web analytics
September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

Opportunities and Risks Ahead for Turkey

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Washington on May 16 comes at a pivotal time when the Middle East is riddled with extraordinary conflicts that have the potential of exploding into a regional war. The time is also ripe for creating a geopolitical realignment that could eventually usher in stability and progress.

Turkey can and in fact should play a constructive role, provided that the Erdogan government takes a hard look at the opportunities that exist to contribute to building a structure of peace and stability. The Erdogan government, however, must also consider the risks entailed should it remain stuck in grandiose old thinking.

The Turkish government managed over the past few years to create the perception that Turkey’s rise has been based on a sound foreign policy doctrine of “zero problems with neighbors” along with solid economic development policies, while continuing social and political reforms consistent with Islamic values.

A close look at the reality, however, suggests a somewhat different picture that raises serious concerns among Turkey’s friends and quiet jubilation among its enemies.

According to the Human Rights Watch 2011 World Report, the government increasingly breaches what it has committed itself to, including unjustified prosecutions for alleged speech crimes, the arbitrary use of terrorism laws, prolonged pretrial detention (especially of journalists and editors), and the systematic intimidation of any individual or party that objects to, or opposes, government policy.

The government also reversed course with the Kurds, carrying out a clampdown on the legal pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), arresting Kurdish notables and intellectuals for links with the PKK, and until recently resuming the old policy of massive retaliations against PKK attacks.

On Turkish foreign policy, if one takes a look at the situation country by country, the picture looks surprisingly different than “zero problems with neighbors.” There is hardly any neighboring country with which Turkey does not have some kind of problem.

Now is the time for Ankara to take some corrective domestic and foreign policy measures consistent with what the country has and continues to aspire for but fails to realize.

As the Turkish Parliament is writing a new constitution, there is no better time to seek political equilibrium and enshrine human rights in all aspects, especially the rights of the Kurds. Now that the PKK has agreed to abandon violent resistance in favor of a negotiated settlement, the government can institutionalize such reforms without losing face.

The Kurds and other minorities should enjoy equal rights to speak their language and live their culture with no reservations or discrimination, which is the essence of democratic governance.

Turkey’s failure to reconcile the hundred-year old dispute over the Armenian genocide continues to poison its relations not only with Armenia but also with the United States, which takes a strong supportive position on the Armenian grievances.

It is time to end the conflict with Armenia as the one hundredth anniversary is near (2014) and is bound to reignite a major controversy within and outside Turkey. Instead of taking such a categorical stance refuting the entire the issue of the Armenian genocide, Turkish leaders should take heed of what both the Old Testament and the Quran preach: “The children should not be held responsible for the sins of their fathers.”

Turkey, in this regard, should express deep regrets about the Armenian genocide during World War I for the tragic events that occurred a century ago. This may not go far enough with the Armenians, but it offers a good beginning that may lead to reconciliation.

The discord with Greece over Cyprus has only worsened with the dispute over gas exploration near Turkish territorial waters. Turkey must find a solution to the Cyprus conflict; not doing so will further strain its relations with Greece. Realpolitik must trump nationalism which can serve national interests; otherwise it will only harden over time and further limit any room for a negotiated settlement.

Although Turkey and Iran enjoy strong trade relations, Ankara still has not made up its mind about Tehran’s ambition to acquire nuclear weapons. Their bilateral relations are strained by Ankara’s decision to host a base for a NATO missile defense system and the conflict over Syria’s future.

Moreover, Turkey must come to terms with the fact that Tehran’s and Ankara’s national interests do not coincide and that the two countries are on a collision course. Syria has become the battleground between Sunnis and Shiites and thus the emerging political order in post-Assad Syria will have a great impact on their overall ambitions.

Is Ascending the Temple Mount Irresponsible?

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

The following is my response to a woman who criticized me for visiting the Temple Mount. In a letter to me, she claimed that I broke the law and irresponsibly provoked Arab anger. She suggested that my actions should conform to the will of the “majority.”

Dear S.:

1) In your letter, you claim that I broke the law. I am sorry to say that from your letter it is obvious that you are not familiar with this issue. The legal situation on the Temple Mount is the complete opposite of what you describe. There is not and there cannot be a law that prohibits the entrance of Jews to the Temple Mount. There is not and cannot be a law that prohibits Jews from praying on the Temple Mount. There are laws that emphasize the rights of all religious groups to enter their holy places (similar to their rights to enter any other public place) and to pray there.

I would like to remind you that the nation of Israel also has a faith. It also has a holy place and – wonder of wonders – the Jewish people also have feelings, such that these laws relate to me as much as it does to any other citizen.

The courts have time and again upheld our legal right to enter and pray on the Mount. On Sukkot of this year, I was arrested for praying on the Temple Mount. Despite all of the police’s best efforts, the judge released me without bail due to “absence of guilt.”

Thus, I suggest that you may want to consider whether the situation is not completely the opposite of what you claim. Perhaps I am the one abiding by the law, while those trusted with upholding the law are actually breaking it. As you are a responsible citizen, I am certain that this disturbing possibility will cause you to lose some sleep.

2) Regarding your claim that I acted irresponsibly, I say this: Although you try to be objective, this claim is up to its neck in a typically one-sided worldview. You conclude that we must give in to the Arab threat of violence. You place the responsibility for the outcome on whoever does not surrender.

I wonder if you would respond in the same way if a bully would take over your house and prevent you from entering. How would you relate to someone who would point the accusing finger at you, reprimand you for demanding that the police arrest that ruffian and blame you – not the intruder – for the outcome? You are correct that in light of the de facto surrender (in secret, against the public’s will, without any Knesset decision and against the law) of Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount, there is a certain probability that my entrance to the Mount would initially arouse attempts to react violently. But does capitulation to the Arab threat of violence bring quiet?

Our experience on every front that we have tested the capitulation innovation is completely clear. Both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have become legitimate targets for rocket attacks as a result of our recent withdrawals. As a Jerusalemite, you certainly must remember the exploding buses. Try to remember a similar attack before the Oslo Accords.

Simple logic shows that it is not the one who refuses to capitulate to violence and demand his legal and ethical right to enter the Mount who is irresponsible – but vice versa. Those who evade their responsibility to maintain Israeli sovereignty on the Mount are irresponsible. Ultimately, they will find themselves in a never-ending bloody conflict over our sovereignty over the entire land of Israel. The thousands of Oslo victims – soldiers and civilians – who paid with their lives, and the constant danger that there will be more victims are the direct result of this irresponsibility.

3) Democracy: This claim is a bit awkward, both from a factual standpoint and even more so in its essence.

I do not know how you justify your statement that I do not represent the views of the majority of citizens. I have read numerous studies that reinforce the fact that our nation feels a strong connection to the Temple Mount.

Will the Arab Spring Reach Jordan?

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Many claim that the Jordanian regime has emerged from the Arab Spring relatively unscathed. For example, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan was reported as stating in Yedioth Achronot in June 2012 that the Arab Spring would not reach Jordan and even if it did, “the regime would find the right way to satisfy the people’s wishes with reforms.” Mudar Zahran, a Jordanian Palestinian pro-democracy activist who is a political refugee, currently living in the United Kingdom claims otherwise.

Zahran, who says he has an extensive following among Jordan’s Palestinian population, argues that the Palestinian majority in Jordan is “angry to the fullest and have nothing to lose.” He further claims that as a whole, Jordan is experiencing rising foment among the general population against King Abdullah II, Jordan’s head of state. In short, “the situation in Jordan is bad.”

Zahran predicts that this year will be King Abdullah II’s last year in power in Jordan and that Abdullah II’s reign will not even survive the summer.

Even the native Bedouins, who were traditionally loyal to the Jordanian monarchy, are protesting openly for the king to be toppled, he says. “They have gone as far as surrounding his palace and telling him to leave the country,” Zahran explains. “All of his photos were burned in every Bedouin area and every refugee camp in Jordan.” For the first time in forty years, the Bedouins and the Palestinians are uniting together to topple the Jordanian monarchy.

Zahran claims that the Jordanian economy is on the verge of collapsing, accelerating the problem for the monarchy. “We have an inflation rate that exceeds Somalia and Ghana, and a growth rate that is less than Somalia, at 2.5 percent,” he said. “The national debt rate exceeds 75 percent of the GDP.”

