Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israeli democracy

The Rule of Law in the Middle East

A reminder of why Israel is the United States’ only genuine democratic ally in the Middle East came today in the form of a story that is thought to be a black eye for the Jewish state. Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister of Israel and favorite of peace processors everywhere, was sentenced to six years in prison on corruption charges. Olmert’s downfall was as precipitous as it was unexpected. Political corruption is not unknown in Israel, but accusations against other political leaders had, with a few exceptions, rarely led to jail terms for those involved. Most savvy Israeli political observers seemed to have thought Olmert would also escape, especially since an earlier trial had resulted in a legal slap on the wrist for the slippery former PM rather than jail. But when his former top assistant dating back to his time as mayor of Jerusalem dropped the proverbial dime on him, it was clear that he had run out of “get out of jail free” cards.

This is good news for Israel since Olmert’s fate stands as a warning to the other members of the country’s political class that there are consequences for stealing. But it is also heartening for Americans to see again that although, like their own country, Israel is not perfect, it is still a nation where the rule of law prevails. Though the spectacle of a man with the Israeli equivalent of a Secret Service detail being hauled off to jail is sobering, the ability of the nation’s legal system to successfully prosecute a man who was not only powerful but well liked by its media as well as by the leaders of its sole superpower ally is proof that the Jewish state walks the walk about democracy and the rule of law. This provides not only a stark contrast to its undemocratic neighbors, but also gives the lie to the assumptions that are the foundation of the canards about it being an “apartheid state.”

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A reminder of why Israel is the United States’ only genuine democratic ally in the Middle East came today in the form of a story that is thought to be a black eye for the Jewish state. Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister of Israel and favorite of peace processors everywhere, was sentenced to six years in prison on corruption charges. Olmert’s downfall was as precipitous as it was unexpected. Political corruption is not unknown in Israel, but accusations against other political leaders had, with a few exceptions, rarely led to jail terms for those involved. Most savvy Israeli political observers seemed to have thought Olmert would also escape, especially since an earlier trial had resulted in a legal slap on the wrist for the slippery former PM rather than jail. But when his former top assistant dating back to his time as mayor of Jerusalem dropped the proverbial dime on him, it was clear that he had run out of “get out of jail free” cards.

This is good news for Israel since Olmert’s fate stands as a warning to the other members of the country’s political class that there are consequences for stealing. But it is also heartening for Americans to see again that although, like their own country, Israel is not perfect, it is still a nation where the rule of law prevails. Though the spectacle of a man with the Israeli equivalent of a Secret Service detail being hauled off to jail is sobering, the ability of the nation’s legal system to successfully prosecute a man who was not only powerful but well liked by its media as well as by the leaders of its sole superpower ally is proof that the Jewish state walks the walk about democracy and the rule of law. This provides not only a stark contrast to its undemocratic neighbors, but also gives the lie to the assumptions that are the foundation of the canards about it being an “apartheid state.”

The comparison between Israel and the surrounding Arab countries, including Hamas-ruled Gaza and the autonomous Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, is all too obvious. In a region of the world where governments are only changed via coups and murder and where concepts about the rule of law are often seen as an alien Western innovation, Israeli democracy stands out as a beacon that attracts even the admiration of those who profess to wish to destroy it.

But let’s understand that the claims that Israel is, in effect, a limited democracy that doesn’t afford equal rights under the law for all of its citizens is also undermined by what happened to Olmert. For all of the imperfections that are part of any democracy, Israel is a country with an independent judiciary and laws that are applied across the board. The false charges that it discriminates against Arabs are given the lie by the fact that even West Bank Arabs—who remain governed by the Jordanian laws that existed before 1967 or Palestinian Authority regulations—can appeal to the Israeli courts for justice against the Israeli army and government.

The rule of law in Israel is, as is also the case for the United States, a foundation for its democratic governance and its successful economy. Stating this seems obvious to the country’s friends and admirers. But at a time when it is increasingly under assault from those advocating boycotts against it, the reality of life in democratic Israel is often being obscured by the “apartheid” libels wielded by critics whose purpose is not reform but to destroy it. That is especially true on college campuses, where, as I wrote last week, BDS (boycott, divest, sanctions) advocates are seeking to stigmatize those who visit the country because those who do so learn the truth.

