Jim Shalom
A semi-retired physician

Animal Farm Revisited

I emigrated to Israel in 1969. Although it may sound clichéd and outdated nowadays, I came for Zionist reasons. I supported the idea of a Jewish sovereign state situated in the region of biblical Israel. I held no animosity towards the Arabs or Palestinians. In fact, like many of my contemporaries, I believed that there was enough space and potential for everyone, and that the Arabs living in Israel should have equal rights.

Those were the days when the world appeared to be easily divided into the good guys and the bad guys. North American and European governments were perceived as the good guys, while Communist Russia and China were seen as the bad guys. In the West, we considered ourselves the good guys because we championed democracy and individual rights, while the opposing side were deemed the bad guys due to the authoritarian and totalitarian nature of their governments. Authoritarian governments tend to support their side whether they are right or wrong, while democratic governments at least strive for the just cause even if it may go against their interests.

Democracies possess another significant characteristic: governments change based on election outcomes. While people generally prefer a government aligned with their political views, the public has learned to tolerate administrations with different priorities, as long as they operate within the framework of the law or constitution and refrain from undermining the fundamental democratic principles of their system, including the balance of power between the government and the courts. On the other hand, authoritarian regimes subjugate the courts to suit the regime whims and strive to retain power for as long as possible. They are typically removed only through forceful means.

With regards to the Middle East, since they were all authoritarian governments, the Arab countries easily fell into the oppressive category while Israel being democratic and free was perceived as a beacon of enlightened Western values. Israel, like Western democracies changed governments over time, with varying degrees of right-wing or left-wing influences, as well as fluctuations between religious and secular orientations.

On the other hand, one can postulate that we are simply supporting those similar to us. Like other creatures, humans have evolved to identify and support those like us and be suspicious of those who are different. A mother bear will defend her cubs, but not the cubs of another bear. Psychological testing demonstrates that people automatically respond differently to pictures of people like them versus people who are different.

So perhaps my “good guys – bad guys” division of the West and Israel versus totalitarian regimes was really a “me versus them” rationalization.  If so, what I asserted about the other side, they could equally assert about my side. Are we dealing with simply equal alternatives with each side preferring their own?

However, if one digs a bit deeper, this explanation falls flat. There exists a distinct qualitative disparity between the operations of democratic and totalitarian governments. Democratic governments prioritize the advancement of their citizens’ well-being as a primary objective. In contrast, authoritarian governments prioritize advancing their ideology and serving special interests. Western governments are structured to be accountable, including their leaders, with independent courts that ensure that even the most powerful individuals are subject to the rule of law. Furthermore, a free press exists, women enjoy equal rights and opportunities to pursue education and compete in the workforce, and minority groups are protected by laws. While cronyism may persist, the presence of accountability mechanisms helps limit the potential for abuses within the system.

In my view it is clear that with all their shortcomings, Western countries are better and preferable because of their political setup, however cumbersome. One just has to ask someone who comes from an oppressive regime, and they will usually be fully aware of the advantages of living in a Western run country.

The same can be said of Israel in contrast to its Palestinian and Arab neighbors. With some country to country variation in degree, all the Arab countries are authoritarian and oppressive. Those who have enormous income from oil are financially better off, but even there, freedom is limited, especially for women. In Arab countries where the population did struggle for rights such as in Egypt during the Arab spring period, they were violently oppressed. More recently the Iranian government has violently resisted attempts by the public to improve the rights of women. The situation with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza is equally troubling. Both entities have non-accountable governments that suppress criticism and mistreat minority groups, including Christians. When discussing a Palestinian state as an alternative to Israel, there is no evidence to suggest their aim is a democratic state, nor is there any indication of a welcoming and protective environment for Jews.

Unfortunately, the quality gap between the Palestinian and Israeli positions has been narrowing since the last Israeli election. It is important to note that while the Palestinian side remains unchanged, there have been notable shifts within the Israeli government. The current government’s pursuit of policies that undermine the courts, promote cronyism, misallocate public funds to serve narrow interests, and enforce religious restrictions on the entire population only serves to further narrow the gap between the two positions. Additionally, the promotion of Jewish settlements on the entire West Bank without clarifying the political rights of the approximately 2 million additional Palestinians who also live in the area that the raises concerns as to whether Israel will remain democratic. This approach seems reminiscent of the Palestinian call for a Palestinian state that has yet to address the status of Jews within that entity. Furthermore, the lack of accountability for Jewish settlers who attack Palestinian villages with impunity as acts of ideological reprisal bears unfortunate resemblance to the Israeli depiction of terrorist acts, only this time it is perpetrated by Israeli Jews against Palestinians.

The English novelist George Orwell published a book entitled “Animal Farm” in 1945. The satire tells the story of a group of farm animals who rebel against their human farmer, hoping to create a society where the animals can be equal, free, and happy. Regrettably, the rebellion they instigate is eventually compromised, leading to the emergence of a tyrannical pig named Napoleon. Consequently, the farm descends into a state of despair, mirroring its previous oppressive conditions.

Sadly, the present Netanyahu led Israeli government is pursuing a policy of hijacking the original Zionist dream of establishing a Jewish state in the Middle East which will be democratic, accountable and provide equal rights to the non-Jewish population, take a tolerant view of people of different religious persuasion including secularists, and only employ military power when absolutely necessary. Their proponents and unfortunately their supporters are headstrong in pursuing their agenda, without any appearance of them evaluating and weighing whether it is in the best interest of the country. Their manifesto is not limited to promoting a change in government priorities but rather a blueprint for undermining the democratic principles upon which Israel was established. As we head along the path of government policy implementation, we will distance ourselves more and more from being the clear cut “good guys” that we once were. It should not be surprising that, for the first time, an American president, despite having been a longtime friend of Israel, has refrained from inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington. This decision reflects the perception of Netanyahu as the leader of an extreme government that is no longer aligned with American values.

Orwell’s message was that malicious groups of people will use their power to exploit the vulnerable, and to control the masses, unless courageous individuals spread the truth and stand up for those who cannot fight for themselves.

Presently, we are fortunate to have the freedom to protest and hold the government accountable. However, this privilege hangs in the balance as the government endeavors to pass its proposed legislation. How long will our ability to challenge authority persist if these measures come to fruition?

About the Author
Jim Shalom is a specialist in family medicine, with interests in end-of-life care and the Israeli political scene. He resides in Galilee. He has spent most of his adult life living and working in Israel.
Related Topics
Related Posts