeller. I’m not a yeller and I’m not a screamer. And people would often look at me saying, what is this guy doing in Knesset because he’s not a yeller and a screamer. And yelling and screaming has a number of functions. First of all, that’s pretty much what the opposition can do, is yell and scream. But in more recent years, the Knesset has been outfitted with cameras that broadcast around the clock on the Knesset channel. And you figured, out how many people are watching the channel at three o’clock in the morning, guess what? Could be 20,000 people. I’d get up and scream in front of a group of twenty people. All right. To get out and scream in front of 20,000 people is a great thing. And so no opposition leader, no opposition member is going to miss the opportunity to get up there at three o’clock in the morning and scream, if they can help it. And there is a direct correlation between the decibels of screaming and the red light on the side of the camera that shows you when they’re actually broadcasting. So you can be in a committee meeting that’s actually getting serious work done. OK, and you’re discussing, I don’t know, some budgetary aspect or I was also in the legal affairs committees who were discussing various pieces of of legal legislation about the post office, about banks, and all of a sudden a camera with a little red light will go on and everybody starts screaming because you want your audience to see that you’re standing up for your opposition. So I understand the cameras make things more democratic, but do they really? Do they really?

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:26:12] 

Was it like this before the cameras? Because I think the Knesset has always had this reputation is like, I mean, the Israelis have this reputation. When Israelis get together, how do they speak? They yell over each other. Is this a change in the actual way the Knesset works? Or are you saying that it has become extremely performative in terms of like an increase in this behavior?

 

Michael Oren [00:26:32] 

It has increased. It has increased in direct, I think, correlation to to the media and the coverage of it. It was always like this. We had the British system and, you know, we, not the old American system. And I stress the old American system. I’ll never forget walking into President Obama’s first State of the Union address. And I was walking,, I was and you walk in with the diplomatic corps in this procession. And I was sitting there with the marching with the ambassador from from some Caribbean country. And I was saying, oh, look at, look at the civility of American political culture. So nice. Everyone’s, you know, my distinguished colleague from across the aisle, my distinguished senator. And Obama started speaking and one of the congressmen from Republican South yelled out, You lie, you lie. The whole place went crazy. And then I turned to my friend from the Caribbean. I said, well, there goes American civil culture. Right? And now I said, this sounds like Israel. And she says, well, this sounds like my parliament. You know, the civility in American politics has also disappeared. But in Israel, it has gained, I think, new volume. I think that is a direct connection to the media and the media coverage. We’ve always had a situation where if the benches weren’t screwed down in the Knesset then somebody would throw a bench.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:27:46] 

Yeah. So so you mentioned the yelling, right? Like, that’s how the communication style, like, progresses. How do things actually get done in Knesset? Like if I had a pet project, I wanted to pass a bill on X, like how do I actually make that happen?

 

Michael Oren [00:28:00] 

So let me just say this about yelling and then how do you make things happen? One of the facets of Israeli political culture that I had a difficult time wrapping my head around was that you could be in these screaming matches in the plenary of the Knesset or in a committee meeting and right behind the Plenum is a coffee shop, and after the session you adjourn to the coffee shop and the same guy was screaming at you would come over and shake your hand, give you a hug, go have a cup of coffee. So in a certain way, you’re kind of deceiving the public. On the other hand, this is how you get things done. And my closest colleagues in the Knesset were from the opposition. I had great respect for members of the opposition. We did a lot of cooperation on a lot of issues. And you can actually have a bipartisan piece of legislation that are multi-partisan piece of legislation where all sides agree. And it could be on an issue like, you know, cleaning up the environment. That’s something that’s not particularly controversial. You meet in the different offices and your legislative assistants draft the legislation. And then you propose the legislation to the Knesset committee, which can move it through the whole, the stages of actually making a bill and it’ll come up for a vote. And this can be done. It’s a very enjoyable process.

 

Aliza Landes [00:29:12] 

Even though it only has a thirty-five percent chance of being enforced.

 

Michael Oren [00:29:16]

But that’s not the problem in the Knesset. That’s the problem, that’s the problem that the Jews don’t understand what sovereignty is. And the State of Israel does not apply its sovereignty over large swaths of territory and large populations.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:29:28] 

I don’t think you could just let that hang there. Could you explain what you mean by that?

