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Among the most famous sayings is that the occupation destroys, or has already destroyed, or at the very least might destroy, Israeli democracy. Many have said so, and it sounds right and reasonable. But the truth is that Israel today, after 37 years of occupation, is a far more democratic country than it was beforehand. That statement may sound surprising and vexing. However, if we take into account that the statement is not meant as a compliment to the Israel of today but rather as a criticism of the Israel of yesteryear, it will doubtless be easily accepted.

Obviously, the Israel of the 1950s and 1960s was a much less democratic country. For example, regime changes through elections are a hallmark of a mature democracy. The Israel of those days was unfamiliar with that; one party ruled high-handedly, for better or for worse. The Israeli parliament is much stronger today, vis-a-vis the government, than it was back then. In those years, it was impossible to imagine the approval of opposition-sponsored bills, contrary to the government's position.

Political parties were controled then by the appointments committees; today, they enjoy internal democracy. However, democracy brings with it corruption. The appointments committees could not be easily bought.

The judicial branch, with the High Court of Justice at its head, has become greatly strengthened in dealing with the executive branch. The High Court today intervenes in sensitive matters, including security matters, that it would not have dreamed of weighing in on in the past.

The Israeli media is much freer today. In the past, military censorship laid a heavy hand on the press; in the `50s and `60s state radio was a department within the Prime Minister's Office, and no television existed.

Academia and cultural institutions are immeasurably more critical toward the regime today.

The state of the Arab minority is far from satisfactory, but who will deny that in the `50s and `60s it was much worse?

In terms of religious coercion, the situation has also improved in many respects: it's enough to think of the number of nonkosher restaurants and entertainment venues that are now open on Shabbat in Tel Aviv and even in Jerusalem, and to compare this to the situation in the `50s and `60s.

Yishayahu Leibowitz predicted that the occupation would turn Israel into a "Shin Bet state." Does anyone doubt that the security service in Isser Harel's era intervened in political matters far more than today?

Since its founding, Israel has grown more liberal-democratic with every passing decade. This process, which is not at all a forgone conclusion in the conditions under which the state existed and exists, began before 1967 and has continued at full force ever since. At the same time, negative and grave social phenomena also developed. The vast majority of these are unrelated to the occupation, but are rather a natural consequence of Israel becoming a developed capitalist society - the complete opposite of a third-world country, as it is sometimes termed - with all the good and bad that entails.

All of this is not to privilege the occupation. First of all, the occupation is a bad thing in and of itself; that is why it should be opposed, regardless of the question of what it does to us. This is a much better moral ground for opposing occupation than the dubious, fashionable lament over destruction of Israeli democracy. Second, the occupation threatens Israel's existence. If the land of Israel is not divided, and the Jews become a national minority, the State of Israel will cease to exist. Contrary to an argument occasionally voiced, there is no danger of us turning into South Africa - the world won't allow us to be South Africa. The danger is that we'll turn into southern Syria. And that is an excellent reason to oppose the occupation.