How Judaism Protects, Rather than Hinders, Israeli Democracy

The proposed bill to declare Israel “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” put before the Knesset last fall, engendered much discussion about the need to reconcile Israel’s democracy with its Jewish character, as if Judaism and democracy were fundamentally at odds. They are not, argues Joel Fishman:

The politically correct wisdom which has become part of the present debate asserts that Judaism and democracy are inherently antithetical, but this is not necessarily true. Several great political thinkers have argued that under decentralized conditions, both religion and democracy can work together quite well. For example, in his classic, Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville argued that Christianity made a positive contribution toward creating a climate of good sense and moderation which permitted democratic habits to thrive. From the colonial period, Protestant Christianity held a preeminent status in the United States which encouraged a positive civic culture and the responsible exercise of freedom. Not least, religion fostered inner restraint and limited excesses of behavior. In his famous conclusion, Tocqueville warned that if the state possessed the tools of supervision, it might introduce a “democratic tyranny” which would bring an end to personal freedom.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Alexis de Tocqueville, Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Judaism, Religion and politics

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus