Claims that Israel is losing its democractic character are based on zero evidence

civilised world shocked

World is shocked at the state of Israel's democracy

There has been so much talk in the Israeli and international press about the exclusion of women in Israel, haredi sectarianism, attacks on the Supreme Court and right-wing violence that you would imagine to yourself that Israel’s streets are burning, and filled with Tahrir Square-like mass demonstrations.  It is true that there have been clashes between a violent fringe of the haredi community in Bet Shemesh and their National Religious and secular neighbours. It is also true that some settler youth attacked the IDF Ephraim Brigade HQ.  And I am not denying that there are extremist haredim who are trying to force gender-segregated bus lines onto the general public. But to extrapolate from these events to a declaration that Israel’s democracy is dying is simply ridiculous.

Prof. Barry Rubin has picked apart these accusations in his usual elegant way. (Emphases are mine).

..new anti-Israel themes are generated without any evidence whatsoever.

The new one is the idea that Israel, and its democracy, are in danger (moderate version) due to internal extremism or are (radical version) falling apart altogether. At least two new commercially published books make this claim, as do scores of articles and even a speech by the secretary of state. …

Yet what actual evidence can be accumulated for all of this campaign? The Knesset had a bill to supervise foreign money received by non-government organizations, a law not so dissimilar from those in Western democracies. And? And? What else happened? Well, nothing at all.

Oh yes, a bus driver took it upon himself to tell a woman to sit in the back of a bus because her sitting elsewhere might disturb Haredi men. She took it to court and, of course, won. A man who is a member of a tiny extremist cult  in a small town spit at an Orthodox eight-year-old girl, apparently he belongs to some extreme sect or is somewhat disturbed. Even the strictest reading of Jewish law does not justify such an action.

There were huge demonstrations against the actions of this one person or tiny sect. President Shimon Peres publicly called for protests and Jerusalem’s police chief asked rabbis to condemn such behavior.  The state and the public is clearly against any violation of democratic norms. Oh, and incidentally this group in Bet Shemesh has something in common with those trying to blow this up into a big issue–they are anti-Zionist. Haredi extremists who are against accepting Israeli norms on the rights of women are also against accepting Israel altogether. So how are they examples of Israeli values and democracy? They aren’t.

In contrast, in Egypt political parties openly advocating the minimization of women’s rights received three-quarters of the Muslim vote.  Polls show vast majorities favor death for converts from Islam, amputation punishments, etc.

Yet the doings of individuals–condemned by the overwhelming majority of the community–supposedly prove that Israel is illegitimate or non-democratic. It would be fascinating if Western countries were to be judged by such standards. Serial murderers? Child pornography? Mass killings in schools? Aha! They are terrible, illegitimate, and undemocratic. Wipe them off the map!

As previously noted an op-ed in the New York Times claims Israel – by far the country in the Middle East (and even in the world) that treats gays fairly – Israel’s army medical corps was commanded by an openly gay man when gays couldn’t even serve openly in the U.S. military, for example – is said to be persecuting homosexuals. A Palestinian teenager is said to be imprisoned for just throwing stones when the published indictment shows he was arrested for the possession of weapons and explosives.  Israel is accused of being insufficiently enthusiastic and actually critical of the “Arab Spring,” a claim proven correct by events without anyone so admitting that they were wrong and the Israeli assessment was correct.

Trying to make Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a dictator, a New York Times reporter informs us that the government’s refusal to subsidize channel 10 is censorship and that “Mr. Netanyahu has strong influence over other media outlets: the state-owned Channel 1, State Radio and a freely distributed and successful newspaper, Yisrael Hayom, owned by a close American friend, the billionaire Sheldon Adelson.” Everyone in Israel knows that Channel 1 and Kol Israel are left-leaning and have never favored Netanyahu. The same applies to Channel Two, the most popular.

As for Yisrael Hayom, it was started because every other Hebrew-language newspaper– Yediot Aharnot with around 60 percent of the readership; Maariv with more than 30 percent, and Haaretz with around 12 percent (the preferred newspaper of the intelligentsia)–have been critical at best and hostile at most. Let me put it this way, saying that Netanyahu has strong influence over the Israeli media is only a bit more exaggerated than saying that George W. Bush had strong influence over the American media.

A large portion of Western television stories and articles on Israel is designed to give the worst possible impression of the county as dictatorial at home and evil in its foreign policy. We used to think the coverage was slanted but we never dreamed it would reach such levels.

