Rumors of the Death of Israeli Democracy Are Greatly Exaggerated

It’s by now a familiar story: a right-wing Knesset member proposes a bill taking away the de-facto status of Arabic as an official language or requiring greater transparency from non-governmental organizations; left-wing parliamentarians denounce such moves as undermining Israeli democracy; the New Israel Fund declares that only the left can retard Israel’s otherwise inevitable slide into authoritarianism. Yet, notes Haviv Rettig Gur, the demonized bills, if they are brought to a vote at all, have a tendency to be defeated, usually by wide margins—and several times Benjamin Netanyahu has been the one to persuade the bill’s sponsors to withdraw their proposals. Gur explains:

In the end, the debate about Israel, both at home and among those overseas who take their cues from Israel’s domestic politics, is driven by the faux stridency of powerless demagogues, by rightists who propose unpassable bills to draw out the wrath of the left and so distinguish themselves in a crowded field—and by leftists who simply have too much to gain from their hand-wringing, [whether in courting] foreign funders [or] mobilizing an ethos of victimhood, to subject it to any measure of self-criticism.

Or, put another way, the frenetic rhetorical contest between left and right is essentially a media event, not a policy debate. . . . These bills are intended as press releases, and it is no accident that their numbers usually swell in the run-up to right-wing primaries. They are not meant to pass. Lawmakers who propose them do not expect to find themselves [held accountable] for the results of their passage. Israel’s far-left activists, who are often at the center of these left-right skirmishes, know all this—at least when they are speaking in Hebrew.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israeli democracy, Israeli left, Israeli politics, Knesset

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