So rather than mourning the fall of a sleazy politician who behaved in the manner that we associate with American urban political machines rather than the heroic “warrior” culture we generally associate with Israeli leaders, the country’s friends should be celebrating this story. Whenever the rule of law triumphs, democracy is strengthened.

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Gaza Withdrawal’s Lesson: A Caveat

Jonathan follows Bret Stephens and Max Boot in reviewing the debate over the Gaza disengagement back in 2005, when Israel withdrew civilians and military personnel from the Strip. “But unlike Bret and Max,” Jonathan writes, “I don’t feel obligated to offer any mea culpas about my position on the withdrawal.” After all, to his credit he presciently anticipated that Israel would not receive the benefits from the disengagement that its advocates predicted.

“So why didn’t those reservations compel me to take a stand against Sharon?” he continues. “It was because the decision to withdraw was the decision of the democratically elected government of the state of Israel.” This, Jonathan says, is why the “Diaspora kibitzers who are now saying, ‘I told you so,’ are still missing the key point about that debate,” since “decisions about settlements, borders, Jerusalem and the territories must be made by those elected by the Israeli people, not by American Jewish wiseacres, be they of the left- or the right-wing persuasion.” Read More

Jonathan follows Bret Stephens and Max Boot in reviewing the debate over the Gaza disengagement back in 2005, when Israel withdrew civilians and military personnel from the Strip. “But unlike Bret and Max,” Jonathan writes, “I don’t feel obligated to offer any mea culpas about my position on the withdrawal.” After all, to his credit he presciently anticipated that Israel would not receive the benefits from the disengagement that its advocates predicted.

“So why didn’t those reservations compel me to take a stand against Sharon?” he continues. “It was because the decision to withdraw was the decision of the democratically elected government of the state of Israel.” This, Jonathan says, is why the “Diaspora kibitzers who are now saying, ‘I told you so,’ are still missing the key point about that debate,” since “decisions about settlements, borders, Jerusalem and the territories must be made by those elected by the Israeli people, not by American Jewish wiseacres, be they of the left- or the right-wing persuasion.”

In so writing, Jonathan retains the position long occupied by Jewish conservatives outside of Israel, who prefer to leave Israeli policy to the Israelis and focus instead on defending the Jewish state from its indefatigable liberal critics, Jewish and gentile. This is an admirable position, but one that nonetheless may need revision and certainly deserves more debate among its adherents. That, though, is for another post.

Regarding the disengagement in particular, one might raise a caveat to Jonathan’s analysis. In a general sense, he is of course correct: “the decision to withdraw was the decision of the democratically elected government of the state of Israel.” But the disengagement was implemented by a party (Likud) which had just been elected on a platform opposing the (actually even more modest) disengagement plan of its opponent, Amram Mitzna’s Labor. Having been reelected prime minister, Likud’s leader, Ariel Sharon, apparently changed his mind and took his own more ambitious disengagement plan to his party for ratification. He lost, leaving him and several defectors from both the Likud and Labor to form a new party, Kadima, instead, in order to pursue the policy.

Now, this was of course entirely legal and simply the outcome of political maneuvering within an unimpeachably democratic system (even though conceptually it is a little bizarre that members of a party who are elected not as individual representatives but specifically as members of that party’s list can nonetheless secede from that party during a parliamentary term–and even more so the prime minister). However, given Sharon’s history as a longstanding advocate of the Israeli presence in the territories, it is not incomparable to, say, a President Rick Santorum reversing himself upon assuming office and signing gay marriage into law.

To call the disengagement democratic, therefore, is certainly not inaccurate, and Jonathan is by no means wrong to do so. And yet it still misses part of what so angered its opponents at the time and since.

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Gaza Withdrawal’s Lesson? Preserve Israel’s Right to Self-Determination

Like the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens and our own Max Boot, I, too, have been thinking a lot lately about the seven-year-old debate about whether Israel was wise to withdraw from Gaza. Both Bret and Max are of course right when they say that, looking back on it now, it is clear that the decision was a colossal blunder. Despite the assurances of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and many of the country’s military leaders, Israel’s security was compromised by the decision. It led directly to the creation of a Hamas terror state whose existence may not ever be undone. Just as troubling, Israel did not receive one bit of credit from the international community, let alone its foes, for removing every soldier and settler from the area. Bret summed it up nicely when he wrote:

Put simply, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza yielded less security, greater diplomatic isolation, and a Palestinian regime even more radical and emboldened than it had been before. As strategic failures go, it was nearly perfect.

