Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sherman - Into the Fray: Distorting democracy

Martin Sherman
JPost Column
28 July '11

The greatest danger to Israeli democracy emanates from those masquerading as its champions.

A great hue and cry has erupted recently in the wake of a number of parliamentary initiatives undertaken by what is usually characterized – pejoratively – as the “right-wing.”

The purpose of these initiatives was to place mildly onerous constraints on the hitherto unrestricted operational freedom of organizations usually characterized – favorably – as “left-wing.”

Grave concerns have been expressed as to what these initiatives herald for the future of liberal democracy in the country.

Echoes of these fears were reflected far and wide, finding expression in such influential outlets as The New York Times, whose editorial proclaimed that such initiatives were “not befitting a democracy” – although, curiously, they are not altogether dissimilar from measures that exist in the US.

However, there is indeed much room for concern.

Israel’s democracy is under assault. But this threat does not emanate from parliamentary inquiries into whether funds from official foreign sources are being channeled to domestic organizations to coerce the government to adopt policies it was elected to resist; or from decisions to restrict the unimpeded capacity to wage economic warfare against the country through boycotts, sanctions and divestment; or from moves to ensure transparency regarding the financing of groups endeavoring to mobilize international pressure against the country; or from legislation to preclude tax revenues being allotted to promote the public commemoration of the founding of the state as a regrettable – and it is hoped, reversible –”catastrophe.”

By any criterion of fair minded common sense, these initiatives would be considered no more than the fulfillment of a basic parliamentary duty of elected representatives to their voting public to deal with attempts – often flagrantly undisguised – to impair the sovereignty of the nation and to harm its citizens and institutions.

And while certain aspects of these measures may not be unblemished, and may be open to criticism, they in themselves comprise no serious menace to the viability of Israeli democracy.

Quite the opposite. The real threat to the nation’s democracy is from those who oppose these initiatives – not from those who support them.

The real threat to Israeli democracy arises from those who aspire to put themselves above it – a tyrannical clique of self-ordained “philosopher princes” which considers itself unbound by the results of the democratic process. It is a threat that flows from an arrogant class of an unelected – but empowered – few, whose self-perceived moral and intellectual superiority instills in them the belief that they have the right – indeed the duty – to subvert the choice of the “unwashed” electorate. It is a threat that emerges from a privileged minority imbued with unbridled conviction that they are permitted – even obliged – to impose their worldview on the nation, undeterred by its rejection at the polls and with no qualms about enlisting foreign elements to apply punitive measures against their country until it submits to their will.

The shrill protests at the latest parliamentary initiatives have nothing to do with genuine devotion to democratic principles. Indeed, no call for similar largess and tolerance regarding the propagation of the views of political adversaries has ever been voiced by these self-proclaimed custodians of liberal democracy. Their feigned concern for freedom of expression merely masks a categorical demand for unfettered ideological license to pursue, by extra-parliamentary means, a failed policy of political appeasement and territorial concessions – a policy consistently dis-proven, but somehow never discredited, and certainly never discarded.

The real ideological divide in Israel is not between those who cherish liberty and those who do not. Rather is over conflicting positions on the “Palestinian issue.”

All the howls of indignation over supposed infringements of freedom of expression are all somehow tethered to measures which impinge on the capacity to advance the Palestinian narrative: the financing of pro- Palestinian pressure groups; the public commemoration of the “Nakba”; and the boycott of Israel for its policies vis-√†-vis the Palestinians.

Perversely, over the past two decades, support for Palestinian statehood has become the accepted badge of “liberal enlightenment.”

Endorsement of the establishment of an additional Arab autocracy – whether a tyrannical theocracy run by Islamist extremists, or a corrupt kleptocracy run by “sticky-fingered” thugs – became the litmus test of liberal-democratic credentials.

It matters not that the putative Palestinian state will in all likelihood be the embodiment of a value system utterly antithetical to that invoked for its establishment – an entity where suppression of women, the oppression of gays and the repression of political dissidents are the order of the day. Any expression of doubt as to the prudence of its establishment is scornfully dismissed as merely one of a long array of derogatory “isms”: right-wing extremism, racism, or fascism – no matter how compelling the arguments produced demonstrating how despotic, destabilizing and dangerous the outcome would be...

Regrettably, the perversion of the democratic process – largely by its self-anointed champions – has been afoot for two decades.

Since the early ’90s, the voters have consistently been confronted with situation in which the elected government has adopted the very policies rejected at the polls – policies that the winning party/candidate urged voters to oppose. Thus the hawkish Yitzhak Rabin adopted the dovish, and disastrous, Oslo-ian formula of the electorally unsuccessful far-left; Ariel Sharon implemented the unilateral disengagement he beseeched voters to reject when proposed by his Labor party rival, and even Binyamin Netanyahu accepted, albeit with great reluctance and reservation, the notion of Palestinian state he had vowed to oppose...

This phenomenon has nearly emptied the Israeli democratic process of any significance.

True, no one realistically expects any elected government to implement everything included its election manifesto, or to eschew all that is not. However, when elected parties/candidates regularly renege on a central plank of their platforms, on an issue that comprises the focal point of the election, and execute not only what they explicitly pledged to avoid, but precisely what their rivals proposed to implement, what is the point in voting at all? What, and who, was behind these dramatic post-election policy reversals? Neither international pressure, nor coalition pressure – the usually proffered explanations – can persuasively account for them. There was little international – and no US – pressure on Israel to enter into negotiations with the PLO, still defined as a terror organization deep into the Oslo process; there was certainly no international pressure to undertake unilateral measures to withdraw from Gaza; and absolutely no political pressure from inside the incumbent coalitions to implement them. Indeed, the ruling coalitions of the time had to garner support for their new policies by an unsavory assortment of political “inducements,” from contrived ministerial portfolios to governmentissue Mitsubishis.

No, what induced these reversals was a brutal, unrestrained assault on those elected to office, along with a coordinated common front embracing legal, media and academic related components, designed to subvert the will of the people as expressed at the polls. It was an assault that distorted the facts, suppressed the truth, silenced dissent and ridiculed dissenters. It was an assault mounted by the same civil-society circles that now would strip the elected legislature of any ability to resist the propagation of their ideological agenda. (A detailed exposition of the mechanism and rationale of this assault must await a future column).

These are circles that do not sanctify liberal democratic principles, but rather Palestinian statehood, as a supreme value. For them, that is the overriding objective to which all can – and must – be subordinated, including the democratic process.

It is this unscrupulous minority that would strip democratic Israel of any defenses, that would de-fang its military and debilitate its diplomacy. They are the real threat to democracy in the land. Their conduct is creating powerful disincentives for participation in the electoral process, and grave disenchantment with the democratic system.

They must be foiled at all costs. Otherwise the future for Israeli democracy may indeed be bleak. For once the electorate loses faith in democratic process, what is there to prevent the onset of alternative forms of governance...and what is there to stop the distance between governance by ballot and governance by bullet from becoming perilously close?

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