The Jewish State and the Meaning of Democracy

Feb. 10 2015

Can Israel continue to be both Jewish and democratic? According to Evelyn Gordon, that depends on your definition of democracy. The answer is emphatically yes, if democracy is understood—correctly—as a system of government that ensures the consent of the governed and such basic rights as freedom of speech. The problems begin with those who disdain “procedural” democracy in favor of “substantive” democracy—by which they mean, writes Gordon, “less a system of government than a religion”:

Like any religion, [substantive democracy] contains both positive and negative commandments that govern not only political but also moral and social, life; the only difference is that these commandments are called “rights” instead. Thus, for instance, legalizing gay marriage is obligatory, because there’s a “right to marry,” but restricting abortion is forbidden, because a woman has a “right to control her own body.” These positions have nothing to do with the mechanisms of government and everything to do with dictating social and moral norms. . . .

The problem with treating democracy as a religion, however, is that no two religions are ever wholly compatible. One cannot, for instance, simultaneously be a practicing Jew and a practicing Muslim, because Jewish and Islamic law sometimes clash. So, too, can the commandments of Judaism and substantive democracy. . . .

[By contrast,] procedural democracy isn’t a competing religion; it’s a system of government. And this particular system of government is essential to the Jewish state’s survival, for one simple reason: any Jewish state . . . must be one where large numbers of Jews with often contradictory opinions and values . . . can somehow live together. And no system of government is better at enabling people with wildly different opinions to coexist than democracy. Judaism is Israel’s soul . . . ; democracy is Israel’s body. . . . Like any living creature, the Jewish state needs both soul and body to survive. On its own, neither is enough.

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Read more at Evelyn Gordon

More about: Democracy, Israel & Zionism, Israeli democracy, Political philosophy

 

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship