Supporting Israeli democracy

We are Zionists who believe that when the people of Israel exercise the sovereign right to vote, the result should be respected by all, by non-Jews and Jews throughout the world, and by Jews within Israel.

Workers at the Central Elections Committee warehouse in Shoham prepare ballot boxes for Israel's Nov. 1 national election, Oct.12, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Workers at the Central Elections Committee warehouse in Shoham prepare ballot boxes for Israel's Nov. 1 national election, Oct.12, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus and Alex Grobman

After years of attacks on Israel’s right to exist voiced from the lofty halls of academia, left-wing social movements, church associations, unions, “human rights” groups and oh-so-many others, now comes a gaggle of American Jewish clergy and leftist Jewish leaders claiming that democracy is threatened by recent choices by Israeli voters who do not mirror their political views. The Diaspora dissenters denounce the newly-elected government of Israel. As pundit Elder of Ziyon wryly noted, “Israel cannot be considered a democracy unless its citizens vote for candidates that the New York Times fully approves!”

The many rabbis, cantors and others who wrote an open letter announcing their pledge not to invite members of the new Knesset’s ruling coalition to speak to their congregations or organizations, and to protest any such invitations by others, violate the very principle they purport to invoke—that the result of the exercise of democracy is to be respected.

So distracted are these writers by their disagreements with Israel’s voters that they attack as anti-democratic steps that make Israel’s government more, not less, responsive to those voters:

  1. The denunciation of a proposed plan to make Israel’s courts more responsive to the will of the people, through the simple but necessary expedient of placing the choice of judges in exactly the same hands that hold that power in the United States: the hands of democratically elected, and politically responsive, government officials. No one who values democracy should attack this effort. Israel’s judges are currently chosen by individuals including unelected private lawyers who will appear before the judges they have chosen, and unelected sitting judges choosing their own successors. The proposed change is a move towards, not away from, democracy.
  2.  The balance between respect of the rights of the religiously observant and the rights of the non-observant is itself a political choice. As supporters of the State of Israel we are confident that Israel will be capable of striking that balance in a respectful way, as the new government proposes to do. As supporters of Israeli democracy we are proud to respect the decisions of Israel’s voters on how to strike that balance, just as, as Americans, we trust that we in this country will be able to strike that balance in a way that is respectful of all of this country’s citizens. That, rather than the denunciations and proposed boycotts issued by the dissenters, is what it means to value democracy.

Reviewing the real and imagined examples of positions taken by various members of the incoming ruling coalition the dissenters deem unacceptable, a question comes to mind:

Where were your protests over extremism, violence, dispossession and hatred embraced by certain Arab members of Knesset who formally and explicitly supported the dismantling of the Jewish state?

If you did not publicly announce your disgust and a boycott of those who repeatedly denounced the Jewish nature of Israel, seeking either a supposedly binational or an Arab-dominated country; who have served as advisers to terrorists (MK Ahmad Tibi), who have praised bloodthirsty Jew-murdering terrorists (former MK Heba Yazbak) or provided imprisoned terrorists with prohibited tools for continuing their war against the Jews (former MK Basel Ghattas), who justified the kidnapping of Jewish civilians and who support the attainment by Iran of nuclear weapons (former MK Haneen Zoabi), and who call on Arabs to denounce allegiance to Israel and to commit themselves to the removal of every indicia of Judaism as a symbol of Israel, including the flag, the national anthem and the Law of Return (every member of the Joint Arab List and of Balad), then spare us the virtue signaling and just admit you oppose Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

One might conclude the protesters don’t actually support democracy in Israel, but merely want it to reflect their own progressive values that they hold so dear while living in the secular United States. They are certainly entitled to that position but they should not pretend it is held in the name of democracy or that it comes from those with some special Jewish insight into how Israel should be governed.

Respect for democracy demands respect for the Israeli voters who have made Israel a thriving, prosperous and welcoming state, one to which Arab gays flee for safety, in which women have full rights, in which every person has complete freedom to speak and to believe and observe the teachings of any religion at the same time that the Jewish people, Jewish civilization and Torah flourish as they have not for two thousand years. No Jewish institution should shut its eyes, its ears, or its doors to this miracle of real progress.

Lori Lowenthal Marcus is Legal Director for The Deborah Project (TDP).

Alex Grobman, Ph.D., is the Senior Resident Scholar at the John C. Danforth Society, and on the advisory board of The National Christian Leadership Conference of Israel (NCLCI).

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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