Meir Panim’s Tiberias Free Restaurant not only provides warm meals, but the opportunity to socialize as well.
In recent months a new theme has replaced the media’s past obsession with Israel’s alleged mistreatment of the Palestinians. While abuse of Israel on this count is by no means over, with no humanitarian crisis in Hamas-ruled Gaza to trumpet and the Palestinians’ obvious disinterest in peace, the Israel-bashers have turned to a different theme: the imminent end of Israeli democracy.
Stories about proposed laws seeking to regulate non-governmental organizations, press disputes, clashes with the ultra-Orthodox and the treatment of women have often been combined to put forward the idea that the Jewish state is in the grips of a neo-fascist right-wing that is fast on its way to ending democracy and installing a theocracy that would no longer be seen as sharing values with the United States.
But though Israel is beset, as is any democracy, with serious social problems and partisan clashes over a host of issues, the idea that democracy there is in any danger is a figment of the imagination of the country’s left-wing critics. Rather than being in decline, it is, if anything, more vibrant than ever.
Briefly, and in order:
First, proposed laws that would either place curbs on foreign funding for non-governmental organizations or allow Israelis to sue those groups that support boycotts of the country may be badly conceived. But they are in no way a threat to democratic rule. For many years, leftists have poured money into Israeli groups that seek to slander the country as an apartheid state or to fund those who seek to undermine its status as a Jewish state. It is understandable that most Israelis would resent this activity, even if placing burdens on the funders seems unreasonable to Americans who have a very different conception of free speech rights from that of inhabitants of other democracies (including those in Europe).
Second, the idea that the current Israeli government is trying to muscle the press was mooted in a recent New York Times article that purported to show that Prime Minister Netanyahu was retaliating against an independent television station that gave him critical coverage. But the story glossed over two things. First is the fact that the Natanyahu government actually supports expanding the number of broadcast options Israelis currently have. Second is the fact that, like the United States, in Israel the vast majority of the mainstream media is in the grips of the left. Only someone with no conception of how Israeli society and politics actually works would possibly imagine there was any scarcity of anti-Netanyahu voices in the media there. Israel has a free press, and there is no danger it will cease to exist even if most of it is run by incorrigible left-wingers.
Third, and in many ways most troubling, is the reporting about clashes between the majority of Israelis and a small minority of ultra-Orthodox hoodlums who have been accused of abusing women in public places. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was wrong to compare the situation with what is going on in Iran because these hooligans are conducting themselves in a manner that contradicts Jewish religious law as well as the will of the secular majority and the government.
Clashes between the ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews make most Israelis especially angry because the haredim often wield political power out of proportion to their numbers due to the quirks of the Israel’s proportional electoral system. Efforts by some haredi outliers to defend what they wrongly see as their turf have resulted in egregious incidents such as the insults aimed at a young Modern Orthodox girl in the town of Beit Shemesh. Other efforts to enforce an appalling “back of the bus” policy for women or segregated sidewalks in religious neighborhoods are pressure points for a culture war in which the Orthodox are seen as trying to impose their will on the majority.
Peaceful coexistence between the haredi community and the rest of the country is an ongoing challenge, especially because of the issues of avoidance of military service and abuse of the welfare state. Incidents such as the treatment of the Beit Shemesh girl are symbols of the rest of the country’s resentment against the haredim, even if the offenders there are operating outside the consensus of even their own community.
But as contemptible as such episodes may be, they are not a sign of the end of democracy but proof that democracy is alive and well in Israel. Each episode has gotten a robust response from both the people and the government. Some Americans may not like the politics of the current Israeli government or the fact that it seems likely to be re-elected when it next faces the electorate there. But nothing that is happening in Israel or is likely to happen should persuade anyone that it is not the same lively and combative democratic culture it always has been.
About the Author: Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of Commentary magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com, where this first appeared. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
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In modern political parlance “compassionate” is a euphemism for ever-expanding government.
A wake up call to action for the Jewish community.
The Yesh Atid-sponsored draft law is very different from what you have been reading in the haredi press and hearing from haredi politicians and activists.
National park status is, unfortunately, not an ironclad guarantee against Arab encroachment.
It’s been more than ten years since Parkinson’s moved into our home.
Still facing an effectively unhindered nuclear threat from Iran, Israel will soon need to choose between two strategic options.
God decided to cast Truth down to earth and went on to create the world.
We need to put ourselves into the eyes of Pharaoh’s daughter.
The late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach did not belong to any religious movement, but his daughter Neshama now belongs.
Apparently there has been no let-up in Secretary of State Kerry’s drive to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians within the nine-month period he prescribed last year, which ends in April 2014.
Much attention has properly been paid to the problems inherent in the provisions of the Geneva agreement struck with Iran. There are substantial loopholes that allow Iran to run trucks through its commitments and Iran seems to have been able to blunt the full court press that had been mounted against it in the form of economic sanctions and threats of military force.
All these polls asked either “Do you agree that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians?” or, alternatively, “Do you agree Israel behaves toward the Palestinians like the Nazis do?”
Of course, believing in God doesn’t make one Jewish. Many people identify themselves as Jews for a host of reasons other than believing in the God of Israel, and they are just as Jewish as the most pious Jew. Being Jewish is a birthright, not a belief right. According to halacha, anyone born of a Jewish mother is Jewish. Period.
Like Chamberlain, Obama sued the ayatollahs for peace, insisting the only alternative to appeasement is war.
As frustrating as it may be for Israel’s critics, support for Zionism is baked into the DNA of American politics.
Netanyahu’s speech was far from the denunciation of the peace process that some of his detractors are depicting.
Iran’s real boss, Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was wise to back Rouhani’s play.
The professor claims Israel’s collapse will lead to an alliance between secular Palestinians and post-Zionist Jews and others to build a secular democracy.
J Street is at odds with the man they once served as his main Jewish cheerleaders.
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