But unlike Bret and Max, I don’t feel obligated to offer any mea culpas about my position on the withdrawal. While I supported the move, it was not because I didn’t have doubts about whether the army was right about it being easier to fight Hamas outside Gaza rather than inside it. Nor was I under any illusions about Israel reaping any public relations benefits from the scheme. To the contrary, I was quite sure that, as was the case with previous territorial surrenders, it would merely increase the appetite of Israel’s enemies for more. So why didn’t those reservations compel me to take a stand against Sharon? It was because the decision to withdraw was the decision of the democratically elected government of the state of Israel. Indeed, I believe the defense of that principle — that Israel’s people must be accorded the right to make their own decisions about their fate — is a far more important duty for us today than the need to second-guess the decision of a leader and a government that has long since faded from the country’s political scene.

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Like the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens and our own Max Boot, I, too, have been thinking a lot lately about the seven-year-old debate about whether Israel was wise to withdraw from Gaza. Both Bret and Max are of course right when they say that, looking back on it now, it is clear that the decision was a colossal blunder. Despite the assurances of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and many of the country’s military leaders, Israel’s security was compromised by the decision. It led directly to the creation of a Hamas terror state whose existence may not ever be undone. Just as troubling, Israel did not receive one bit of credit from the international community, let alone its foes, for removing every soldier and settler from the area. Bret summed it up nicely when he wrote:

Put simply, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza yielded less security, greater diplomatic isolation, and a Palestinian regime even more radical and emboldened than it had been before. As strategic failures go, it was nearly perfect.

But unlike Bret and Max, I don’t feel obligated to offer any mea culpas about my position on the withdrawal. While I supported the move, it was not because I didn’t have doubts about whether the army was right about it being easier to fight Hamas outside Gaza rather than inside it. Nor was I under any illusions about Israel reaping any public relations benefits from the scheme. To the contrary, I was quite sure that, as was the case with previous territorial surrenders, it would merely increase the appetite of Israel’s enemies for more. So why didn’t those reservations compel me to take a stand against Sharon? It was because the decision to withdraw was the decision of the democratically elected government of the state of Israel. Indeed, I believe the defense of that principle — that Israel’s people must be accorded the right to make their own decisions about their fate — is a far more important duty for us today than the need to second-guess the decision of a leader and a government that has long since faded from the country’s political scene.

Opponents of the withdrawal have, understandably, never stopped reminding those of us who backed Ariel Sharon’s decision that it turned out to be every bit the fiasco they thought it would be and more. The talking points Israel gained by pulling out of Gaza provide more proof that the Palestinians haven’t any interest in peace, but it’s doubtful this changed the mind of a single critic of the country. But those Diaspora kibitzers who are now saying, “I told you so,” are still missing the key point about that debate.

It may be that Israel’s prime minister was dead wrong (counter-factual arguments that history would have been different had Sharon not been felled by a stroke months after the withdrawal are unpersuasive) and the majority of Israelis who backed him were equally mistaken. But, right or wrong, it was their decision to make and the Israelis are the ones who have had to live with the consequences.

Looking ahead to the next round of peace processing and pressure on Israel after the current fighting in Gaza is concluded, what friends of Israel have to keep in mind is not so much the rehashing of Sharon’s blunder but preserving the right of the Jewish state to go on deciding its own destiny.

The conceit of most of the country’s left-wing critics is that Israel must be saved from itself. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of Israelis have drawn the proper conclusions from the last 20 years of peace processing (including the Gaza withdrawal) and decided that there will be no more repetitions of the mistakes committed at Oslo or Gaza. This sensible decision frustrates Israel’s critics so much that even those who consider themselves friends of the country believe their judgment should supersede that of the Jewish state’s electorate.

But just as was the case of those Americans who opposed the Gaza withdrawal or the Oslo Accords, such a stand is simply inadmissible. Decisions about settlements, borders, Jerusalem and the territories must be made by those elected by the Israeli people, not by American Jewish wiseacres, be they of the left- or the right-wing persuasion.