 

Aliza Landes [00:29:31] 

I need you need to unpack that. Yeah. Can you give examples?

 

Michael Oren [00:29:36] 

We have all these laws against polygamy. There is no polygamy in the state of Israel. And yet 30 percent of Bedouin men have four wives. And those are situations where it’s not like Bedouin man falls in love with third wife. Bedouin man acquires third wife and fourth wife. And whether it’s from Judea and Samaria or Gaza or even further afield. So these women, it’s basically chattel slavery that occurs in the state of Israel. And these wives come and they have large numbers of children and under our child support laws every child brings in money. So you can have a Bedouin man having 50 kids who is making probably about a half million shekels a month, doesn’t have to work. And he will sit on top of a hillside and say, OK, this is my village, where’s my water, where’s my electricity? And before you know it the Negev disappears. And we don’t apply our laws about illegal settlement there. So we don’t apply the laws about polygamy. And now we have a strategic issue in the Negev. And there have been attempts to address it by Natan Sharansky, by Doron Almog. Nobody will touch it because, you know, Bedouin vote, and no one will take on this issue. It’s really not going to take it on now when you have the Raam party within the coalition. But the same problem, it tends to the Chareidim, to the ultra-Orthodox. We don’t apply our sovereignty. We don’t apply our standards of education. Look what happened on Mount Meron. We don’t even apply our safety standards. You know, I want to have a gathering, you know, in my neighborhood. Believe me, the police are going to be there and make sure that there’s a certain number of people. Can’t be, more than a number of people. They are going to make sure there’s adequate exits. Not with the Chareidim.

 

Aliza Landes [00:31:08] 

Yeah, but Michael, to pull this back to the Knesset. Isn’t a lot of enforcement a question of political will? And like the reason that sovereignty wasn’t being applied or rules weren’t being applied to ultra-Orthodox is because Bibi Netanyahu was dependent on the ultra-Orthodox parties for his coalition.

 

Michael Oren [00:31:27] 

But that’s not the Knesset. That’s politics and it’s the police. The police will say to the government, you want me to go and remove this illegal Bedouin settlement? I need a brigade of policemen to do that. I can’t do it without a brigade. You want me to go and make sure that the Chareidim who are drafted to go into the army? I need a battalion to go in there. And the police aren’t going to go into these places. So there are many reasons for it. There is a general hemorrhaging also of responsibility from the Knesset to the Supreme Court, issues that the Knesset doesn’t want to handle. You know, two hot potatoes they give to the Supreme Court. Then they come to the Supreme Court and they want to override the Supreme Court.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:32:03] 

Right, like we just saw with surrogacy.

 

Michael Oren [00:32:04] 

Yeah. And they’re going to try to override the Supreme Court. It’s a very, I would say, a Jannis face relationship between the Knesset and the Supreme Court. And I feel very strongly about it. I think that judicial review is one of the pillars of democracy, and judicial review is under duress here. And, you know, the Supreme Court is not without guilt. Believe me, it’s not without guilt. The way judges are chosen in this country is completely insane. There are only two other countries in the world that have a system like that, it’s India and Thailand. We’re up there.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:32:35] 

Right, with that system being…

 

Michael Oren [00:32:39] 

Being that judges choose their successors, that the majority vote in choosing successors come from jurists themselves. Let me rephrase this. If you are, I don’t if you still have your American citizenship, if the American voter has two chances to influence the composition of the Supreme Court, you vote for president, you vote for Senate, which is why the composition of the Supreme Court is a major issue in American politics. I know. I know my family, my family, that’s their chief issue. You know, what’s going to be the composition the Supreme Court? It’s never an electoral issue here. Have you ever heard it even discussed here in Israeli politics? Never. Why? Because we have no say. And so the Supreme Court, in terms of its, you know, its weltanschauung, its outlook.

 

Aliza Landes [00:33:18] 

But the issue of the role of the Supreme Court and judicial makeup has become more of an issue over the past several years, especially after Ayelet Shaked was the minister of justice and she made it her mission to change the the political leanings of as many judges and appointments as possible. And this has also been something that Netanyahu championed because he has basically tried to undermine the legitimacy of the court in order to throw questions on his own indictments.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:33:53] 

Which I think brings us to the question of how power actually flows in the Knesset. Right?

