In Pursuit of American-style Democracy, Israel Lost Its Way

It takes a lot of imagination, or serious myopia, to say what we have produced is similar to America, especially when it comes to its democracy.

We've always wanted to be America. Neither England nor France inspired the Israeli dream. After all, we have a great culture of our own. We believed that America was a nation that invented itself. A nation of immigrants that became a world power in terms of wealth and military might. Most of all we were envious of American politics: two parties rather than 20, divided by well-defined ideology and, most important, a president who is the CEO of the country, bound by a well-made system of checks and balances.

We believed that's how a proper democracy should look, and we began our journey of imitation. First of all military might, "the strongest army in the Middle East," then money, big money, and finally democracy, too. But like imitation Levis and Gap and cover versions of top singers, it takes a lot of imagination, or serious myopia, to say what we have produced is similar to America; especially when it comes to its democracy, and in particular everything connected to government.

Netanyahu - AP - 24112011

Israel has gone a step further. Instead of two parties, or 20, we have become a one-party regime, a conglomerate. This party bears many names - Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas or Labor - but it has a single core: a nationalist religious party that benefits from a total absence of an alternative, competition or an opposition, and can count on the fact that even if its changes its names, it will continue to run the country for years to come.

As in several countries in the region, we have a "ruling party" that apparently cannot be replaced by means of a democratic process - only a civil revolution can do that. The same was true of Mapai [the forerunner of Labor], but while Mapai always faced a tough ideological opposition, which never abandoned its aspiration to offer an alternative, even during the years when there seemed to be no such chance, the present "ruling party" has no rival willing or able to enter the fray.

The next quasi-American imitation was to construct for ourselves a presidential regime. Not an ordinary presidential type who hosts outstanding soldiers and Hadassah ladies, but a genuine political strong man. Here, too, the imitation has surpassed the original. Instead of adopting the American model, we got lost along the way and got a Putin. A presidential prime minister. One who is not only the head of the executive arm, subject to the instructions of parliament and in awe of the judicial system, but also a "leader of the faithful" with a secular appearance, who has turned Judaism into an entrance requirement to his club of loyal followers.

This is a president who aims to change the composition of the court to silence human rights organizations and to determine the sphere of activity of the media - all of which has been done by presidents in Egypt, Syria, Uganda and Iraq; the Israeli model also determines the dosage of ideology necessary for him and his ruling party to survive forever. For example, our presidential prime minister ordered in effect a freeze on the draft bill requiring a hearing for judges, because it seemed too right-wing to him, and demanded that the nonprofit organizations bill be reworded to make a clear distinction between "political NPOs" and "socially oriented NPOs." In doing so he marked the limits of right-wing "ideology," without any real opposition from the initiators of these laws.

Just so he defined the limits of left-wing "treason." His 1997 whisper into the mystic ear of Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri, when he asserted that "the leftists have forgotten what it means to be Jewish," has developed into a political philosophy to be applied everywhere, from the Supreme Court to tenants' committees. Not recklessly, but with "determination and sensitivity," as befits an elegant ruling party. After all, nothing is urgent, the ruling party and its president are not leaving tomorrow.

The Israeli presidential model also exempts the parliament from responsibility for shaping democracy. When the right-wing parties know how to read the signals from the prime minister and to act accordingly, and the left-wing parties have no need whatsoever for the ability to read (or speak ), the prime minister can play the role of the sultan concerned about only one thing: preventing the nation from taking to the city squares and beginning to think for itself. Now we'll see who is envious of whom: Israel of America, or vice versa. Who said that dreams don't come true?

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: חלמתם אמריקה, זו התוצאה