Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Who's Afraid of Israeli Democracy?
Haven't you heard, Israeli democracy is in danger. That's the latest media talking point on Israel. And where is the threat to Israeli democracy coming from? From its democracy. Confused? That's probably because you think that the word 'democracy' has something to do with the popular vote and the right of every person, irrespective of their religion, country of origin or accent to vote for the party of their choice. As misguided as the vote may be. When it actually means the right of media pundits, academics and elitist judges to dictate how the country is run based on the values of a entitled upper class scrambling to hold on to power. Out of their concern for Israeli democracy, the American media and the Obama Administration have been pressuring Netanyahu to "broaden" his coalition by replacing the Shas party of Middle Eastern Jews and the Israel is Our Home party of Russian immigrants, with the Kadima party. Traditionally calls for a broader coalition usually mean one that represents more of the country. But due to their fear for "Israeli democracy", this is actually a call for a coalition that represents fewer sectors of the country.
Liberals who usually value diversity in everything, want to close the door on a broad coalition in Israel. Why? Because Middle Eastern Jews and Russian immigrants tend to be right-wing, and diversity is only a legitimate value when it serves to promote the left. But when the right wins elections, suddenly the pundits rush to their keyboards to type out an urgent telegraphic warning. DEMOCRACY THREATENED BY DEMOCRACY. STOP. DEMOCRACY MUST BE ABOLISHED TO PRESERVE DEMOCRACY. STOP. But if democracy threatens democracy, it's not democracy that's under fire. It's the insistence of a small group of powerful people on getting their way regardless of what the public wants.
Atlantic shill Jeffrey Goldberg shows off this Orwellian grammar when he warns that "wide swaths of Israeli Jewish society" are undermining the country's democracy. And he lists Orthodox Jews, Middle-Eastern Jews, Settlers and Russian Jews. In other words the majority of the country. And how is this terrible majority of Israelis undermining the country's democracy. Well Edgar, they're going to the polls and voting for the parties of their choice. And then the parties represent them in the Knesset and in the government coalition. Clearly this threat to democracy cannot be understated.
Unsurprisingly Jeffrey Goldberg's list of the "Fearsome 4" are all associated with the right. Even more unsurprisingly they all represent ethnic and religious minorities that deviate from the establishment left's native born secularism. Goldberg's screed is a familiar one to anyone who has spoken to an upper class leftist complaining about religious people moving into his neighborhood, even as his face turns with red outrage at the thought of anyone from the working class complaining about Muslims moving into their neighborhood.
It's a familiar enough story. 19th century American progressives who fought for the rights of slaves, hated and agitated against Irish Catholic immigrants as threats to democracy. Their tolerance which seemed to extend very far, stopped dead cold when it encountered people who were enough like them, for their otherness to be infuriating, rather than exotic. 19th century New York Jews reacted much the same way to the flood of Russian Jewish immigrants bringing with them their old school religion, quirky mannerisms and Yiddish dialect. And they reacted, much like the Labor elite did to the arrival of Middle Eastern Jews, with repugnance and a calculated attempt to strip away their religion and their culture in the name of civilizing them.
But despite all the radiation exposures, taunts and police batons, Middle Eastern and Russians Jews have still not properly civilized to the standards of the faculty of Hebrew University and the Supreme Court. They still insist on viewing Muslims with suspicion (it must be racism). They want Israel to be a strong country that can stand up for itself (clearly racism). They think that laws should be made for people, rather than for the approval of the EU. And they want to see an Israel that is more democratic, less bureaucratic and less subject to the control of the very elites who discriminate against them (have you ever heard such racism in your life). Clearly they are a threat to Israeli democracy. Or rather the part of it that substitutes its own undemocratic exercise of power in place of democracy.
The fall of the Labor elite began when a racist crack at its own campaign rally, helped lead to Begin's victory. Since then every left wing party still thinks that it can win the Sefardi or Russian vote by pushing one of their own hacks, paid to conduct outreach to those communities, onto the party list. And when they end up with bupkes, they blame (what else) racism. Then out come the op-eds warning that these people are a grave threat to Israeli democracy. Like Pharaoh regarding the Children of Israel, they whisper gravely that this rabble will soon outnumber them. And what happens then? Prime Minister Lieberman? President Ovadya Yosef? Settlers with their own handheld nuclear weapons? Cats and dogs playing the balalaika with prayer amulets around their neck on the other side of the Jordan? And what will Europe think then? Ribbono Shel Olam, what will the Washington Post think?
This carnival of bigotry resounds in an echo chamber, as the declining left elite whispers to American journalists and diplomats about the dangers of "all those people". The ones who didn't live in tents or go to Mapai meetings with my grandfather. Who haven't read Amos Oz, don't care about the annual Rabin anniversaries or worse yet go to their Daf Yomi class without a thought for his legacy. That vast majority of the country that just doesn't fit into the vision of a decrepit left that long ago lost the country, but still hasn't given up hope of taking it down with them.
And so Atlantic's token pro-Israel blogger who so loveth the Jewish state that he recently called on American Jews not to donate money to Israel after its devastating Carmel forest fire, does his part for the echo chamber. After a previous post celebrating Jerusalem's diversity, he delivers one warning that Israel's diversity will be the death of it yet. The difference is that his Jerusalem post celebrated Israel's non-Jewish diversity. But his "Fearsome 4" condemns Israel's Jewish diversity. Like Israel's celebrity leftists who shamelessly don yellow stars to protest the deportation of African illegal aliens, while simultaneously calling for the deportation of Jewish residents of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria-- it's about demarcating the lines of permissible bigotry.