The list is endless. Every day hundreds of stories are invented, distorted, or magnified.  Hundreds of reporters and researchers are dedicated to searching out some alleged crime or evil in Israel, magnifying the tiniest incident into an international headlined story. Yet this same army of scribblers and talkers can’t seem to discover the radicalism of the Muslim Brotherhood or the intransigence of the Palestinian Authority.

…  The near-monopoly in the mass media and in academia for a narrow range of opinion (in the “age of diversity”!); the dominance of ideology over professional ethics (in which the New York Times, for example, can run op-eds 90 percent of which are anti-Israel with no shame); and the failure of most Jewish organizations (the Anti-Defamation League has not yet discovered that left-wing antisemitism exists and actually tries to intimidate people from criticizing Obama!); along with other factors have created a bizarre atmosphere of conformity or else.

America and Europe are now divided into two groups, and I don’t mean “left” and “right.”

There are those who understand that the main threat in the Middle East is revolutionary Islamism, and those who think that the main threat is Israel.  There are those who understand that Obama has done more than any previous president to undermine Israel’s security and those who believe he is the great defender of Israel because he keeps saying so.

How does one deal with this mess? The answer is to build and strengthen an alternative elite, an alternative media, and alternative ways of educating people. It is to demand evidence to prove claims that are made and logic in setting forward arguments.

We are not dealing mainly with Israeli sins … but with anti-Israeli propaganda disguised as news, analysis, and scholarship.  This is not a series of regrettable errors but rather a war consciously aimed against Israel and not just Israel.

Read the whole thing – it is excellent.

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8 Responses to Claims that Israel is losing its democractic character are based on zero evidence

  1. Earl says:

    Today’s news reports that haredi have used Shoah imagery at a recent J protest- igniting a firestorm throughout the rest of IL. Thoughts?

    • anneinpt says:

      I think it’s absolutely outrageous that they did so. It’s not the first time they’ve done this either. But remember, these are not your “regular” haredi, who are fundamentalist enough. These put the usual haredim in the shade. The reaction in Israel has been utter outrage throughout the entire political AND RELIGIOUS spectrum. I wouldn’t worry about either the state of Israeli democracy or the state of Israel’s political and social public spheres. It’s just another noisy day here in the Middle East.

  2. Andrea says:

    Rebirth of religious spirit ( and in some circumstances fundamentalism -among the various and possible meaning to me most suitable in politics is governing political and social aspects in accordance with literal interpretation of religious text inspired or dictated by G-d ) has been one of the most important aspect of second half of last century. This is true for all nation with monotheistic grounding. This phenomenom has leed to different results depending on various historical conditions
    Iran of course experienced the most radical change but India and USA ( very different countries ) have been facing impact of religious movement on politics over the last thirty years. Other countries with more secular constitutional grounding ( la laicité en France ) had experienced less relevant impact. Israel – in my view – falls in the middle : number of religious ( or better observant ) Jews’ influence on Israeli society has probably increased over the years but I would deny that this has changed Israeli’s constitution.Upon this aspect situation in Israel is not more dramaticthan in any other western country.
    Nevertheless impact of religious movements has to be seriously taken in consideration in Israel as elsewhere but with some points to be cleared( to me at least ).
    Religious means necessarily conservative or reactionary ? After all not all Catholics or Protestants support right wing movement , why this should be necessarily true for religious Jews ?
    Religious does not mean necessarily fundamentalist, in fact we have Liberal Jews. Moreover are all terms suitable for each religion ? The term Orthodox sounds very different in a Catholic context rather than in a jewish one .
    Finally one personal remark – “fundamentalist” looks like have apparently one point in common irrespective of the fact they are jews, muslims or catholics and is their attitude towards women and sexual life.
    The reason must be something written ( by men ) in their holy sources, I suspect.

    • anneinpt says:

      Andrea, you point out something very interesting: that religion has been having a greater influence on governments worldwide. It’s not something that I had given a lot of thought to, besides Iran and other fundamentalist Muslim states.

      I agree with your assessment regarding Israel – that it falls somewhere in the middle and is no worse than most other democratic countries.

      I’ll try to answer your questions as best as I can.

      Religious means necessarily conservative or reactionary ? After all not all Catholics or Protestants support right wing movement , why this should be necessarily true for religious Jews ?