For Jordanians, this horrendous economic situation brings back memories of the economic situation in 1989, when the Jordanians woke up one morning to find that their Jordanian currency had shrunk by half. Evidently, the prices of local stores in Amman are comparable to London and Tokyo, even though income per capita is 600 dollars less than Egypt, meaning that for the first time in the last 50 years Egyptians earn more than Jordanians.

According to Zahran, such a situation is not sustainable: “Jordan is a time bomb and the economic and political pressure will eventually make it explode.”

As a result, King Abdullah is desperate to save himself, Zahran says, claiming that Jordanian intelligence has been cooperating with the Assad regime over the last two months. Zahran asserts that Abdullah “has been sending back opposition figures to Assad, which is a death sentence for them, and he has been advocating at the Davos Forum that Assad will not fall, even playing on the fear factor that if Assad will fall al Qaeda will take over.”

While the king continues to paint himself as the main opposition to radical Islam, Zahran says he has made an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood which has been helping him crush secular opposition figures.

He claims that the secular opposition in both Syria and Jordan have no interest in fighting Israel and that it is they who dominate the revolution (though he concedes that the Muslim Brotherhood, with its enormous wealth, has the best shot at winning elections because no one is financially supporting the secularists). According to him, the Palestinians of Jordan, who make up the majority of the Jordanian population, are very liberal compared to Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, as well as Gaza.

In addition to colluding with Assad and the Muslim Brotherhood, Zahran says that Abdullah is also reaching out to Iran. In parallel, Al Quds Al Arabi has reported that Iran has already offered Abdullah assistance in developing Jordan’s uranium wealth.

“The king is playing with fire and the Iranians could easily burn up Jordan,” Zahran declares. “They don’t care, just like they did in Lebanon, and they will burn any where as long as it is not on their own soil.”

Another Gaza?

While Zahran says such developments in Jordan require Israel to question its support for Abdullah, he reiterates that he does believe that when (not if) King Abdullah falls, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood will win elections as they are “the only one[s] with the money.”

The Convenient Radical

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Right next to the tables where the chess players wait, chessboards laid out, clocks set up, to gull some passing businessman or arrogant NYU student out of his lunch money, the remnant of the Occupation remains.

Below the break-dancers spin and tumble enjoying the first days of spring. A bad drummer by the fountain persistently whacks away providing a dissonant soundtrack to the yuppies toting bags full of supposedly organic groceries from the stalls of the farmers’ market.

Occupy Wall Street isn’t much in the news now. It lost the battle on the southern frontier and has settled into a prolonged brawl with Trinity Church that was doomed from the start. Not too long ago, the Occupiers earned constant headlines. Now they have been reduced to a single folding table manned by a beardo with a banner featuring Martin Luther King and Obama. “I have a dream, not a drone,” it reads.

A homeless man toting a rusted shopping cart full of bottles and cans stops by to chat with him and then moves along after dropping a dime in the coffee cup.

Thanks to New York City’s recycling laws, the cans and bottles are money in the bank. The homeless man with the rusted shopping cart is working for a living while the Occupier has a coffee cup and is protesting for a living.

This is Occupy Wall Street and even though spring is in the air and the weather is warm enough for a renewal of the occupation, you don’t hear much about them anymore. And there are good reasons for that. There are bands to follow, streetcorners to squat and trends to hop on elsewhere in the country. If you’re going to protest for a living, California with its more temperate weather, is a better bet than New York City, where the warm weather is only now waving a flag while promising to show up in a month or two. But the bigger reason is that Occupy Wall Street is now surplus to requirements.

New York City radicalism is a lifetime occupation for a small fringe, but the fringe is mostly ignored. The Trotskyite fronts never stop organizing anti-war rallies and informational events, no matter who sits in the White House.  If Dennis Kucinich won in 2016 and replaced the Defense Department with the Department of Peace, on the next day the usual suspects would still assemble at Union Square, right between the chess players and the breakdancers, and demand an end to war.

Under Clinton, the anti-war business was booming on the fringe, but the news media never deigned to show up and inflate rally counts the way they did once Bush was in office. The same press releases against the War in Yugoslavia were ignored until they were dusted off and swapped out for Afghanistan and Iraq and then suddenly the media couldn’t get enough of them.

