Fear and Loathing in Israel

Wed 18 March 2015

By now, you’ve probably heard about the ugly elections we had in Israel. It's the third time in six years that I’ve been called to vote, and every time I’ve contributed long hours to develop open source tools helping voters make intelligent decisions.

Our site, Open Knesset, and it’s API got some extensive use this time around by many election games and application. These include our very own Bchirometer app (Election Meter) which helps voters see which political parties voted according to the agendas they deem as important, and the Submarine, a game developed in cooperation with The Marker magazine, for choosing which politicians should head Knesset committees. Other apps based on our platforms include: AzLemi ("So, who should I vote for?") Calcalist economic pre election tool, a visualization of Knesset voting patterns, and the fun Bottom Line app."

We’ve put a lot of effort into scraping the official site and, ordering and serving it’s data. For example, a bill has no ID in the official site and we need to collect information from the "Knesset Table", plenum votes and committee meetings and try and match their names to make it possible to track bills as the go through the legislation process.

In the last Knesset there were just 55 days when proposals were received at the Knesset Table. These days are spread between 3/13/2013 and 7/30/2014 and in them we scraped no less than 2794 private MKs bills for an average of more than 50 proposals a day.

Out of this rain of proposals, only 58 got approved. 145 bills just managed to pass a pre-approval and 89 failed. Only 10 passed the first vote and just 6 are waiting for committee’s last corrections.

Unfortunately, this was all in vein. The elections were decided by emotions rather than logic with the leading parties using negative campaigns, spreading fear and loathing. It cost us quite a bit - around a quarter of a billion shekels was the bill last time.

According to a special report by the State Comptroller, the 2013 elections, costed the Israeli public ₪241,801,302 ($60MM) out of which ₪195,079,702 came from taxpayers money and the rest from donations. But this was not enough. Most of the parties ended the election with a debt bringing the total parties debt to ₪62,863,928. Halikud is the leader with a debt of ₪21,147,961 and then Sash with ₪12,271,028 and The Movement with the silver at ₪7,034,727.

The sad thing is that with all this money, we got a society more fragmented and divided than ever before. The arab citizens are feeling their basic rights have been challenged and prominent speaker of the left have been attacked.

Yehonatan Gefen, a popular author, poet, songwriter, journalist, and playwright was attacked at his home a couple of days after the election . Achinoam Nini, a singer that sang in the Vatican was attacked at the airport just a couple of days ago.

To me, these are clear signs, that our political system is broken and that instead of using open data to measure it we should start fresh. It’s time to restart the Knesset. Instead of tracking the votes of the MKs, and other data from the Knesset we should develop a new system that makes it easy for activists to bring their issues to the public attention and for representative to join public initiatives and bring them to the Knesset and lead public discourse.