 

Michael Oren [00:33:59] 

Let’s finish the Supreme Court, because the Supreme Court, again, Ayelet Shaked did, I think, a very good job in impacting the composition of the court and making it more reflective of public opinion. But that’s her personal intervention. It’s not institutionalized. And it could change tomorrow. And the fact of the matter is, because the jurists choose their successor, they’re going to choose successors that pretty much see things the way they do. So in terms of its outlooks, the Supreme Court stays more or less in the same place, sort of the late 80s, early 90s, whereas Israeli public opinion has moved and it has moved markedly to the right, particularly among Israeli youth. And so the Knesset, which is, which does reflect public opinion, and the Supreme Court, have moved further and further apart. And you can actually look at the past. 20, 30 years ago, there was maybe one or two disagreements between the Supreme Court and the Knesset every couple of years. Now it’s all the time. And that’s one of the reasons is this, that they have stretched this rope further than they can be stretched. It’s going to snap. And so you have a growing body of public opinion and the Knesset that says who elected you? Nobody elected you. We’re the sovereign body here, not you. And they’re going to pass a law that says, the override law.

 

Aliza Landes [00:35:09] 

But don’t we also have a problem with the laws that Knesset may be passing? Because ultimately you need a majority to pass new legislation and legislation can be drafted and it can be in conflict with existing laws. And it hasn’t been properly vetted because it’s more about political posturing than it is necessarily about passing legislation. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

 

Michael Oren [00:35:33] 

Yeah, that is not as common as more substantive things. Like I just want to say one of the problems we have here, we have a Supreme Court which is highly activist. They subscribe to Aharon Barak, who was the president of the Supreme Court for many, many years. The notion that everything is judicable. everything. So you have the Supreme Court ruling against the Knesset on an issue of whether the state of Israel should return the bodies of Hamas terrorists at a time when Hamas won’t return the bodies of our soldiers who were killed in 2014. And the Knesset was adamant in passing this piece of legislation and the Supreme Court turned it down. Supreme Court has moved in its day, you know, the defensive wall, dividing Israel from Judea and Samaria, everything is judicable. Now, that is not the case in the United States at all. The Supreme Court knows its limits. Here the Supreme Court has not known its limits. So, and they have barged into all sorts of areas of Israeli life where I think it’s inappropriate. So that only fuels the resentment among the elected body, among the Knesset. And the only way I think that this is going to be resolved is by, first of all, reforming the way judges are elected, making it closer to the American system. Not exactly the American system. I don’t think it’s appropriate here, or the European system. By the way, in countries like Germany, the legislature chooses all the judges, choose all the judges. And we have to limit the scope, the juridical scope of the Supreme Court. Now, we can go on to other issues, but that’s what I feel about the Supreme Court. And I feel very, very strongly. Just parenthetically interesting, I read an article the other day from the Harvard Law Review that shows that, in contrast, Israel with the attack on the Supreme Court and judicial review is being led by the right, in the United States, it’s being led by the progressive left. Interesting.

 

Aliza Landes [00:37:14] 

Well, yeah, that’s because the court in the United States is mostly right now.

 

Michael Oren [00:37:19] 

But they go way back. They go back to like Dred Scott. They say that when it came to the rights of slaves and it came to the rights of women, the Supreme Court has never been reflective, never been on the side of citizens rights. That’s their claim. It’s not just recently.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:37:32] 

That’s interesting. It’s actually a very interesting article. And it’s becoming ever more so. I think there’s a trend in the U.S. Supreme Court where judges are voting increasingly with the party line of the president who elected them, which is problematic. But if we go back to Israel, as we’re talking about how justices are elected, we’re talking about coalition agreements, we’re talking about the press red versus press green. We’re talking about how the fact that you don’t have enough time to do the work for all the committees you sit on so somebody tells you how you’re expected to vote. There’s something that’s not connecting for me. You know, on one hand, you’re saying that Knesset members are getting loud because they see the media and they want to promote themselves and their political agenda. On the other hand, you’re telling me they’re constantly being told how they’re supposed to vote or think. What actual impact can an individual member of Knesset have? How governed are you by this coalition agreement versus how much impact you are personally able to have?

