The ‘death of Israeli democracy’?

In fact, Israeli voters have continually opted for the right-religious bloc.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Religious Zionism Party head Bezalel Smotrich at the swearing-in of the 25th Knesset in Jerusalem, Nov. 15, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Religious Zionism Party head Bezalel Smotrich at the swearing-in of the 25th Knesset in Jerusalem, Nov. 15, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Rabbi Dov Fischer, Rav of Young Israel of Orange County (Credit: YIOC)
Rabbi Dov Fischer

It seems that every free and democratic vote that results in a victory for conservatives marks the “death of democracy.” If you Google “death of democracy in america,” you get 54,800,000 results. No social media “influencer” can match that. Among the first 10 results is Al Jazeera’s prediction of doom: “Unless that simple, yet hard realization is embraced by folks now, America’s dark days will only become dimmer.”

Meanwhile, a Google search for “death of democracy in israel” is more reassuring, returning only 29,500,000 results. At the top of the list? Yes, Al Jazeera: Many left-wing Israelis are concerned that anti-democratic legislation is pushing Israel towards fascism.” It’s fortunate that Qatar’s state-owned mouthpiece is there to carry the torch of civilization. Of course, in Qatar, alcohol consumption is punishable by 40 whippings. Proselytizing? Ten years in prison. No Pride Parades, naturally. And then there is stoning.

Yes, Israel’s democracy differs from the American system. But Israel is not America and that may not be so bad. In fact, not only Israel’s but most European democracies differ from the American system. For example, the British monarch is the supreme governor of the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury is designated by the reigning monarch on the advice of the prime minister. Measures passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, the church’s legislative body, must be approved by Parliament. Does that entanglement of religion and state, so different from America’s strict separation, make England a theocracy?

Like the U.K., Israel enjoys a robust Western democratic structure while maintaining a historic bond with the religious identity that underlies its existence. There is a Chief Rabbinate, a Ministry of Religion and other symbols of a Jewish country. However, Israel’s core commitment to democracy has never has been challenged, with even Labor Party secularists like David Ben-Gurion honoring the country’s unique cultural and religious heritage.

Israel has held five national elections in slightly more than three years, proving that democracy is thriving. Moreover, Israel’s elections are conducted differently from those in America. Only a few groups are permitted to vote by mail: Diplomats posted abroad, soldiers stationed away from home, sailors, women in shelters, prisoners and patients confined to hospitals and nursing homes. Election day is only one day, not a month or a fortnight. There is no ballot harvesting and no drop boxes. Voting is by paper ballot and results are tallied manually.

Parties of every sort compete freely: Communists, socialists, Russian and Ukrainian anti-communists, Arabs devoted to ending Zionism, “pirates,” followers of Rabbi Nachman, TikTok “influencers,” liberals, libertarians, pensioners, conservatives, Ashkenazi Hasidic haredim, Ashkenazi anti-Hasidic haredim, Sephardic religionists and so on. Most recently, the You and Me Party transcended its name, accruing 746 votes (0.02%), while the We Party won 334 votes. This is Israeli democracy in all its robustness and, yes, madness. None of that will change because of the initiatives and reforms proposed by the new democratically elected government.

Moreover, in each of Israel’s last five elections—held on April 19, 2019; Sept. 17, 2019; March 2, 2020; March 23, 2021; and Nov. 1, 2022—an alliance of conservative and religious parties repeatedly won a plurality of the vote over alternative parties of Jewish leftists, liberals and secularists.

In the first election, the right-religious alliance won 60 seats and could have won several additional seats had votes not been siphoned off by minor right-wing religious parties. Arab parties won four seats and the remaining center-left Jewish parties won 56.

In the second election, the right-religious parties scored 55 seats and the center-left Jewish parties won 52.

In the third, the right-religious alliance scored 58 seats and the center-left Jewish parties won 47.

In the fourth election, the results for the Jewish parties were similar—59 for the right-religious alliance and 51 for the center-left. This time, however, the center-left formed a government with the Arab Ra’am Party and Naftali Bennett’s conservative Yamina Party abandoned the right-wing agenda it campaigned on. Thus, Bennett emerged as prime minister in exchange for his seven seats and the country was led by someone who won only 6.21% of the vote.

The last round, however, resulted in a solid win for the right-religious parties: 64 seats versus 46 for the Jewish center-left. Thus, over five consecutive elections, Israel’s Jewish voters repeatedly opted for the right-religious bloc.

The Israeli left and their cheerleaders at The New York Times and Washington Post describe the new government as the “Death of Democracy.” In reality, one might call their proclamations the Death of Reason. And one certainly should call them sore losers.

Rabbi Dov Fischer, a law professor and vice president and senior rabbinic fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, is a senior contributing editor at The American Spectator.

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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