The Centuries-Old Jewish Roots of Israeli Democracy

June 28 2021

One oft-heard refrain is that there is a tension between Israel’s identity as a Jewish state and its identity as a democratic one. Taking a long view of Jewish history, Shlomo Avineri argues that Israel is a thriving democracy because it is Jewish:

When Jews sought to maintain Jewish life as they understood it in exile, they were forced to do so on the basis of voluntary associations. If they wanted, for instance, to establish a synagogue or to educate their children, they didn’t have their own state or centralized religious institutions that could provide such services. Therefore, the only option was to organize on their own, of their own free will.

To do so, they elected institutions and set rules for elections and community taxes. . . . Some communities were more egalitarian and some were more oligarchic, but in either case, they were based on community decisions and elections. The paradox is that while the surrounding societies were ruled by sultans, kings, and emperors, the Jewish community—despite its lack of statehood and sovereignty—was ruled by its own members.

The Jews entered the modern world with a tradition of representation and electoral processes. These elections obviously weren’t democratic in the sense of everyone having the right to vote, but they instilled the awareness that representation and elections were legitimate needs.

This tradition also accompanied Jewish life in the modern era. . . . One of the first things the First Zionist Congress decided in 1897 was to elect its management and determine electoral procedures. The institutions established by the first immigrants to pre-state Israel for their moshavim, kibbutzim, and towns, and later for the entire Jewish community there, were elected institutions.

As in Britain and the U.S., Avineri concludes, in Israel democracy “stems from a political culture with deep roots in society, rather than the importation of abstract principles from abroad.” And therefore, he argues, it is far more resilient than many of Israel’s friends, and foes, believe. (Free registration may be required.)

Read more at Haaretz

More about: Democracy, Israeli democracy, Jewish history


Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria