Israeli Democracy is Healthy Unless You Hate Democratic Outcomes

Several years ago the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations convened in Jerusalem and one of the panels featured Naomi Chazan, a left-of-center academic and former MK, and Zalman Shoval, a right-of-center former ambassador to the United States. The Likud was in power and Chazan urged American Jews to be more openly critical of the Israeli government to which Shoval responded that she didn’t feel that way when Labor was in power. This brief exchange captured the essence of the hypocrisy of the American Jewish and Israeli left who only believe in democracy when it suits them; that is, when Israel adopts their preferred policies.

If you read Haaretz – an act of masochism for lovers of Israel – or listen to the likes of Peter Beinart and Roger Cohen, you might believe Israeli democracy is in crisis. They are not only frustrated by the failure of the majority of Israelis to share their beliefs, but repeatedly impugn the motives of American Jews who refuse to buy their snake oil prescriptions for Israel’s future.

The Chazan, Haaretz, Peter Beinart, Roger Cohen, Thomas Friedman, J Street, Obama, State Department philosophy is best summarized in an article by former State Department official George Ball entitled, “How to Save Israel in Spite of Herself.” The arrogance of this fundamentally anti-democratic attitude is stunning. According to this school of thought, Israelis are too ignorant, politically constrained, or apathetic to know what’s good for them. Consequently, their votes should not count and the leaders they elect should be pressured by non-Israelis (the EU, UN, U.S.) to take positions favored by the losers of elections. It is especially galling when Americans make this case knowing that they will not suffer the consequences of the policies they advocate and that their children will not have to fight to defend them.

Frustrated American Jews like Beinart can’t stand the fact that their views are unpopular. Rather than admit they are a fringe minority, they prefer to rant that Jewish organizations are not representative of Jewish opinion. They imply that everyone would agree with them if not for the right-wing conspiracy silencing them. This claim has become comical as their views appear on television, in newspapers, on radio and all over social media. The critics cannot accept that their views have been heard and rejected by the majority of Jews in the marketplace of ideas.

The latest mantra from the left is that Israeli democracy “is in danger” because it is not producing the outcomes favored by the minority. Consider that in the three elections that Benjamin Netanyahu has won in 2009, 2013 and 2015, the turnout was 65%, 64% and 72%, respectively. By comparison turnout in the United States in 2008 and 2012 was 57% and 54%, respectively. The U.S. has a two-party system compared to Israel’s multiparty system. In Israel, for example, Arab citizens have their own party to represent their interests. No such minority party exists in the United States. So which country has the more representative democracy?

When the Democratic minority was able to prevent the majority in the U.S. Senate from even voting on the Iran agreement, you didn’t hear leftists suggesting American democracy was in danger. The notion of democracy has become so twisted as to be considered healthy and valid only when the minority gets its way.

Is democracy in Israel really endangered?

The latest cause célèbre for the left is the proposal to require that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) report foreign funding they receive. As NGO-Monitor has documented, a small group of Israeli and Palestinian NGOs have received tens of millions of dollars over the last 20 years from the European Union, the U.S., Canada and individual European states to oppose Israeli policies and promote boycotts. The legislation requires that these NGOs report the money they receive and where it comes from, a simple matter of transparency that is a hallmark of democracy.

Another issue consistent with the “save Israel from itself philosophy” is the call for boycotts against Israel and the labeling of settlement goods. Beinart, Cohen and others in the United States and Israel have supported this strategy as a way to pressure Israel to “end the occupation.” These advocates breathe life into the anti-Semitic boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign. Not surprisingly, this position is rejected by the government and the opposition. Such a widespread consensus is an indication of a healthy democracy.

And what about the peace process and what the anti-democrats see as the government’s refusal to preserve Israel’s democratic and Jewish character? Here there is a combination of naiveté and detachment from Israeli reality. The force Israel to get out of the West Bank regardless of the consequences advocates did not absorb the lessons of the disengagement from Gaza. That experience destroyed the “land for peace” paradigm. Israelis from the right and left recognize that they gave up land and got more terror. They also understand the geography of their region –something most Americans don’t — and fear that withdrawal from the West Bank is less likely to result in peace than the creation of Hamastan within rocket range of Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion Airport and Israel’s heartland. This danger is growing as Hamas spreads its tentacles and the corrupt dictatorship of Mahmoud Abbas slowly crumbles. Most Israelis support a two-state solution, but believe it is impossible given the current Palestinian leadership’s irredentism.

While most Israelis do not see a partner on the Palestinian side, the marginal left does. Perhaps it is fitting that the anti-democrats see Abbas as a partner given that he unilaterally extended his presidential term and prevented new elections from being held out of fear he would lose. Abbas is also hailed as a moderate despite his refusal to negotiate for the last seven years, his rejection of the Olmert proposals to establish a Palestinian state, his Islamization of the conflict, his encouragement of violence and his attempt to rally international support to force Israel to unconditionally accept his demands.

The opinion of Abbas is also consistent with the anti-democratic left’s insistence that Israel is solely to blame for the failure to achieve peace, and that nothing, including the cessation of terror (which the Palestinians committed to in 1993), should be required of the Palestinians. When Abbas tries to provoke violence by falsely claiming Israel threatens the al-Aksa Mosque, or the PA publishes maps where Palestine replaces Israel, or officials reiterate their goal of liberating Palestine in stages, the “blame Israel” crowd silences itself.

You’ll also notice Israel detractors don’t even mention Gaza because it is the laboratory where their fantasies were destroyed by reality. They pretend that an agreement for a Palestinian state can be reached without Gaza, ignore the fact that Abbas can’t even step foot there without being killed, and that Hamas rules with an iron fist based on its own brand of radical Islam that requires the destruction of Israel.

It’s time that Israel’s critics show respect for Israel’s vibrant democracy. Spouting off in the press is easy because the New York Times and other major media love nothing more than to publish Jews ranting against Israel because it is a man bites dog story, that is, a recognition that the views expressed are unrepresentative. Convincing Israelis that they don’t know what’s best for themselves and their families, however, requires living in Israel and creating a political movement that reflects the views of the people, not individuals pretending to speak for them. Love it or hate it, the current government was established by the voters of Israel, and voters have the power to change it. That’s the way democracy works.

About the Author
Dr Mitchell Bard is the Executive Director of the nonprofit American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) and a foreign policy analyst who lectures frequently on U.S.-Middle East policy. Dr. Bard is the director of the Jewish Virtual Library, the world's most comprehensive online encyclopedia of Jewish history and culture. He is also the author/editor of 24 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.