 

Michael Oren [00:38:26] 

Not much. And Israel has become increasingly a political system that’s run by the heads of parties. The average citizen doesn’t know the name of many members of Knesset, so they know the heads of parties. I mean, how many members of even Benny Gantz’s party can you name? How many members of Yesh Atid can you name? And you can impact on the level of some committees through hearings, you can impact through the level of legislation if you originate and initiate legislation. But at the end of day, it’s what goes on in the coalition. And what’s happened under the Norwegian law. We originally had the small Norwegian law, we’re expanding the Norwegian law. That simply enables in the past, you know, members, ministers say even a minister of defense or a minister of finance. And these are jobs that are, you know, again, the 24/7 jobs, also had to be in the Knesset and vote. And what it does is enables these ministers to resign their Knesset posts and to just focus on their ministries, which is a good idea. But the problem is then people further down on their list go into the Knesset, but they were not voted by the people. So there’s a Democratic problem there. And we have a number of Democratic problems. We have a prime minister today who has seven seats, OK, as opposed to someone who’s the head of the opposition who had 30 seats. Now, democratically, that doesn’t quite work out that math, does it? It’s less than Democratic. So, you know, we’re cutting edges at a lot of different places.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:39:49] 

Please tell me if I misunderstood you. But, you know, looking from the perspective of having grown up in the States, in the States, when I’m voting for a member of the House, I’m voting for someone who I’m somewhat trusting to represent me and my interest and the district personally. And that’s what House members do. They advocate for their constituents because that’s who they’re accountable to. It sounds like in Israel, you’re not accountable to the electorate, you’re accountable to the party head. And there’s this weird double incentive, right? As a member of the Knesset, I’m not accountable to the electorate. I’m accountable to my party head via this coalition agreement. And as a citizen voting, I’m not actually voting for you, Michael, for Knesset. I’m voting for the head of your party as a potential prime minister or a potential minister. Right. And what I’m doing when voting for him is how much “power” am I giving him by giving seats? So it’s super weird. We’re actually only electing eight to fifteen people every time who are the party heads and then giving them power. We’re not actually electing one hundred and twenty members of the Knesset.

 

Michael Oren [00:40:52] 

To a certain degree. That is absolutely true. And which is why I’m in favor of,.

 

Aliza Landes [00:40:56] 

Damn, Carrie. Damn.

 

Michael Oren [00:40:58] 

Damn. You talk about getting someone depressed. You make me depressed, Carrie. I’m in favor of. I’m in favor of adopting the American model of a bicameral house, more like a British model where, you know, half the members of Knesset would have national constituency and the other half would have local constituency. I’d be the right honorable representative from Jaffa. And if there was a problem with the sewers in my neighborhood, my neighbors would come to me. And I think that’d be very good. In addition to increasing the number of members of Knesset, I think, and reducing the number of ministers, I think we should have a bicameral house for that reason. But what you said is basically true. That has become true. It wasn’t always the reality, it has become that reality now, and it helps to have very good people in their list. I think the people in the government today, they’re very fine people on those lists and they’re very capable. And I think a list would influence my decision who to vote for, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be the head of the party I care about. Because that head of the party is the person who’s going to make the coalition agreement. And the coalition agreement is going to shape what happens in this country, whether it be in domestic or foreign affairs. That’s just the reality of it. And, you know, something is it so far from America? When people vote for a Republican president or a Democratic president, are they really voting for everybody in the Republican Party? Everybody in the Democratic Party? I think not. And look what happened to my buddy Liz Cheney just recently. Tremendous person, a tremendous politician has been now ostracized by her own party because she went up against, you know, Donald Trump. So it’s not just happening in the state of Israel. These are international phenomena. Democracy, as we’ve known it, is being challenged, is being challenged in multiple, multiple ways, whether it be on the juridical level that we’ve mentioned, on the depth of political discourse with the absence of political discourse, which is a function I think by and large, of media, being challenged. And politicians like Netanyahu attacking institutions, we can afford it, but we can’t afford it. It’s an interesting contrast. I think the United States does not have the strongest society in the world, just deep, deep divisions in that society. But it has very strong institutions. Israel has one of the strongest societies in the world. May have the strongest society in the world. But we have very weak institutions. And when you start cutting down Israeli institutions like the police and the judiciary, you’re attacking a very weak institution. I’m impressed that these institutions have held up as well as they have under barrages of fire, but the fact remains, Israeli democracy, unlike democracy in the United States and Great Britain, certainly Canada, New Zealand, Australia, didn’t grow out of 800 years of Democratic thought. We didn’t begin with the Magna Carta. Most of our forebears came either from the Middle East, North Africa or from Eastern Europe. None of us came with a big, you know, somebody came from America already. Hardly anybody came with a big democratic tradition. And traditionally Israeli democracy was very functional. Was the only way that sort of a politically fractured society could get anything done. It’s still very much like that. It’s the only way we can get things done. I just think democracy in this country is a strategic national interest here. It’s not a luxury. It is what is holding this place together. The fact that actually we can sit in there and scream at each other rather than shoot at one another is no small thing. It creates space. It does.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:44:06] 

