UPDATE: Apocalyptic words about Israel’s democracy

Update: Just one day after Atlantic blogger Jeff Goldberg expressed his anxiety that Israel is turning away from its democratic roots, a new poll suggests his concern may be justified.

In a survey by the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, “a full 44 percent of Israeli Jews support a letter issued by leading Israeli rabbis published earlier this month forbidding the sale or rental of properties to non-Jews. The survey reported that 48 percent of Israeli Jews oppose the rabbis’ religious edict,” according to a report in Ha’artz.

That edict was termed a “perversion of Jewish and democratic values” by the Anti-Defamation League; I imagine those who share Jeff’s concern about where Israel is headed will see that 44 percent as shockingly high in the Middle East’s only democracy

Atlantic blogger Jeff Goldberg’s anguished assessment that Israel could be well on its way toward abandoning the democracy that was a cherished value of its creators could be the most important blog of the year for Jewish leaders.

Writing from Israel, he says that Israel’s “addiction to West bank settlements” means that it will someday have to choose between being a Jewish state and a democratic one.

In the past, he assumed that when actually faced with such a choice, Israelis would certainly choose democracy and “somehow extract themselves from the management of the lives of West Bank Palestinians.”

But now he’s not so sure.

“I’ve had a couple of conversations this week with people, in Jerusalem and out of Jerusalem, that suggest to me that democracy is something less than a religious value for wide swaths of Israeli Jewish society,” he writes.

What I wonder: what does this mean for the pro-Israel movement in this country?

Will the major American pro-Israel groups speak up about what Goldberg sees as the steady erosion of democratic commitment in Israel, and if so, when?

I’m sure some leaders are already torn between their desire to maintain a unified front in support of a Jewish state that is fending off an ever-growing army of attackers – and their fear that the direction Israel is headed could undermine traditional American Jewish support for Israel.

Given how hard they work to marginalize organizations like the New Israel Fund that emphasize civil and human rights in the Jewish state, I’m not optimistic that they will do much more than simply try to redefine criticism of trends in Israel as “delegitimization.” And settlements remain a toxic topic for most mainstream leaders here.

If Jewish liberals become increasingly turned off by a possible Israel lurch away from democracy, what will become of a pro-Israel movement increasingly dominated by Jews who take the hardest line on peace process issues, and a Christian Zionist movement steeped in apocalyptic visions of the region?

What will happen to support for the Jewish state among the American population at large?

The pro-Israel lobby has always used Israel’s status as the only democracy in the Middle East as a major selling point in pitching it to the American people; at what point will they see Israel’s drift in another direction as harmful to their cause?

And is Goldberg right that if Israel does move away from democracy, most Jews here “would be so disgusted by Israel’s abandonment of democratic principles that I think the majority would simply write off Israel as a tragic, failed experiment?”

Tough talk from Goldberg – hardly a flaming dove or an Israel basher. I don’t have answers to the questions he poses, but I do know Jewish leaders ignore them at their own – and the community’s – peril.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.