Saturday September 5, 2015
Israel Hayom
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Danny Ayalon

Branding for change

The best tool for branding Israel is to present it as it really is.

Diplomats these days are at the forefront of a political struggle to bolster Israel's status and security in the international arena. We are charged with many tasks, including promoting Israel internationally and solidifying the state's position among the family of nations. A major focus of our diplomatic work involves branding: We must brand Israel as a democratic Western society, productive and technologically advanced, one that contributes to the world and helps solve the major challenges facing humankind.

Israeli democracy in general, and its political system in particular, are the best tools with which to showcase our brand. Our law enforcement, separation of powers, thriving media and operational government all attest to this. The Knesset and its democratically-elected members serve as a weekly reminder of what a living, breathing, open and equal democracy we are. I take great pride in our heterogeneous and democratic Knesset, so much so that I often prefer to hold policy meetings in the lively Knesset complex rather than at the Foreign Ministry building.

But while the Knesset is a source of power and strength, it is also a source of weakness. Israel's existing system of government allows for multi-representational pluralism, which comes, sometimes, at the expense of effective governance. In the parliamentary system of a coalition government, ruling governments are cobbled together by members of various political parties. Often, the prime minister of such a coalition has little say over who many of the members of his own government will be, and most appointed ministers stem from opposition parties and are often opposed to several of the policies the prime minister himself is trying to promote.

This system leads to an incredibly high turnover rate: In Israel's 64 years of existence, its citizens have witnessed the establishment of 32 different governments. Most of the governments formed since the state's inception in 1948 have not been able to successfully finish their full terms in office.

After officials finish their campaigns, win their elections and are finally able to enter into office and establish policy guidelines, the government starts to unravel. This takes an average of just two years. The high turnover of ministers severely affects the chances of policy initiatives and programs being implemented in the long-term.

I am a career diplomat. Before I joined the Yisrael Beiteinu party and before I entered my role as an elected official, I served as a professional political consultant for the Foreign Ministry under the mandates of three different prime ministers: Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon. From my perch, I observed that it makes no difference who the ruling prime minister might be; someone else inevitably takes over in just two years. What really matters is not who the prime minister is but who the bureaucrats are. Bureaucracy stands as the most stable and veteran level within the political system.

It is quite a paradox. Our supposedly democratic system of heterogeneity and representation has created the most undemocratic results. Our country is now controlled by bureaucrats, men and women who not a single citizen have elected into office.

From my position within the Prime Minister's Office, I was appointed to be Israel's ambassador to Washington by Ariel Sharon and then-Foreign Minister and later President of Israel Shimon Peres. In the face of political instability, lack of governance, a faulty separation of powers between the legislature (as in Israel almost every minister also serves as a Knesset member), and the state's inability to effectively carry out policy initiatives, I was able to study the presidential governmental system employed in the U.S., one that made that country into the world's greatest superpower.

Over the course of eight years I was able to learn the governance system of the U.S. that turned that country into the world's greatest superpower. Every American president arrives at the White House with a fleet of staff that adheres to his policies, are largely faithful and generally serve to support him for his four years of elected office -- and usually, also the four years that are likely to follow. Only a stable government, one that leads as a single homogenous body, geared toward achieving the same goal, can achieve successes.

Of course all power must be restrained, so that in the U.S. the president's power is balanced by a strong congress that actively and diligently oversees the actions of the executive branch. The critical eye of the media also provides a strong check and balance to the president's power.

A homogenous government, comprised of like-minded ministers speaking with one voice and representing a singular policy framework is required to contribute to clear public diplomacy, the sort of diplomacy that Israel sorely needs now to combat the cohesive narrative and branding effort put forth by the Palestinians.

We have a wonderful country. In Israel's 64 years of existence, we have turned this nation into an enlightened Western state, democratic and prosperous and with a strong economy. With changes to Israel's governmental system, moving beyond the presidential system, Israel has all the tools to become even stronger, more democratic, more prosperous and with an even stronger economy.

The writer is the Deputy Foreign Minister.

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