Now, Michael, having been a member of the Knesset, does that make you feel more or less Israeli?

 

Michael Oren [00:44:13] 

Oh, more Israeli? It’s interesting, you know, not to self aggrandize, but I walk down the streets and people recognize when they come over and talk to you. They don’t remember what party I was in. They do not remember what party I was in.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:44:23] 

I have personally seen this happen to you.

 

Michael Oren [00:44:25] 

Yes. Yeah. They come up to me.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:44:28] 

They’re like, hey, it’s you!

 

Michael Oren [00:44:30] 

For me, for someone who came here with a backpack right, here with nothing, that’s a tremendous sense of fulfillment. And I enjoy it. And, you know, you’ve seen me Carrie, we can always take time off. And I will talk to everybody. Had a great conversation with my cab driver today.

 

Aliza Landes [00:44:42] 

But Michael, as you pointed out earlier, you’re not a yeller. Israelis are screamers. That is their default. I remember once, it must have been like over a decade ago. Recently after I moved to Israel and I was watching Channel Two and there were elections and there were debates between different contenders for the throne. And I believe it was Bougie was being interviewed just one on one and he didn’t even have anybody to yell over. So he started yelling over himself. Like it is a compulsive national pastime to yell as an Israeli politician. It is like, it is a feature. However, you come from an American tradition, despite the fact you were in the army. You’ve lived here for many years. You have represented the country abroad, all of these things. But at the end of the day, I mean, you grew up with an American sensibility.

 

Michael Oren [00:45:36] 

I did. And I never lost that sensibility in Knesset. Where I lost it, I must tell you, was on Israeli television, because if you’re on a panel discussion, you’ve got to interrupt the other guy. Fifteen times you actually judged by how many times you interrupt him. And if you don’t interrupt him, your spokespeople will grab you afterward and say, why did you fail, you wuss, you puff, you can’t do this. So you have to learn about picking, you have to learn elbows. And then the problem is once you start, you can’t stop. And you start interrupting your kids and interrupting your parents all the time. And it gets very obnoxious. It is part of Israeli culture. Another part of Israeli culture which is directly related to this. You know, if you ever look at the campaign posters, if you go into an embassy and see the picture of the prime minister and the president, you know, always there, what do you notice about all of these portraits?

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:46:21] 

No one smiles.

 

Michael Oren [00:46:22] 

Nobody smiles.

 

Aliza Landes [00:46:24] 

Good call, Carrie.

