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January 25, 2011

Time Magazine, Ha'aretz, and Israeli Democracy

Benjamin Kerstein picks apart Time Magazine's latest anti-Israel thesis ("Israel’s Lurch to the Right Scares Some Conservatives") which suggests that democracy in Israel is in danger, a view shared by many at Ha'aretz. He observes:

It is no exaggeration to say that the accusation of actual or incipient fascism has become an involuntary reflex on the Haaretz Left. To the historian Daniel Blatman, for example, any survivor of Hitler who saw Israel today "would certainly recall those hard days in his [German] homeland." To Niva Lanir, one of Haaretz's regular opinion writers, the Nazi analogy is no mere analogy. "There are those," she writes in a nod to her fellows, "who have long claimed that . . . it is fair to compare Germany on the eve of Hitler's rise to power and our situation here and now. But," she goes on, "why should we compare? After all, there's room for everyone here and for variations as well." Her colleague, Merav Michaeli, delves into the past to go farther still. Not only, she informs us, does Israel today boast a "white and racist prime minister," but "in its early days, when Israel's character was taking shape," the country's founders had already "determined that the white race was superior." Yossi Sarid, a longtime icon of the Israeli left, has put it even more bluntly: "Israeli democracy is mainly for decoration, like a tree grown for its beauty, not to bear fruit." To Sarid, it appears "as if fascism has already arrived here and is waiting just behind the wall." . . .

Have Jewish hands indeed wreaked the destruction of Israeli democracy? The real problem with polemics like these is not that they are critical of Israeli society, but that their basic descriptions of that society bear no relation to reality. For the truth is that Israel today is more democratic, and substantively so, than it has ever been before. Until 1977, Israel was essentially a one-party state, dominated by a secular and socialist Ashkenazi elite. Today, it is one of the most politically, ethnically, and religiously diverse societies in the world. Sephardi Jews, religious Jews, Arabs, Russian immigrants, and many others have a voice and a degree of political influence they could never have enjoyed in the past that is so nostalgically remembered by the Israeli Left.

Many Israelis today may not like what these groups have to say, or what they want to do. But that is not a threat to democracy. It is democracy. And here, in its apparent powerlessness to change the face of this democracy, lies the Left's insoluble dilemma.

Posted by TS at January 25, 2011 07:47 AM


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