      No, “religious” in Judaism does not necessarily mean conservative (outside of actual religious behaviour). Regarding economics and social welfare, most religious Jews would probably be classified as center-left to center-right. Certainly in Israel religious Jews are not at all parallel with the religious right-wing in America.

      Religious does not mean necessarily fundamentalist, in fact we have Liberal Jews. Moreover are all terms suitable for each religion ? The term Orthodox sounds very different in a Catholic context rather than in a jewish one .

      “Religious” to me implies Orthodox, and therefore I don’t consider a Liberal Jew as religious. Of course he would probably disagree! Again, to me at least, the term “religious” implies “Orthodox” as far as Jewish laws are concerned. I don’t know what Orthodox means in a Catholic context so I can’t answer you on that one.

      fundamentalist” looks like have apparently one point in common irrespective of the fact they are jews, muslims or catholics and is their attitude towards women and sexual life.

      I really can’t speak for Catholics because I have very little knowledge of their attitudes or religion. Regarding Jews vs. Muslims, although on the outside their attitudes to women look similar, they really are poles apart. I’m speaking here about “regular” Orthodox, i.e. the spectrum from national religious (e.g. the men who wear knitted skullcaps) to ultra-Orthodox (the men with fur hats). BUT I don’t include the crazies who were rioting in Bet Shemesh. They are a tiny minority and are outside of the fringe of any mainstream.

      The Jewish attitude to women is one of extreme respect and honour. There is no such thing as women not being allowed to drive or to work etc., even in the ultra-Orthodox communities. Yes, the women do dress modestly but they don’t have to make themselves invisible like the Muslims do. And there are certain rituals and/or prayers that are said only by men, but in the main, women are allowed to carry out these rituals if they wish; they are simply not required to do so.

      I am not denying that there is discrimination etc., but that is not mandated by Jewish law or Israeli law as it is under Sharia law.

  3. reality says:

    Most wars that have been fought throughout history have had religion a their basis ;not that I would want a civil war here, but if nothing else all this proves how much democracy DOES exist here in Israel as 1) this wouldn’t have even been discussed in the Arab states as women definitley are 2nd class citizens
    2)as one sees from the amount of protests & actual deeds- by this I mean that various members of knesset -women & men have gotten onto buses together (OMG!) with women sitting deliberately in the front ,going even in the freezing winter with sandals just to make a point that these extremists won’t be allowed to run the world as only they see fit. Admittedly its awful that these fanatics are causing such a furor & have done some terrible things but it DOES prove that we are a democratic country!

  4. Andrea says:

    Israel is definitively a democratic country and any serious observer could not deny it. Take a copy of Haaretz or connect to certain leftist sites on web and this is clearly evidenced by the fact that Israeli citizens could show the highest level of criticism toward their government or their religious authorities to the extent is not possible elsewhere with inclusion of USA and UK.
    I kindly remind that only one congressmen opposed Vietnam war in 1965 ( among hundreds), France Socialist party supported colonial repression in Algeria for many years and just a few English politicians and opinionist shared the cause of Irish Independence. Since Israeli’s birth Communist Party repr were sitting at Knesset and then after Arabian citizens with their own repr. Israel has nothing to learn in fact of democracy from any other european country

  5. Andrea says:

    I admit my post was a bit….passionate – sometimes my Latin nature predominates.
    The fact that drives me crazy is that Israel is always under examination. Just a few fanatics want to come back israeli society back to centuries and immediatly Israel as whole is reported like sort of jewish version of Iran. Reality is that some states in Middle West USA where sodomy is still a crime and mixed racial marriage banned until 1968 (!) is closer to Iran than 99% of israeli people. UK can not admit a Roman Catholic premier and Mr Blair waited end of his mandate to move to this religion. Well imagine if the same ( interdition of of mixed race marriage or only Orthodox jews eligible for Premier ) had happened in the past in Israel ! Tons of ONU resolutions at least against the racist and religious “entity”.
    We had several racist states in Europe and in America basing upon their own constitution but nobody questioned their “right to existence” ( Adolf Hitler was always considered the legal Chief d’Etat in accordance with German and International laws). Yet Israel has always to evidence her legal groundings ( San Remo, UN resolutions and so on ) every day.
    Difficult to me to find any other answer than the fact that bad habits still persist when we talk about Jews.

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