 

Michael Oren [00:46:24] 

You’ll never see what you see right now, teeth. OK, no teeth. No one has any teeth. And usually their eyes are crunched and, you know, growly. It was very funny. During the election in 2015, they made Bougie Herzog, they gave him bristles on his chin as if he hadn’t shaved for a couple of days. And then the last election with Benny Gantz, they made him look angry and mean, this killer look. There’s no smiling in this political culture. There is never talking about physical handicaps. Ever, ever. You know, I used to listen to Barack Obama talk about what it was to grow up with big ears or a name like Barack Obama. No Israeli will ever talk about that. For that matter, no Israeli will ever talk about his relationship with God or faith. Whereas in America you have to talk about your relationship with God, even if you don’t believe in God. How many times did Donald Trump talk about his connection with God and faith? He has to do it and Barack Obama would define himself as a born-again Christian. So very different political culture. And I think that political culture, that aspect of it, the growling, the narrowed eyes, the lack of smiles is directly related to the yelling. We are a country in conflict. We’re born in conflict. We’ve actually never got a full moment of peace since our creation and smiling, being nice, being polite is a luxury that many Israelis, I think, viscerally, subconsciously can’t afford.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:47:44] 

Michael, if you had to tell yourself one lesson on day one, one piece of advice, what would you have told yourself?

 

Michael Oren [00:47:52] 

Well, I know what it was when I was ambassador. It was, learn to play golf. How did I not learn to play golf? Everything’s done on the golf course in the United States. And I can’t play golf. You know, I row, you know, which is great, you know, go do diplomacy when you row. So that was the easy one. In Knesset. I would have thought again about being a deputy minister because I had a fascinating job as the deputy minister. I was deputy minister in the prime minister’s office in charge of diplomacy at a time when Netanyahu was the foreign minister. So he dealt with Putin and he dealt with Obama. With Obama and he dealt with Trump. But I dealt with the heads of about one hundred and ninety other countries. And there was rarely a week that went by that I wasn’t hosting a prime minister, a foreign minister, and I did wonderful delegations abroad. Fascinating. But it came at a great political price. And the political price was I could not initiate a legislation, so I did not have a legacy I left. I contributed what I contributed to the State of Israel in the field of which I’m strongest. Politically, it didn’t serve me. I didn’t have any legislation to show for it. And I was also a member of a party which put all of its eggs in one basket, into housing prices. You talk about, you know, voting for a head of a party, here’s a head of a party who says I’m coming into Knesset to lower our housing prices. Four years later, housing prices went up and he lost. And we all lost. I could have done the best job in the world. Other people in my party did fabulous jobs, but it didn’t matter because the one thing our party had promised we didn’t deliver on. So I think it’s very important to focus more on legislation and have that type of record and to make some meaningful changes. I think that you can do as a member of Knesset, a member of my party who put security cameras in preschools because there’s many reports of preschool children being abused. That was a hands-on piece of legislation and contributed to her success in politics.

 

Aliza Landes [00:49:31] 

So it’s sort of like you constantly need to understand that the shiny ministerial post might not actually be the best thing in terms of a long-term prospect.

 

Michael Oren [00:49:44] 

OK, so what I learned is this. If you’re in Knesset, don’t forget one thing: you’re a politician. And you’re not a politician last, you’re a politician first. And a politician’s job is to get reelected. Not at every price, not at any price. But I was there and I think I did a very important job in diplomacy. I think I did an important job with my constituents. But at the end of the day, I had no laws to show for it because of the positions I held. And that did not further my political career. Don’t forget you’re a politician. And by the way, there’s nothing wrong with that. You know, politicians have sort of a negative connotation, but we need them. We need them to run our countries, and especially in a democratic country. And Israel, for all the flaws of its democracy, is, I think, a flagrantly democratic country. Because I can look at the flaws in the American system. Oh, my God, they’re legion. Legion. Our elections are much cleaner than American elections, much cleaner. So, yes, it’s flawed, but it’s better than any other system. And being a part of that system I think is a great privilege.

 

Aliza Landes [00:50:45] 

Michael, thank you so much for your fascinating inside look at what it is to be a member of Knesset.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:50:52] 

Thank you, Michael.

 

Michael Oren [00:50:53] 

Thank you, guys.

 

Aliza Landes [00:51:01] 

So there’s a lot to unpack there, but I think that what stands out the most for me and also what I find appalling is that of the 120 Knesset members that you have, basically the vast majority of them are just voting in accordance with the instructions from their heads of parties, which functionally means that it’s really only 15 heads of parties that are making the decisions. And of those really only eight in this current government that have real say in terms of what’s going to be happening to the rest of the nine million people living in Israel.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:51:40] 

And everyone else is basically an automaton.

