Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Zadok - Hooliganism or representative democracy?

Dr. Shlomo Zadok
Israel Hayom
22 November '11

Politicians, publicists, reporters and other interested parties are casting fire and brimstone at right-wing politicians for trying to advance new legislation pertaining to the courts and the media. Even President Shimon Peres, who tries to stay above the fray of partisan politics, joined the public debate and declared recent legislative initiatives a "distortion of democracy."

The critics' fury comes with harsh words: "political hooliganism," "Albanian democracy," "assassination of democracy," "fanatic-ocracy" and others. These heaps of criticism get high television ratings. But from the objective point of view of political sociology, this criticism has deep cracks and even appears to lack an empirical and ethical backbone. In other words, it seems that the critics are using the word "democracy" in vain.

Israel is a representative democracy. The essence of such democracy involves, among other things, presenting an ideological-political agenda to the voter, receiving a mandate from that voter, and then fighting by all legitimate means to realize that agenda. In plain language, we call that a political platform. A voter's choice of a party constitutes a sort of contract, both legal and moral, between the voter and the elected official. The voter uphold his or her end of the contract, choosing a party and representative by submitting their ballot, and the elected official promises to keep their end of the bargain, which is to implement that platform. This is the political contract, and though it is unwritten, it is totally valid and constitutional.

When the elected representative does not implement the platform the voter chose, that person is violating the contract. His or her conduct is tantamount to immoral deception.

For this reason, we attack and denounce elected officials and their political parties when they fail to comply with the contract's obligations, preferring personal power over political integrity. The conclusion that follows is that the denunciation of elected officials who do fulfill their promises is immoral.

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A prominent example of this immorality pertains to the ultra-Orthodox parties. Whenever an ultra-Orthodox party fights to keep its promise to its voters, through perfectly legitimate coalition agreements - agreements made through negotiations and not imposed by tanks and violence - is perceived by many columnists and laypeople as "ultra-Orthodox extortion."

But these politicians' total commitment to their constituents is both moral and rational. It meets all the requirements of an objective democratic test. Such behavior is moral because it is universalizable: all of the actors on the political stage can and should behave this way, whether they belong to the Left or Right. This is the source of its moral power.

These words have been written in the context of criticism against the so-called "right-wing legislation." I am not addressing the content of the legislation or making any sort of pronouncement on whether these legislative initiatives are "moral" or "immoral." Such a statement is political in nature and not the province of a social scientist. My intention in this article is to illuminate this debate from a socio-political point of view.

* * *

Nevertheless, I would like to add that this "right-wing legislation" would perhaps never have come about had there not been a sense, not unfounded, that our elected officials had turned into the serving vessels of the media and senior officials. Unfortunately, over the past few years, long-standing democratic practices have changed. Due to the terrible weakness of our politicians, a group has crystallized in Israel that ridicules and denigrates democratic order but demands that their positions be accepted regardless of their numbers in the population. If the motives of those who lambaste "right-wing legislation" are pure and authentic, and I am sure this is the case at least with some, they should pay attention to the fact that their claims are inconsistent with a true acceptance of representative democracy.

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