The same aging Stalinists, Maoists and Trots, the Grandmothers for Peace and the Schoolteachers for Socialism and the ragged college students clutching their copies of Noam Chomsky, suddenly became important and relevant when they marched against Bush, even though they had been marching against Clinton without a single reporter in sight, have now gone back into purgatory.

The signs are still there. Smeared and taped to lampposts they denounce American imperialism in Syria, drone strikes in Afghanistan and the usual Latin American aperitifs. There are movie showings, speakers and rallies– but no further attention is paid to them. Because they are no longer convenient.

Occupy Wall Street, which under all the coats of paint was the same thing with a different brand, is no longer convenient. It served its purpose as an election weapon. Now that the election has been won, by the class warrior glutted on Wall Street money, no one cares about the little hairy man sitting at the folding table and trying to push buttons.

The remnants of the occupation sit at their card tables, like the last Japanese soldiers on a lost island, unwilling to understand that they were nothing more than a tool that venture capitalists investing in Green Energy and medical IT and a hundred other things, not to mention the usual mortgage men, used to get what they wanted.

Occupy Wall Street was every bit as hollow as any other election stunt. It was a temporary alignment between the agenda of the left and the far-left or the far-left and the really-far-left. The details, like the slapfights between the various species of Maoist, don’t matter. What does matter is that there are, as Elaine on Seinfeld once said, successful and unsuccessful Communists. The successful kind pose for official portraits. The unsuccessful kind have to compete with breakdancers, chess players, and burly black men wearing pink “I Am a Girl” jackets collecting petition signatures for the U.N. Plan International campaign to fight gender inequality.

The convenient radical is only convenient when the left, in all its varied forms, is out of power leading to a common front. Then his toxic ideas bleed into less radical sections of his movement. Each setback radicalizes the opposition until it becomes hard to tell the men from the pigs and the liberals from the commies. And then success is achieved, some section of the coalition is carried forward into power and their unlucky cousins are left behind at their folding tables.

That is how the Democrats turned so far to the left and adopted most of the talking points of the anti-war movement. But then once in office, they still found that they had wars to run. It’s all very well to say that Martin Luther King had a dream not a drone, but it’s hard to fight terrorists with dreams. Even when your anti-war credentials are impeccable, you sometimes come to the conclusion that it takes a drone.

These days the anti-war movement is making more headway with some Republicans than Democrats; which shows how desperate they have become. And Anti-Wall Street? The Democratic Party is Wall Street. Take away the V.C.s, the trial lawyers and the entertainment industry, and you have eliminated the non-contractor funding for the party of the jackass.

Occupy Wall Street, like Obama pretending to scold Wall Street’s bonuses, was a joke. A joke that its supporters and his supporters never understood. The punchline is power. Those who have it and those who don’t.

The radical is a convenience. In a common front, he provides ideas and energy. If he cleans up well and comes up with some moneymaking ideas and a seat at a non-profit foundation, then he can get an invite to the White House even if he has blood on his hands. But for every radical who finds a spot on the board of the family foundation of some deceased Republican millionaire, there are a dozen who never get a clue or come to understand the nature of their profession.

When the alignment has passed, then the convenient radical either becomes a successful leftist or he gets a job peddling Fifty Shades of Grey at the nearby Strand bookstore, once a radical haunt, now made over into another Barnes and Noble, under the guiding hand of the wife of Senator Ron Wyden; a most successful leftist indeed.

Like every other profession, some radicals move up the ladder and others remain toting around books full of Marxist theory among the skyscrapers of the Capitalist reality. The passion and energy is a bank that the left withdraws from when politically convenient and ignores when politically inconvenient.

The energy and appetites of the beast still lurk in every city where the theoreticians spin their webs, the propagandists inflame and the perpetual students gesture animatedly. As progressives they believe that inevitably every terrible idea that they have will go mainstream and the last sixty years have largely borne them out in this. But the filtering mechanism is the issue.

In the era of Obama, the filter is weaker than ever. The pattern echoes the ongoing one of every prior administration which, even in its conservative periods, has been more willing to let in bad ideas than the left. But the floodgates are not entirely open either because the one great difference between the successful leftist and the unsuccessful radical is the old maxim about why treason never prospers.

The leftist and the radical, successful and unsuccessful, are both tyrants at heart. But the leftist understands that tyranny is a vehicle for personal power and prosperity. The radical does not.

The difference between the leftist and the radical is that the radical sits outside to promote the cause, while the leftist profits from his shivering. The radical can, and often does, become the successful leftist, but to do so he must learn the basic lesson that the endgame is wealth and power. That wealth and power can come from wrecking a nation, but the wrecking ball can’t come too close to the homes of the Marxist millionaires picking up the tab.

The convenient radical understands this. Like Noam Chomsky or Oliver Stone, Howard Zinn, Bill Ayers or Michael Moore he has the timing and the instincts to get the right exposure at the right time and then profit from it. His ideas are radical, but his instincts are impeccable. He knows the right people and the right buttons to push. But most of all, he doesn’t collect donations in a coffee cup. While he writes furious essays denouncing capitalism or screams at Wall Street through a megaphone, he has a broker and an investment plan that will ride out the tough times.

Though the convenient radical may despise those on the left to the right of him, he understands how to cater to them and how to embed his ideas in theirs. The inconvenient radical is a man of poor instincts. He is the sort of man who is still sitting under that statue of George Washington lifting his sword to mark the departure of British troops from New York City watching the breakdancers spin and the shoppers move dazedly in the organic triangle between Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and the Farmers’ Market without realizing that the occupation is over and it’s time to move on.

Wall Street has won because it is simply capital and the liberals and the leftists have their capital that they need investing. Money always wins, in one form or another. Societies may collapse into dysfunction, but there will still be someone there selling them coffee and croissants at the end. And someone advancing him money and investing in coffee cup manufacturers and looking at commodity prices and calculating supply and demand. They may not do it well, but they will do it. There may just not be a middle class to do it with.

The convenient radical understands that Wall Street reflects his priorities. If he wants to push billions in bad loans to minority homeowners or invest in Green Energy, then it will be on board. Money will be lost, but it will be someone else’s money. The inconvenient radical does not understand this. He thinks that there will one day be an actual victory. The banks will fall and be replaced by communes where food will be awarded based on the results of quizzes about the life and ideas of Michel Foucault .That is what makes him hopelessly stupid, occasionally convenient, but largely useless.

The inconvenient radical does not understand that the commune is not an option. There will either be a society with a large middle class dominated by the middle class or a society of the poor dominated by the upper class.

The convenient radical understands this and seeks the society in which a large underclass is dominated by a narrow elite. This is the society that he tirelessly inveighs against and wants to create. This outcome is what makes the left into the totalitarian entity that it is. The knowing hypocrisy is what distinguishes the successful leftist, from the inconvenient radical.

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

Who is an ‘Islamist’ and Why it Matters

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

The Associated Press has decided that the word “Islamist” may not be used to describe anything objectionable.  The Jewish Press’s Lori Lowenthal Marcus calls out the relevant passage from the news service’s newly revised stylebook:

[An Islamist is] an advocate of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam.  Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists.

Hmmm.  It’s an interesting question who will be called an Islamist by A.P. writers, given this definition.

Who is an Islamist?

Presumably, Mohammed Morsi could be called an Islamist by the A.P. – unless the second sentence above cancels out the first, making it impossible to call anyone an “Islamist.” And maybe that’s the case; if so, defining “Islamist” is an exercise in futility for the A.P.

But will Morsi be called an Islamist?  By the letter of the A.P. definition, being labeled an Islamist would put Morsi in company with Hamas, the Iranian clerical council, and the Taliban.  He belongs there, of course, but will that association be considered politically correct, given that the U.S. government is committed to Morsi’s success, and continues to deliver arms to him?

Hamas and the Taliban are terrorist organizations, but are or have been government authorities as well (the latter aspiring to be one again), reordering government and society precisely in accordance with laws they deem to be prescribed by Islam.  Iran’s leaders sponsor terrorism, as well as doing the reordering thing in the name of Islam.

In fact, Hizballah fits the bill as well, being a terrorist organization which currently governs Lebanon.  Among this terrorist-governing group, Hizballah may have made the least effort to reorder government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam.  But then, Hizballah governs a tiny, fractious, all-but-ungovernable nation with mostly porous borders, and in that role has been more concerned since January 2011 with holding power than with remaking society.  Does that mean there is some meaningful sense in which Hezbollah is not “Islamist” – even though it proclaims sharia and holds its political goals in common with Hamas and Iran (and has considerable overlap with Morsi in Egypt)?

