In my previous post, I mentioned how members of the Israeli and American left were sounding the alarm on how Israel’s democracy is in trouble because of Bibi’s tasteless remarks on Arab voters being driven in buses to the polls by left-wing NGOs. This is a common trope among left-wingers, usually prefaced by a nostalgia for the good old days before 1967 when Israel was a democratic and socialist utopia. They have it exactly backwards.
In the pre-1967 period, most of the Israeli Arab citizenry was subject to a regime of semi-martial law known as the Military Administration. Military censorship was strict and newspapers often coordinated with the government what they would and would not publish. The dominant social-democratic party MAPAI had no problem running roughshod over parties that stood in its way.
As for socialism-yeah, there was socialism, but it had nothing to do with overall social equality. Kibbutzim were “equal”, but they got that way by relying on large subsidies, loans and tax breaks from the majority non-equal taxpayers, most of whom were worse off than the kibbutzniks. Almost two-thirds of the economy was government or General Union owned, which meant that to get ahead, you needed the right political connections or vote for the right party. Ask any Israeli about the “pinkas adom” (red card) to find out what I’m talking about.
Fast forward to today. A huge chunk of the economy is privatized, and everyone has far more opportunity to get ahead on their own steam rather than on connections. Censorship is far softer in the Israeli establishment media and non-existent on the internet-anyone with broadband and Google translate can learn whatever the government is trying to hide. Israeli Arabs live under the same civil rules as anyone else and can even elect a party that has no problem comparing Israel to ISIS.
Ah, you say, what of the occupation? That wasn’t there before 1967!
What of it? The problem the occupation poses to Israel’s democratic fabric is a constant, not a variable. It was there under Golda, it was there under Rabin, it was there under Olmert and Peres, and it’s there under Netanyahu. It has not suddenly become MORE of a threat to Israel than before. The proposed solutions might be different, but in the end, the occupation is not ending until the Palestinians say “yes” to a deal that does not involve the Right of Return or the negation of Israel’s Jewish character. Bibi’s election is neither here nor there in that regard.
Israeli democracy has its problems just like any other human institution. But the state itself has effectively grown MORE democratic and freer over time, not less. I know that for left-wingers “democratic” is often synonymous with “my policy”, but surely even they can appreciate that the robustness of Israel’s democracy is a marvel to behold, not a fragile urn ready to break at any moment. I know I do.