Tuesday, November 27, 2012

MK Einat Wilf

Last Weds evening MK Einat Wilf spoke at a parlour meeting in the home of Ray Cannon at his invitation.  He asked her to address topics of specific interest to an Anglo audience (not the Gaza situation or the Palestinians) such as electoral reform, education, and the working of the Knesset.  Einat Wilf is an Israeli who speaks perfect English that she honed while living and studying in the US, where she obtained a BA at Harvard, and in Cambridge, England, where she obtained a PhD in political science.  She was a political advisor to Shimon Peres and is now  Chair of the Knesset Committee on Education, Culture and Sports and a member of many other Committees, including Foreign Affairs and Defense (see www.wilf.org/Eng).
She started by referring to her new book that is currently in press in which she addresses the issue of electoral reform.  Most Anglos (Americans, Canadians, Brits, S. Africans, Australians) tend to be very much in favor of electoral reform in Israel because the system here is a pure proportional representation one, with no constitutency representation as there is in England with local MPs or in the US with local Congressmen and Senators.   As a result Anglos tend to feel there is no address for them to turn to to express their concerns and frustrations.  On the contrary, Dr. Wilf is against electoral reform.  She did a study of the electoral systems in many other democratic countries, including Britain, US, France, Holland, etc. and came to the conclusion that all of them have defects, none of which are much better than the others.  For example, Holland has essentially the same system as Israel and it has worked there very well for many years.  There are also Dutch people who talk about reforming their system, but it has never been done.  She pointed out that MKs are very approachable, they respond to queries and many of them specialize in certain areas or topics, so it is quite easy to find one who covers any specific area of interest.  She has also found that Israeli MKs are no more corrupt than those of other countries, for example the expenses scandal in the UK Parliament.  Various attempts to "improve" the Israeli system, such as the election of a PM by the Presidential system, have been tried and have failed.  It is in the nature of democracy that people want to improve the system they have, but it probably is unnecessary.
She also addressed the issue of education in Israel, that she has a strong interest in.  As well as inviting the usual experts to testify before her committee she has invited actual teachers to give their opinions and advice, and she has found this most productive.  There is little doubt that the Israeli education system has fallen behind others and from where it was some years ago.  The reasons for this are various, but one of them is certainly loss of discipline in the classrom.  Teachers are intimidated by parents contacting them at all times in any ways (phone, visit, e-mail) and berating them.  She advises teachers to refuse to speak to parents from home and have specific times when they can be contacted.  She also suggests emphasis on discipline in the classroom as well as the actual teaching, without respect for the teacher and without appropriate discipline there can be no effective learning.  
She also addressed other issues of concern, such as the Parties in the Knesset, how the Knesset runs and the nature of various political personalities.   MK Wilf left the Labor party with Defence Minister Ehud Barak to form a small party called the Independence (Ha'atzmaut) Party.  Currently she is no. 3 on their list and hopes to be re-elected at the upcoming elections. But, now that Barak has announced his retirement, it is unclear what will happen to this Party.  She was intelligent, coherent, articulate and pragmatic, altogether an impressive person, and a fine example of Israeli representatives.


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