In the Obama administration’s latest salvo against Israel (see here and here for previous rounds), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly accused Israel of behaving like undemocratic regimes, even comparing it directly to Iran.
This is so outrageous it shouldn’t need refuting. But since the secretary of state is clearly confused about what distinguishes democracies from non-democracies, allow me to help: Democracies, like non-democracies, consist of human beings, and human beings everywhere sometimes produce bad ideas. But unlike non-democracies, democracies have numerous self-correcting mechanisms to keep such bad ideas in check. And nothing better proves this than the very examples she cited.
Take, for instance, the segregated buses. Some years ago, a few extremist ultra-Orthodox communities decided that buses should be segregated, with men sitting in front and women in back. Shockingly, the public bus company serving these communities complied. Like Clinton, I find this outrageous, as did most Israelis when they learned of it. But here’s the part of the story Clinton didn’t tell:
Israel’s vibrant free press reported on the issue, creating a public outcry. The issue was taken up by Israel’s democratically elected government. Ordinary individuals joined with some of Israel’s numerous civil-society organizations to petition Israel’s independent High Court of Justice, which unsurprisingly ruled the segregation illegal. Now, civil-society activists are monitoring the ruling’s enforcement. The verdict so far, as per one activist’s account in Haaretz last month: Some ultra-Orthodox passengers are palpably hostile, but women can sit in the front of the bus without suffering harassment.
In short, the self-correcting mechanisms of Israel’s democracy worked exactly the way they were supposed to: Instead of receiving official sanction, as it does in, say, Saudi Arabia, gender segregation was legally quashed.
Or take the proposals to restrict foreign governments’ funding of left-wing NGOs. As I explain here, these bills sought to address a real problem, but were indeed undemocratic as originally worded.
But here’s the part of the story Clinton didn’t tell: The bills sparked an outcry, both in Israel’s free press and its democratically elected parliament, and the swelling opposition caused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ice the legislation even before it reached the Knesset. Once again, the self-correcting mechanisms of Israel’s democracy worked exactly as they were supposed to. Now, a revised version of the bill has been submitted, but it, too, has sparked fierce opposition and will likely be killed unless it undergoes further substantial changes.
Granted, the NGOs America supports in Israel are generally worthy apolitical ones, engaged in causes (like empowering Bedouin women) to which Clinton justly sees no reason for Israel to object. But that isn’t true of European governments — which, for instance, actively fund efforts to get Israeli soldiers indicted in international courts. Try imagining America’s reaction if supposedly friendly governments were funding NGOs that sought to haul American soldiers before the International Criminal Court, and the Israeli bills look much more justifiable.
Clinton’s behavior, in contrast, has no justification whatsoever. After all, she is the secretary of state. Shouldn’t she at least bother to check the facts before launching broadsides.