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Expert: Referendum a Primary Tool of Democracy

Political expert Prof. Avi Diskin explains the benefits and drawbacks of holding a national referendum.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 11/1/2009, 9:21 PM / Last Update: 11/1/2009, 9:43 PM

Flash 90

Political expert Professor Avi Diskin finds it “absurd” that opponents of a national referendum bill have argued that national referendums are undemocratic. The referendum “is the primary tool of what is known as direct democracy,” he explained in an interview with Arutz-7.

Israel, like many other countries, is a representative democracy, not a direct democracy, Diskin explains. People vote for a parliament and “the parliament can do – within the limits of the law, and the constitution – almost anything it chooses.”

Voters have the opportunity to punish those lawmakers who fail to accurately reflect the people's will at the ballot box – but only once every few years.

Use of the national referendum as a tool to put more power directly into the hands of the people is increasing worldwide, Diskin says. Many European countries have held national referendums, particularly on issues of sovereignty or territory, he points out.

Increasing national unity
While some have argued that referendums hurt minority groups, Diskin says, experience shows that referendums have been particularly successful in countries such as Switzerland, which have many large minority groups. Not only have referendums not increased tension, there is reason to believe they increase national unity, he says.

However, while he believes that the national referendum is a legitimate and important tool of democracy, Diskin warns that the tool is not perfect for every subject in dispute. Due to conflicts between private and public interests, some issues – such as taxation – are best left to elected lawmakers to decide, he believes.

Israel's proposed referendum law would force the government to hold a national referendum before agreeing to territorial compromise in the Golan. Diskin believes the law accurately reflects public desire and the promises of previous Israeli leaders, such as Golda Meir, who committed to ask the public before agreeing to give up any part of the Golan.