Israel’s gas wealth should be managed by a citizens’ jury

An English version of an op-ed piece I wrote recently. I am still looking for an Israeli mass media venue that would publish it.

Another round in the long struggle over the way Israel’s gas fields are to be exploited is upon us. Like most of Israel’s citizens, my understanding of the technical and economic details associated with this matter is sketchy. It is clear to me that a very lucrative resource is involved and that there are various proposals about how to deal with it – proposals which will see the value of this resource divided in different ways among different groups. Beyond that things are rather murky as far as I know. It seems that politically powerful people are exerting political pressure to obtain parts of the value of the gas wealth and that at least some of these people have personal, business or political connections to government officials. Like a large majority in the Israeli public I suspect that the balance of powers in the government serves primarily narrow interests (“the tycoons”) rather than serving the general public. Having said that, I have not followed the details and I cannot confidently say who is associated with whom and whose interests are served by each proposal.

Lacking expertise about the gas issue, I – like the rest of the Israeli public – don’t have a real way to select between policy alternatives. I can express my distrust in government decisions by taking part in demonstrations against the gas management framework promoted by the government. But even if these demonstrations attain their goal by stopping the implementation of this framework, I will have no real ability of to support any alternative proposal since I will not be able to thoroughly understand them. It is therefore likely that sooner or later special interests will be able to use their expertise and their wealth to steer public policy to their favor.

What then is the way out of this state of aimlessness?

There a tool for public policy decision making that meets the two criteria required for generating representative policy:

Democratic representation of the range of opinions and interests of the Israeli public,
Attaining the expertise required to reach informed decisions on a particular issue which lead to effective policy.

This tool is the citizens’ jury.

The citizens’ jury is (CJ) a body that is constituted as a statistical sample of all citizens and is empowered to study a certain issue thoroughly and then make policy decisions on that issue and monitor its execution.

The CJ is essentially different from elected institutions such as the Knesset [the parliament] or the government by having all sectors of society represented according to their proportion in the population. The use of statistical sampling guarantees that the CJ will reflect the population by any criterion. Looking at age, education, gender, income, ideology, ethnicity, place of residence, or any other criterion, the membership of the CJ would mirror the population as a whole. Therefore, in contrast to the Knesset and the government, the CJ would not contain a large number of people who are connected to the wealthy and who adopted a corresponding world view. The CJ would be a miniature portrait of the public and therefore would not represent special interests.

The selection of a statistical sample is carried out by drawing at random a certain number of citizens – say, two hundred – out of the body of citizens. Each citizen drawn is offered a position in the CJ for a fixed term – say, four years. During their term in the CJ the members serve as full time managers of the matters over which they are responsible (receiving an appropriate salary, of course). The CJ is empowered to call experts for advice, to subpoena witnesses and documents, to draw policy alternatives and discuss them, to make decisions and write regulations, to appoint officers, to monitors them and to replace them if necessary – i.e., to carry out any action that is required in order set policy regarding the matters under its purview and to verify that the policy is being carried out. If the matters the CJ is responsible for are long-term matters then as the terms of the serving members serving they are replaced by drawing new members at random from the population.

My proposal is therefore to create a citizens’ jury in Israel to manage its gas resources. The responsibility for setting policy on matter associated with the gas resources and their management would be taken away from the government and the Knesset – that have lost public confidence in their ability to carry out these functions – and entrusted to the CJ. The members of the CJ would study the facts associated with the matter of the gas resource and would therefore – unlike the average citizen – be able to make informed decisions and in this way they – unlike the members of the Knesset and the government – would represent the interests and priorities of the public and would use the precious public resource of the gas reserves for the benefit of the public.

Yoram Gat is a statistician and an editor of the website Equality-by-Lot ( – a website devoted to the democratization of politics through the use of citizen samples.

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