 

Aliza Landes [00:51:42] 

Yeah, I mean, this is exactly what Michael pointed out. You could get the homeless man that sleeps on a bench outside of his apartment, plant him in the Knesset, and he would be doing roughly the same job that you have elected officials doing because there isn’t skill needed here. You’re just following instructions.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:52:01] 

It’s so interesting because it’s one of those things that made me realize how different the Israeli system is from the American. It’s obvious how it’s different in terms of form, but also here in terms of content, like the whole process of eight people really matter to represent the nine million, everyone else is an automaton. But there were also two other things that he said that really stuck out in terms of contrast between the way that politics work here and politics in the States. The first is that whole team of rivals, you know, it was great that Lincoln could choose people, you know, with different opinions in his cabinet. But ultimately, the American president has the ability to appoint people who will execute based on the party line. And they might have different opinions. But executive has the power to staff the cabinet that way.

 

Aliza Landes [00:52:48] 

And they’re supportive of the president.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:52:51] 

And they’re supportive of the president’s policy. In Israel it’s the complete opposite. The people who staff all of the key ministries are your political rivals. They’re actively campaigning for your seat. They are the eight important people that you mentioned or they’re closely-ranked, trusted automatons who take a different kind of ministry position because you don’t have enough when Israel has 30 ministries. You have that. So you have the people who are actually carrying out the functions, the core functions of government are not from your party by definition in many cases. And then the second piece is that when you actually look at Knesset itself, no one actually represents us, Aliza. If I were in New York State, I would have my representative from my district. In Israel, no one represents me! We both vote on the national level and we vote for people who are ultimately accountable to the party head. So when I’m voting, I’m voting for a party head and?

 

Aliza Landes [00:53:46] 

Yeah. And how much power you want to give them.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:53:49] 

Exactly. A party head an allocation of power I want to give him and his robot army. And that is fundamentally different than the way that things work in the US. And it’s a very interesting, complicated and consequential feature of the Israeli system.

 

Aliza Landes [00:54:02] 

Yeah, because the Knesset is the legislative branch, but it is also where the executive branch is derived from and the playing field is small. It’s 120 and it hasn’t gotten any bigger since Israel’s inception.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:54:17] 

No, which brings us to our number of the week.

 

Aliza Landes [00:54:21] 

Which is that number 120, the number of the seats in the Knesset.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:54:26] 

It’s the number of seats in the Knesset. It’s the numbers of members of the Sanhedrin thousands of years ago, and it is the number of people who are entrusted to represent nine million citizens of Israel. It’s also the number that, dear listener, we want to leave you with to think about whether or not this is appropriate going forward.

 

Aliza Landes [00:54:45] 

Or expanded and reformed. Not that I’m leading to any foregone conclusions that may be obvious or I don’t even know what you’re talking about.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:54:58] 

So I think we’ll have to wait for a season two for you to hear Aliza grand plan for reformation of Israeli politics. But before then, before we let you go, if you like us, enjoyed this podcast this season, one ask, one ask of you, just htellow one friend, please just tell one friend that you loved Us Among the Israelis. Send them your favorite episode, the best thing that you can do to help us. Send them a link. The thing you can do most to help us keep going to help us keep making episodes is to share this. OK, I’m going to miss you.

 

Aliza Landes [00:55:34] 

Aw Carrie. Now I’m getting a little misty-eyed. This was really fun. Thank you.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:55:41] 

Thank you too. Aliza this is fun, don’t get sad. I’m literaly going to come over and have a glass of wine with you right now.

 

Aliza Landes [00:55:47] 

Awesome. Come on over.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:55:47] 

Alright. From us the, see you next season. This is Us Among the Israelis.

 

Aliza Landes [00:55:58] 

Us Among the Israelis was created and written by us, Carrie Keller-Lynn and Aliza Landes.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:56:04] 

Our awesome producer is Josh Cross, our sound editor is Paul Rueste. This is a production of the Joshua Network.

 

Aliza Landes [00:56:12] 

If you want to keep making these episodes, please give us all of the stars on whatever platform you’re using to listen to your podcasts.

 

Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:56:20] 

From Us, Among the Israelis. This is Carrie Keller-Lynn and Aliza Landes.

 

 

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