The Jewish State and the Meaning of Democracy

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

The New Iran Deal Will Reward Terrorism, Help Russia, and Get Nothing in Return

After many months of negotiations, Washington and Tehran—thanks to Russian mediation—appear close to renewing the 2015 agreement concerning the Iranian nuclear program. Richard Goldberg comments:

Under a new deal, Iran would receive $275 billion of sanctions relief in the first year and $1 trillion by 2030. [Moreover], Tehran would face no changes in the old deal’s sunset clauses—that is, expiration dates on key restrictions—and would be allowed to keep its newly deployed arsenal of advanced uranium centrifuges in storage, guaranteeing the regime the ability to cross the nuclear threshold at any time of its choosing. . . . And worst of all, Iran would win all these concessions while actively plotting to assassinate former U.S. officials like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and [his] adviser Brian Hook, and trying to kidnap and kill the Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad on U.S. soil.

Moscow, meanwhile, would receive billions of dollars to construct additional nuclear power plants in Iran, and potentially more for storage of nuclear material. . . . Following a visit by the Russian president Vladimir Putin to Tehran last month, Iran reportedly started transferring armed drones for Russian use against Ukraine. On Tuesday, Putin launched an Iranian satellite into orbit reportedly on the condition that Moscow can task it to support Russian operations in Ukraine.

With American and European sanctions on Russia escalating, particularly with respect to Russian energy sales, Putin may finally see net value in the U.S. lifting of sanctions on Iran’s financial and commercial sectors. While the return of Iranian crude to the global market could lead to a modest reduction in oil prices, thereby reducing Putin’s revenue, Russia may be able to head off U.S. secondary sanctions by routing key transactions through Tehran. After all, what would the Biden administration do if Iran allowed Russia to use its major banks and companies to bypass Western sanctions?

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Russia, U.S. Foreign policy