No matter how strong the faith of Zion’s critics that the country is heading down the road to destruction, nothing should shake us in our conviction that no foreign power or foreign community has the right to dictate to Israel’s people. That is a principle that applies whether it is a matter of Israelis mistakenly making concessions that have come back to haunt them or, as is the case now, wisely refusing to take steps that would endanger their security.

Seven years after the Gaza withdrawal, it is useful to examine the mistakes that were made by Sharon. But the abiding lesson of that episode for us today is that, right or wrong, Israel must be allowed to make its own decisions.

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Despising Israeli Democracy

You might think that even the New York Times would get tired of publishing rants from failed Israeli politicians denouncing not only their nation’s current government but also the entire society that had rejected them. But apparently the newspaper’s appetite for such tirades is undiminished as the publication of Avraham Burg’s in the Times’ Sunday edition today proved. There isn’t much that is particularly original about Burg’s piece that takes the point of view that Israel is on the brink of no longer being a democracy and is intolerant of minority views. That this is not remotely closely to being the truth is no barrier to its publication since it is exactly what American leftists want to be told. His views are an absurd conflation of egotism and blindness but his foolishness is not limited to his analysis of his own country, he also understands nothing about U.S.-Israel alliance and the strength of the across-the-board support the Jewish state has here.

In the conclusion of his article in which he envisions a post-Zionist government of Israel that will reject Jewish nationalism in favor of something more inclusive, he claims:

When a true Israeli democracy is established, our prime minister will go to Capitol Hill and win applause from both sides of the aisle.

That is, I suppose, a shot at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he accused earlier in the piece of being a “warmonger.” But as anyone who bothered to watch Netanyahu’s address to a joint meeting of Congress last year, he was widely cheered by both Republicans and Democrats with both parties competing with each other to show their enthusiasm for their Israeli ally. This is the sort of obvious mistake that any editor, even one with no love for Israel, should have caught. That it wasn’t tells us that the gatekeepers at the Times are as out of touch with reality as Burg.

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You might think that even the New York Times would get tired of publishing rants from failed Israeli politicians denouncing not only their nation’s current government but also the entire society that had rejected them. But apparently the newspaper’s appetite for such tirades is undiminished as the publication of Avraham Burg’s in the Times’ Sunday edition today proved. There isn’t much that is particularly original about Burg’s piece that takes the point of view that Israel is on the brink of no longer being a democracy and is intolerant of minority views. That this is not remotely closely to being the truth is no barrier to its publication since it is exactly what American leftists want to be told. His views are an absurd conflation of egotism and blindness but his foolishness is not limited to his analysis of his own country, he also understands nothing about U.S.-Israel alliance and the strength of the across-the-board support the Jewish state has here.

In the conclusion of his article in which he envisions a post-Zionist government of Israel that will reject Jewish nationalism in favor of something more inclusive, he claims:

When a true Israeli democracy is established, our prime minister will go to Capitol Hill and win applause from both sides of the aisle.

That is, I suppose, a shot at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he accused earlier in the piece of being a “warmonger.” But as anyone who bothered to watch Netanyahu’s address to a joint meeting of Congress last year, he was widely cheered by both Republicans and Democrats with both parties competing with each other to show their enthusiasm for their Israeli ally. This is the sort of obvious mistake that any editor, even one with no love for Israel, should have caught. That it wasn’t tells us that the gatekeepers at the Times are as out of touch with reality as Burg.

Burg, who is the scion of a famous family and was once thought to be a man with an unlimited political future, seems to despise his country these days. Though he attempts to wax lyrical about trends in its society, the main reason he thinks Israel is no longer a democracy is that Israel’s electorate has consistently rejected his views about the peace process as well his own hopes for high office. This has caused him to question not only their judgment but the entire ideological edifice on which the country rests. His egotism is pathetic but it is fed by a stubborn refusal to see what the vast majority of his compatriots understand. They agree with him that a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians would be ideal but have come to terms with the fact that their antagonists have no interest in such a deal.

Burg despises what he calls the “religious, capitalist” state that Israel has become. Most Israelis would be happy if the ultra-Orthodox would have less power but what he is really longing for is the Israel of the past in which secular Jews of European origin dominated a country in which socialist economic policies served to keep the power of existing elites in place. He rejects Netanyahu’s free market reforms that have made Israel a burgeoning economic powerhouse because more economic freedom has created a messy but more genuine democracy in which “princes” like Burg are no longer in position to tell everybody else what to do.

Burg also does an injustice to the overwhelming majority of Americans who, contrary to his belief that the alliance is now rooted in “war, threats and fear,” still care about the common democratic values that he seems to think have been abandoned by everyone but himself. Most Americans, even those who don’t particularly like Netanyahu, respect the will of Israel’s voters more than Burg. They also recognize that the threats to Israel’s existence, principally the nuclear danger from Iran is a life or death matter that requires more serious thought than Burg seems capable of these days.

Burg is right about one thing. Israel could use a written constitution and smarter people than him have been thinking and writing about it for a generation. But the course of Burg’s career shows that the only constitution he is really interested in is one that could guarantee that his views could be imposed on his country. Not even the imprimatur of the New York Times Sunday Review can disguise the fact that Burg’s post-Zionist views are outside the Israeli mainstream. In publishing his article, the Times has shown that, contrary to the title of the piece, its real complaint is not about the absence of Israeli democracy, but its vibrancy.

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Who’s Really Persecuting Christians?

Last month CBS’s “60 Minutes” show earned itself some justified criticism for a biased report about the treatment of Palestinian Christians by Israel. As Alana noted then, the premise of the piece — that routine security precautions on the part of Israeli forces has led to a decline in the Christian population in the West Bank — was preposterous. Why would Israeli measures cause Christian numbers to diminish but not affect the rapidly growing Muslim population? Only a determination to blame Israel for everything could have led the “60 Minutes” team to avoid the obvious explanation: the rise of militant Islam in traditional Christian strongholds that has gradually forced many Christians to flee the country. Israel remains the only country in the Middle East where the rights of the Christian minority — which is growing — are respected.

But the pushback against this calumny requires more background than just a fact check about the West Bank. The Gatestone Institute has published an important online monthly report about Muslim persecution of Christians throughout Asia and Africa and it makes for frightening reading. Even a brief summary of the litany of horrors being visited upon Christians by Muslims puts the ridiculous accusations against Israel in perspective.

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Last month CBS’s “60 Minutes” show earned itself some justified criticism for a biased report about the treatment of Palestinian Christians by Israel. As Alana noted then, the premise of the piece — that routine security precautions on the part of Israeli forces has led to a decline in the Christian population in the West Bank — was preposterous. Why would Israeli measures cause Christian numbers to diminish but not affect the rapidly growing Muslim population? Only a determination to blame Israel for everything could have led the “60 Minutes” team to avoid the obvious explanation: the rise of militant Islam in traditional Christian strongholds that has gradually forced many Christians to flee the country. Israel remains the only country in the Middle East where the rights of the Christian minority — which is growing — are respected.

But the pushback against this calumny requires more background than just a fact check about the West Bank. The Gatestone Institute has published an important online monthly report about Muslim persecution of Christians throughout Asia and Africa and it makes for frightening reading. Even a brief summary of the litany of horrors being visited upon Christians by Muslims puts the ridiculous accusations against Israel in perspective.

* Attacks on churches took place in Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan and Tunisia.

* Christians were threatened with death and imprisonment for “blasphemy” and apostasy in Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran and Pakistan. At the same time, Muslim terrorists have threatened Christian pastors in the Philippines.

* In a separate category called “dhimmitude,” the report discusses the “general abuse, debasement, and suppression of non-Muslims as tolerated citizens.” Such incidents were recorded in Egypt, India, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey.

The widespread scope of incidents of persecution throughout the Muslim world ought to alarm Christians in the West. But for some reason, it doesn’t. The Palestinians, whose goal is to eradicate the one Jewish state in the world, seem to generate more sympathy in Europe and America than the embattled Christians of the Third World.

All this took place in April of this year alone.

Those who purport to care about human rights undermine their already shaky credibility when they ignore the far greater instances of abuse of Christians by Arabs and Muslims while supporting the delegitimization of the one democracy in the Middle East as well as the one nation in the region that protects Christians.

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