Rabin Supported Referendum Idea
NEW YORK- The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) supports the call by many leading Israelis for the holding of a national referendum on the proposal to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza.
Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for a referendum, and Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin (Jerusalem Post, Sept. 14, 2004) has stated: “If a referendum could prevent national trauma, I would have to support it.” A poll on September 8, 2004 by the Israeli polling agency Maagar Mochot, for Israel Radio, found 60% of Israelis favor holding such a referendum, and only 17% are opposed.
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said: “Withdrawing from Gaza means grave risks for Israel’s security, as well as ending Israel’s presence in territories that have been an integral part of the Jewish homeland since biblical times. Anything less than a broad consensus, as determined in a national referendum, would leave Israeli society severely polarized. That is too high a price for Israelis — indeed, for world Jewry — to pay.
The ZOA notes that a June 2004 survey by the Israeli polling agency Geocartography found 64% of Israelis do not believe leaving Gaza will decrease the threat of missiles fired by terrorists at pre-1967 Israel, and 71% do not believe retreating from Gaza will slow down the flow of weapons from Egypt to the terrorists in Gaza.
ZOA president Klein also pointed to the fact that the Gaza withdrawal plan dramatically contradicts the platform on which Ariel Sharon was overwhelmingly elected prime minister: “During the last election campaign in Israel, Labor Party candidate Amram Mitzna urged unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and Sharon opposed it. He was elected on the basis of his opposition to unilateral withdrawal; Israel’s voters should have the right to say if they, like Sharon, have changed their minds.”
The ZOA points out that in many countries, a referendum is held prior to a major national decision such as relinquishing territory. National referenda often require approval by what is called a “special majority,” since a simple majority could mean one side winning by the slimmest of margins, leaving the nation badly divided. For example, in Italy, Ireland, and Lithuania, a national referendum requires a special majority of 50% of eligible voters, rather than just 50% of those actually voting.
One should also consider the referenda French Prime Minister DeGaulle held on withdrawing from Algeria in 1961-1962, even though Algeria was far away from France, Algerian terrorists posed no threat to the French homeland (unlike what Israel faces) and Algerian territory had no historical or religious meaning for the French people. DeGaulle announced he would not proceed if the referenda — one held before the withdrawal, and another afterwards — were approved by a “feeble, mediocre, or uncertain” majority; approval had to be “frank and massive,” he said. At the first referendum, voter turnout was 76%, and 79% of them voted yes; the second time, turnout was again 76%, and 91% voted yes.
The ZOA also recalls the words of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the referendum principle, in Israel Radio interview on Aug. 1, 1994, regarding the possibility of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights: “I also announced, and it is indeed my intention to fulfill this when and if we arrive at the possibility of signing a peace treaty between Syria and Israel which would require a significant withdrawal, that a decision on this would be made in a national referendum. In other words, the people will decide on what it is prepared to give up in order to reach peace. I do not see this as being subject only to a Knesset decision.
Even on minor local matters in Israel, a large majority is sometimes required. For example, at Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon, the childhood home of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, a simple majority is required to accept a new member to the kibbutz, but a two-thirds majority is required for “decisions that affect the way of life on the kibbutz,” and a 75% majority for “matters of principle that affect the way of life on the kibbutz,” such as the decision to have children sleep in their own homes, instead of in dormitories, as the previous generation of kibbutzim typically did. Surely a matter of national security, especially one that could involve national trauma, should be considered as important as the question of where kibbutz children sleep.