UPDATE: Apocalyptic words about Israel's democracy
12/28/2010 - 22:32
James Besser

Update: Just one day after Atlantic blogger Jeff Goldberg expressed his anxiety that Israel is turning away from its democratic roots, a new poll suggests his concern may be justified.

In a survey by the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, “a full 44 percent of Israeli Jews support a letter issued by leading Israeli rabbis published earlier this month forbidding the sale or rental of properties to non-Jews. The survey reported that 48 percent of Israeli Jews oppose the rabbis' religious edict,” according to a report in Ha'artz.

That edict was termed a “perversion of Jewish and democratic values” by the Anti-Defamation League; I imagine those who share Jeff's concern about where Israel is headed will see that 44 percent as shockingly high in the Middle East's only democracy

Atlantic blogger Jeff Goldberg's anguished assessment that Israel could be well on its way toward abandoning the democracy that was a cherished value of its creators could be the most important blog of the year for Jewish leaders.

Writing from Israel, he says that Israel's “addiction to West bank settlements” means that it will someday have to choose between being a Jewish state and a democratic one.

In the past, he assumed that when actually faced with such a choice, Israelis would certainly choose democracy and “somehow extract themselves from the management of the lives of West Bank Palestinians.”

But now he's not so sure.

“I've had a couple of conversations this week with people, in Jerusalem and out of Jerusalem, that suggest to me that democracy is something less than a religious value for wide swaths of Israeli Jewish society,” he writes.

What I wonder: what does this mean for the pro-Israel movement in this country?

Will the major American pro-Israel groups speak up about what Goldberg sees as the steady erosion of democratic commitment in Israel, and if so, when?

I'm sure some leaders are already torn between their desire to maintain a unified front in support of a Jewish state that is fending off an ever-growing army of attackers – and their fear that the direction Israel is headed could undermine traditional American Jewish support for Israel.

Given how hard they work to marginalize organizations like the New Israel Fund that emphasize civil and human rights in the Jewish state, I'm not optimistic that they will do much more than simply try to redefine criticism of trends in Israel as “delegitimization.” And settlements remain a toxic topic for most mainstream leaders here.

If Jewish liberals become increasingly turned off by a possible Israel lurch away from democracy, what will become of a pro-Israel movement increasingly dominated by Jews who take the hardest line on peace process issues, and a Christian Zionist movement steeped in apocalyptic visions of the region?

What will happen to support for the Jewish state among the American population at large?

The pro-Israel lobby has always used Israel's status as the only democracy in the Middle East as a major selling point in pitching it to the American people; at what point will they see Israel's drift in another direction as harmful to their cause?

And is Goldberg right that if Israel does move away from democracy, most Jews here “would be so disgusted by Israel's abandonment of democratic principles that I think the majority would simply write off Israel as a tragic, failed experiment?”

Tough talk from Goldberg – hardly a flaming dove or an Israel basher. I don't have answers to the questions he poses, but I do know Jewish leaders ignore them at their own – and the community's – peril.

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How I tire of such arguments. The Arabs are fools and brutes. The Germans were criminals. Thus Israel must be permitted anything. Thus Jews must be permitted anything. It is not even necessary to discuss what Israel does. The others, whoever they may be, are evil. These arguments are clothed in facts, but the facts mislead. Does kinney respond to the post or to Goldberg? Not at all. It points to something other. We must not criticize, we must fear. This is tribalism, ethnic fundamentalism. Democracy chokes on it.
To say that Israeli leaders ignore this issue at their own peril is disingenuous and would seem to be purposely misleading. Of course they don't ignore it, but what can they do? Every attempt made by Israelis since the 1920s has been met with absolute indifference followed by bloody attacks of a genocidal nature. Consider if you lived in a country the size of Rhode Island surrounded by a country the size of the rest of America whose only goal was your extermination. In late 1965, I was one of many westerners to hitchhike from Europe down to the Israeli border, then the Mandelbaum Gate in Jerusalem. All the westerners then were liberals who were in love with the notion of the Kibbutz system. I had just turned 19 in Europe and was from a small town in the midwest and knew nothing of the politics. All I knew was that I had been very well treated by the Mideast Arab population and that if I crossed into Israel and had an Israeli stamp on my passport, I wouldn't be allowed back in any Arab countries and I wanted to explore further before going deck class in a ship from Beirut to Alexandria so I could hitch down the east coast of Africa. I continued to enjoy the Mideast and its people, but the longer I was there the more anti-Jewish rhetoric I heard from the locals. In the Youth Hostel in Damascus, for example, there was a map on the wall and Israel was blacked out. Hitchers couldn't refer to Israel by name on the street, so the code word was Disneyland. Otherwise you would draw a hostile crowd. We know now that the Vichey French and the Nazis--Moshe Dayan lost his eye fighting the Vicheys in Syria sometime around WWII--brought a new level of anti-Jewish fervor to the Mideast, but since then it has been stoked from within the native Arab population and the ethnic cleansing of not just Jews but Christians and every other non-Muslim population there has gone on unabated and yet rarely discussed much less criticized in the wester liberal press. If you liberals don't want to find yourself once again on the wrong side of history in, if not encouraging, at least not discouraging, a genocidal program coming from Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, Syria, Lebannon, et al. that is more likely to claim Israeli Jews before they by default create an apartheid-like state, you'd better wake up and look at the world as it is, not as you wish it was. Consider this recent statistic from demographers: had it not been for the entire European continent--every single country contributed to the Nazi death camps in its own unique way--there would be something like 65 million Jews in the world now instead of the approx. 13 million. Under that sad math, the Nazis and the Europeans in general killed not 6 million Jews, but over 50 million if you include those who were never born.