And you can even see their point. They need African illegal aliens to clean their houses, just as they need Muslims to work cheaply doing errands for them-- but what use do they have for the bearded settler who won't mop their floor for a few coins, but incites the hatred of their comrades in the Brussels branch of the Socialist International? The despised Sefardi and the contemptible Russian refused to be the members of their lower class. They refused to take a few handouts to pull the lever for Labor. Instead they insisted on democracy. And that makes them a threat to democracy.
Labor is defunct. The narrative of the right is the dominant one. Why? Because the left has lost all touch with reason, abandoned even the pretext of national security and dived so deep into corruption that it hasn't hit bottom yet. The Kadima party that Obama and the foreign media would like to see in Netanyahu's coalition is the creature of two Prime Ministers, one of whom has been indicted, and another of whom escaped indictment only by virtue of being in a coma. It is a party that exists only because its mutually corrupt cretins haven't decided which other party to leave it for yet. It is currently led by the protege of the man who may be the first Israeli Prime Minister to go to jail. It is not left-wing by way of ideas, but because it hasn't thought of anything else it should be. And its otherwise brainless leader knows that the only way to the top is if Obama pressures Netanyahu into giving her what she wants to enter the coalition.
The pundits would have you believe that Israeli democracy is threatened by Ovadya Yosef, the local version of Pat Robertson, and that crazed lunatic Avigdor Lieberman, who recently stated firmly that Israel shouldn't even discuss apologizing to Turkey for the confrontation with the Islamist fanatics on board the Mari Marmara. Yet the same media that rushed to hiss and spit on Lieberman for stating the obvious, praised Olmert as a wise and prudent leader for saying the same thing. What's the difference between insanity and wisdom? Political affiliation of course.
Israel's democracy isn't threatened by the refugees from the Muslim World and the Soviet Union that it took in. Those refugees are the reason for its existence. It is not threatened by the rising number of religious Jews either, whether in Jerusalem or Judea. A country cannot survive for long without religion. And Religious Zionism has become the backbone of Zionism. It is however threatened by a small number of powerful elites who use their judicial positions, their newspaper columns and their academic posts to bar the door to democracy. It is the likes of Labor's Haim Ramon, who famously screamed, "If you do not accept our democracy, then we will crush you"-- who are the real threat.
All these columns warning about the danger to Israeli democracy from the majority of its citizens are nothing but kinder, gentler echoes of Ramon, defining their way as "democracy" and the way of the people would like to go as something else entirely. When all the Goldbergs warn about the danger of a majority of minorities upstaging their liberal consensus, they are preaching a quieter bigotry. Not the noisy slur or the wrongful arrest, but the roundabout insinuation. No direct statement that Sefardim are primitive barbarians, Russians are all prostitutes or Orthodox Jews are fanatically primitive. Instead the same thing is accomplished by labeling them all as threats to democracy. By castigating their elected officials as primitive, fanatical and barbaric. It's the same message, but delivered in a classier way.
All this concern about Israeli democracy is an inherent admission that one man's vote is not as good as another. That the dot com entrepreneur just back from Malta casting his ballot for Meretz is an informed voter who is a blessing to Israeli democracy. And the darkie, dati or russkie casting his vote for Shas, Yachdut HaTorah or Yisrael Beitenu is an ignorant blight on democracy who needs a bath and a good beating, not necessarily in that order.
American liberal Jews who work themselves in a lather over Israeli democracy are unconsciously echoing those same prejudices. And treating democracy as a fixed value that embodies their values. By making democracy coequal with liberalism, they show that they are the real threat to democracy.
Liberal Jews who worry whether they'll be able to remain Zionists if they disapprove of Israel's government are missing the point. Zionism is not the endorsement of a government, but of a right. It is not the process by which the country is run, but the inspiration for its existence. One does not need to respect a government, to respect the process that elects governments. A country may be founded for ideals, but even the smallest country is still a vast brawling mass of people that changes from generation to generation. Anyone who thinks that they have to be able to approve of Israel in every generation in order to be a Zionist might as well opt out now.
Israel isn't one thing or another, it's many of them. It's the source of many of the world's religious ideas, and the place where they all get together to meet and fight it out. It's breathtakingly socialist and capitalist, secular and religious, multicultural to a ridiculous degree and just as prejudiced. You can meet Japanese Rabbis, Jewish anti-semites and people who fancy themselves the reincarnation of King David, without having to travel more than a kilometer or two. Which is to say that Israel is a lot like America or the more democratic parts of the world, and so unlike so much of the undemocratic Middle East, where differences are punished and dissent is a crime. And that is exactly what Israel would turn into if the professional worriers for its democracy got their way.
Zionism, like every national movement, is an idealistic springboard for a real society. And real societies are ugly. They have their grand moments and their ugly ones. For every noble speech, there is an ignoble scandal. And for every virtue, there is a crime. For those who worry so fastidiously for Israeli democracy, there is a simple enough solution short of demonizing most of the country because it doesn't vote your way. Move there and vote for yourself.