Perhaps the seemingly narrow A.P. definition of “Islamist” is meant to ensure that only those who advocate Islamism from the more consensual environment of Western liberal societies will meet it.  This proposition will run into its own set of troubles, however, partly because radicals like Britain’s Anjem Choudary, who have been, so to speak, the face of Islamism in the West, might be considered ineligible for the title due to their explosively radical demeanor.  If Choudary isn’t an Islamist, who is?

That remains a good question, considering that other, more mainstream Western organizations may have ties through their leadership, like CAIR’s, to the Muslim Brotherhood and even terrorist groups, but they do not overtly propose to reorder government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam.  Does that mean they are not Islamist?  And if not, what does that mean?

At present, CAIR’s efforts are not focused directly on reordering government and society, but rather on undermining one of the essential pillars of Western civilization: unfettered pursuit of the truth – about radical Islam as about anything else.  Government agencies, with their top-down institutional pieties, are an easy target for outright censorship in this regard.

The A.P. Stylebook revision is something different, and perhaps more insidious.  Presumably, an A.P. writer would not refer to CAIR’s involvement in redefining “Islamist” as a method of Islamism, although it is one.  And, in fairness, there is a good case to be made that rewriting definitions for political reasons is something the Western left requires no prompting to do.  Need it be “Islamist” to define categories prejudicially?  It certainly doesn’t have to be “Islamist” to label anyone whose arguments you don’t like a “racist.”  The Western left thought that one up all on its own.

The lack of firm ground to stand on in this analysis is quintessential in the propositions of radicals.  Corruption and politicization of the language are common radical tactics.  Whom, exactly, can an A.P. writer call an Islamist, given all these factors?  The antiseptic definition of Islamism approved by CAIR might apply only to Islamic theoreticians who never actually engage in political advocacy – if there are any.

Democracy is Not the Answer

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

To understand how we got to the point that spending hundreds of millions of dollars to support a government run by people who have been at war with us for almost a century is a policy that most foreign policy experts endorse, it helps to take a brief trip back in time.

In the last century, our big three wars, the two we fought and the one we didn’t, were against enemies who were seen as being distinguished by a lack of democracy, with the Kaiser, the Fuhrer and the Commissar embodying the antithesis of the American system.

The Democratic Party, which stood at the helm during both hot wars, was able to link its brand to the wars by defining them as struggles for democracy. The process of de-nationalizing war from a conflict between nations and ethnic groups was only partly realized in WWI, where invective against the “Huns” still simmered, but was largely achieved in WWII; with some exceptions made for Japan.

This idealization of war made post-war reconstruction and alliance easier. National and ethnic grudges were set aside and replaced by ideological platforms. If the trouble was a lack of democracy, then all we needed to do was defeat the tyrant’s armies, inject democracy and stand back. Focusing on democracy made it possible to rebuild Germany and Japan as quasi-pacifist entities expressing their grievances toward the Allies from the pacifistic stance of the moral high ground, rather than  through  military rearmament and revenge.

The United States had traded Hitler for Gunter Grass and while both hated the United States, Gunter Grass would write nasty essays about it, instead of declaring war on it.

And democracy made it easier to turn liberals against the Soviet Union, which had tossed aside every pretense of being a bottom-up system for what was clearly a top-down tyranny. The liberals who had believed in a war for democracy in Europe had difficulty tossing it aside after the war was over. And that emphasis on democracy helped make a national defense coalition between conservatives and liberals possible. Both might have fundamental disagreements, but they agreed that democracy was better than tyranny. And if that was true, then America was better than the USSR.

This strategy was effective enough against existing totalitarian systems. It however had a major weakness. It could not account for keeping a totalitarian ideology from taking power through the ballot box.

The assumption that because the Nazis and the Communists rejected open elections that they could not win open elections was wrong. Democracy of that kind is populism and totalitarian movements can be quite popular. The Nazis did fairly well in the 1932 elections and the radical left gobbled up much of the Russian First Duma. The modern Russian Communist Party is the second largest party in the Duma today.

