One of the most popular motifs among the anti-Israel crowd these days is that “the only democracy in the Middle East” isn’t actually a democracy at all: It’s an “apartheid state,” a “democracy for Jews only,” or at the very least, a state that’s constantly passing “anti-democratic” laws. So it’s worth considering what people who actually live in undemocratic states think of this claim. Anshel Pfeffer of Haaretz opened one of his reports from Cairo last Friday as follows:
“We want a democracy like in Israel.” I heard this sentence twice in January, once in a shopping center in Tunis and a second time on a street near Tahrir Square in Cairo. When I tell people that neither of the men who said this to me were aware of my being a reporter for an Israeli newspaper, I am usually greeted with disbelief.
As Pfeffer noted, it may seem “strange at first that Arab demonstrators are using the hated Zionist entity as their democratic ideal, rather than say Sweden or
Holland,” but that’s a natural side effect of the Arab media’s obsession with Israel: Because the Arab media reports constantly on Israel, Arab demonstrators
know more about the Zionist enemy than they do about other democracies.
And while most of what they broadcast is soldiers shooting at Palestinians, over the last few years they have also seen the Katsav and Olmert trials [of an ex-president and an ex-prime minister], generals and ministers being hauled in front of civilian commissions of inquiry following military failures, and the wave of social protest on Rothschild Boulevard last summer…
Arabs see a state where a president and prime minister are held to account for their crimes and failures, and hundreds of thousands can take to the streets calling for their removal without fearing they will not return home alive. And while the Arab broadcasters do not work in Israel totally unhindered … their offices have not been shut down and their employees targeted and attacked in the way they have been in just about every Arab country.
Liberal American Jews often voice profound discomfort and disappointment with Israel, and one of their most common complaints, as a fellow immigrant to Israel once told me in explaining her decision to return to America, is that Israel was supposed to be “a light unto the nations,” and it isn’t.
Certainly, Israel isn’t perfect; no state is. Like most Israelis, I could fill reams with all the flaws I’d like to see corrected. But it’s easy to get so focused on the flaws that you miss the big picture: Israel is a shining beacon of democracy in a region where democracy is otherwise unknown, an example so powerful that even citizens of countries where Israel is overwhelmingly hated cite it as the model of what they would like their own countries to become.
If that isn’t being “a light unto the nations,” I don’t know what is.