Michael Boyden

Is Israel’s Democracy in Danger?

The findings outlined this week in the Annual Report of the Israel Democracy Institute should be of concern to all who want Israel to remain a democracy.

According to the Report, only 42% of the public have faith in the Supreme Court while only 18% trust the Knesset.

Belief in the integrity of the state’s institutions has fallen by nearly 50% over the past ten years.

When people don’t trust the parliament and the courts, they can come to believe that the solution to their country’s ills lies elsewhere. That is true not only in Israel, but is also mirrored in a number of other democracies.

Consequently, there has been a dramatic rise, so the Report tells us, in the percentage of Israelis who believe that the answer lies in the appointment of a forceful leader with unlimited power
Strong leaders appeal to those who believe that there is someone out there who can make things better. Unscrupulous, charismatic leaders know how to use that mistaken impression to their advantage at the expense of their countries.

History is full of examples of such demagogues from Stalin to Mussolini to Hitler. All of them ultimately failed, and those who put them in place paid the price.

Joseph Stalin initially governed his country as part of a collective leadership. However, he consolidated power to become a dictator by the 1930s.

After removing all political opposition, Benito Mussolini introduced a series of laws that transformed his nation into a one-party dictatorship.

Shortly after Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor in 1933, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which transformed the Weimar Republic into a one-party dictatorship based on the totalitarian and autocratic ideology of Nazism.

Israel, fortunately, is not there yet, but those who have no faith in the state’s institutions and are looking for a strong leader provide fertile ground for that to change.

As I write these words, it has been announced that Israel’s cabinet has approved the decision to transfer the Education Ministry unit responsible for external programs to Avi Maoz.

Maoz, it should be recalled, is against gay rights, thinks that women should not serve in the army but stay at home and have babies, and wants Sabbath laws to be observed in public.

Avi Maoz believes that Jewish values (whatever that means) should stand above the rights of individuals. Such a view could turn Israel into a religious dictatorship like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

We can only hope that Israelis will come to their senses before it is too late.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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