Democratic elections do not necessarily lead to democratic outcomes, but the linkage of democracy to progress made that hard to see. The assumption that democracy is progressive and leads to more progress had been adopted even by many conservatives. That fixed notion of history led to trouble in Latin America and Asia. And it led to total disaster in the Arab Spring.

Cold War America knew better than to endorse universal democracy. Open elections everywhere would have given the Soviet Union more allies than the United States. The left attacked Eisenhower and Kennedy as hypocrites, but both men were correct in understanding that there was no virtue in overthrowing an authoritarian government only to replace it with an even more authoritarian government; whether through violence or the ballot box.

As time went on, Americans were assailed with two interrelated arguments. The left warned that the denial of democracy was fueling Third World rage against the United States. By supporting tyrants, we were conducting an occupation by proxy. And on the right we heard that tyranny was warping Third World societies into malignant forms. The left’s version of the argument directed more blame at America, but both versions of the argument treated democracy as a cure for hostility.

September 11 appeared to confirm one or both of the arguments as policymakers and pundits found themselves confronted with an unexpected wave of hostility from countries that they had not spent much time thinking about.

A Jewish State Can Be Democratic and Moral

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Joseph Levine is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and he has published an essay in (where else?) the New York Times, in which he argues that the proposition ‘Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state’ is false.

There are many things in the article to complain about, but I am going to content myself with pointing out the single massive howler by which his argument collapses.

He makes the distinction between “a people in the ethnic sense” and in the “civic sense,” which means either residents of a geographical area or citizens of a state. He generously grants that there is a Jewish people in the ethnic sense who live in Israel, but only an ‘Israeli people,’ which includes Arabs, in the civic sense. Then he tells us,

…insofar as the principle that all peoples have the right to self-determination entails the right to a state of their own, it can apply to peoples only in the civic sense…

But if the people who “own” the state in question are an ethnic sub-group of the citizenry, even if the vast majority, it constitutes a serious problem indeed, and this is precisely the situation of Israel as the Jewish state. Far from being a natural expression of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, it is in fact a violation of the right to self-determination of its non-Jewish (mainly Palestinian) citizens. It is a violation of a people’s right to self-determination to exclude them — whether by virtue of their ethnic membership, or for any other reason — from full political participation in the state under whose sovereignty they fall…

“Any state that ‘belongs’ to one ethnic group within it violates the core democratic principle of equality, and the self-determination rights of the non-members of that group” [my emphasis].

His exposition is much more lengthy and you should read it. But I think I have extracted the gist of it.

Interestingly, while he explains what he means by ‘a people’ and draws a distinction between two senses of the expression, he does not even hint about his understanding of the concept of ‘democracy’ and especially “the core democratic principle of equality,” the violation of which he believes disqualifies Israel from continued existence as a Jewish state.

Levine explains how Israel violates these principles:

The distinctive position of [a favored ethnic people] would be manifested in a number of ways, from the largely symbolic to the more substantive: for example, it would be reflected in the name of the state, the nature of its flag and other symbols, its national holidays, its education system, its immigration rules, the extent to which membership in the people in question is a factor in official planning, how resources are distributed, etc.

Actually, concerning the “more substantive” things, Arab citizens of Israel are doing quite well: they have the right to vote, to hold political office, and a large degree of control of their educational system; there are rules against discrimination in housing and employment (with exceptions related to national security), etc. In other words, they have full civil rights.

Naturally there are differences in the treatment of Jews and Arabs. Some are due to cultural differences — Arab towns are governed by Arabs and distribute resources differently — some are related to security, and some to anti-Arab prejudice. But the degree of prejudice in Israeli society is not particularly great compared to other advanced nations like the U.S., and nobody is suggesting that the U.S. does not have a “right to exist” unless all discrimination can be eliminated.

In any event, discrimination in what he calls “substantive” ways are not essential to the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, and there is a general consensus that such discrimination is wrong and should be eliminated.

Israel’s immigration rules are certainly unequal. But immigration rules by definition do not apply to citizens; and few — if any — of the world’s nations permit free immigration.

Levine also does not consider security issues at all. If Israel ignored them it would cease to exist without philosophical arguments. This would be bad both for the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel (just ask any of them if they would prefer to be citizens of Israel or the Palestinian Authority).

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/fresno-zionism/a-jewish-state-can-be-democratic-and-moral/2013/03/12/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: