The alarmists among us, mainly from the left, are lately raising a hue and cry that Israeli democracy is going to the dogs. The proposals for laws that would demand disclosure by NGOs of funding received from foreign governments, the minister of culture’s denial of government funds from theatrical projects that offend the state, the suggestion that a law be passed making it possible to eject from the Knesset an elected MK for supporting terrorism – all these are infuriating them.
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Is Israeli democracy really deteriorating? Are we witnessing a downward spiral leading, God forbid, toward fascism?
There is an old stale joke about the man who is asked: How is your wife? He replies with a question: Compared to whom?
Of course, everything is relative, and so is the quality of democracy. So how does Israeli democracy compare to the democracy of other democratic countries? Or, more specifically, how have other democracies reacted to security threats to their countries, and how does their reaction in times of such stress compare to Israel’s democracy at the present time?
Times of war and violence, acts of terrorism, arouse anger and paranoia among citizens of countries subject to such events. There is an intuitive demand for drastic action: to win the war at all cost, or subdue the violence. There is a tendency to generalize when it comes to identifying the “enemy.” Democracies are not immune to such reactions among many of its citizens. The United States is no exception.
The U.S. is rightfully considered by many to be the gold standard when it comes to comparing the quality of democracies, but it has a few dark chapters in its history when it comes to dealing with such crises. Among the worst was the way the U.S. dealt with its citizens of Japanese descent after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. All Japanese in the U.S. were considered potential spies or “fifth columnists.” Over 100,000 Japanese were uprooted from their homes and were forcibly detained in internment camps for the duration of the war.
During the Cold War, in the 1950s, there was a pervasive fear of communism in the U.S., which developed into a witch hunt against people suspected of being communists or communist sympathizers that was led by the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy. The House Un-American Activities Committee conducted hearings and summoned witnesses as part of the hunt for communists. These activities led to thousands being forced out of their jobs under suspicion of being members of the party or of being sympathizers.
Acts of terror committed in the U.S. by Islamic terrorists in recent years have brought forth a wave of xenophobia whose echoes can be heard in the current campaign for the Republican nomination for president.
The western European democracies who frequently preach to Israel about the need to adhere to democratic norms – some of whose governments contribute to Israeli NGOs that busy themselves publicizing alleged Israeli transgressions committed in the war against terrorism – have not been slow to react and overreact once Islamic terror made its appearance in their countries. Whether they will succeed in humanely dealing with the current wave of refugees arriving in Europe from the Middle East still remains to be seen.
By comparison, Israel, threatened by aggression and terrorism since its creation, does not look bad at all. Its parliamentary system of proportional representation allows all segments of the public and the political spectrum to be represented in the Knesset and have their voices heard on radio, television and in the press.
Attacking the government, its ministers and the Israel Defense Forces, is a favorite pastime of many journalists on the left. NGOs dedicated to criticizing the government and the IDF, some funded by foreign governments, are busy running all over the place.
Israeli democracy is alive and kicking. It can serve as an example to others.