The problem with Israeli Democracy

Prior to the establishment of the first Jewish Monarchy of king Saul , the people beseeched the prophet Shmuel to anoint them a king so they can be just like the nations.

They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” 

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Shmuel; so he prayed to the Lord.

God told Shmuel, that it was not him that they had rejected but God, and instructed him to warn the people that if they were granted a king, he would claim his rights over them.

But the people refused to listen to Shmuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” they demanded.

Nearly 3000 years later and we find that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The people more than ever want to be like the nations, but today it is not a monarchy they desire, but a democracy. Today the people want a king that they can choose for themselves.

The majority of Israelis, and most Jews in the diaspora may well feel a sense of pride and boast of having created a thriving and vibrant democracy – the only one in the middle East. Israel has survived 70 turbulent years, and has achieved great things in a belligerent and benighted region and prevailed valiantly against all odds, but the question we must ask ourselves today is: are we fulfilling our true potential?

When the state of Israel was founded in 1948 it was done so as a secular democracy, in the style of many other Western nations. This may have sounded good in principle, but the problem is that Israel is not like any other nation, it is a nation that dwells alone and is a light unto the nations. By following the model of the nations, we have allowed the Nations to usurp this role. The nations have succeeded in imposing their beliefs and value system onto us, and instead of becoming a light unto the nations, the nations have become a “light” of democracy unto Israel.

Although the common wisdom in the Western world is that democracy is the most enlightened form of government, it is certainly not without its critics; and its flaws.

One of the main problems with any democracy, and even more so in Israel, is that it is inherently divisive. Democracy by its very nature forces people into different groups and factions, and gives rise to  a fractious society. It is a little known fact, but in Israel today there will be around 45 political parties contesting the upcoming general election on 9th april. This is astounding considering the size of the population of Israel is only 8.4 million.

This is problematic at best especially in Israeli society, considering the Torah states the the Jews should be as one unified people.

The proportional representation electoral system in Israel also means no one party can win an overall majority in the Knesset, and leads to a more fragmented and unstable coalition government. This can also lead to smaller parties in the coalition gaining a disproportionate amount of power, and the prime minster often putting the interest of these smaller coalition partners ahead of the national interest, in an attempt to maintain the cohesion of his government.

Among the most prominent critics of democracy in the 20th century was Joseph Schumpeter, the prominent economist and former finance minister of Austria. Schumpeter disputed the theory that in a democracy the people identified the common good, which was then carried out by the politicians. Schumpeter also said that while this was a good idea in theory, the people would be too ignorant to determine what was in the national interest for themselves, and would often be manipulated by the politicians.

Another prominent politician of the 20th century, the great parliamentarian Winston Churchill was also quoted as saying “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

The most telling critique of democracy comes from the Talmud. In Sotah 49b it is stated ” The face of the generation is like the face of the dog”.

According to an interpretation by the Chafetz Chaim (bereishis Raba 79:6), the face of the generation are the leaders. A true leader must set example to his people by showing them right from wrong, but these future leaders first check to see if their views will be popularly received and make their decisions accordingly. Just as when one walks a dog, the dog will run ahead of its master but will turn around to see in which direction his master would lead, and then head off in that direction.

The nations will also only tolerate Israel, and even pat us on the head for good behaviour if we continue to espouse their democratic ideologies. They will however keep us on a tight leash, and punish by sending us to the dog house if we stand up for our legitimate rights as Jews, to defend ourselves from terror or build the settlement blocks in Judea and Samaria.

politicians who are most interested in maximising their power base by obtaining the maximum number of seats in parliament. They are most concerned with the opinion polls and will more often do the popular thing even when it is not necessarily the right thing to do.

One of the advantages of a monarchy, is that a king has the ability to unite the people, and heal the fragmentation in society caused by democracy. This king must be bound by Torah law, and he would decide what is in the national interest and implement it. He would not rule out of personal desire for power or greed, and he must be totally immune from corruption. He would have the power of a dictator, but also be completely benevolent. Perhaps as I have become older, I have become more idealistic, but I am still pragmatic enough to realise that such a person may be difficult to come by.

In conclusion it can be said that while Israel has achieved great things under tremendous adversity, we can no longer afford to paper over the cracks and ignore the democratic schism that has the potential to tear the fabric of Israeli society to shreds. We must recognise that the secular democratic state that Israel has existed as had taken us as far as we can go. In order to reach the next level and fulfill our true potential as Jews, we must shed the husk of democracy. In order for Israel to achieve further success, it must evolve into a Jewish state with all that this involves.

One thing is for certain: this democracy is one sick puppy; and it should have been put down a long time ago.

About the Author
Eli Ezra was born and educated in England, and graduated from University with Bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. In 2005, he moved to Israel and spent a couple of years working in the engineering industry. He later moved back to London to further his career. Eli Hopes to eventually move back to Israel and live there permenantly.
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