We are in the middle of a historic changing of the guard. We are witnessing the exit of a withering elite that still retains significant influence over certain power centers and the advent of an emerging new elite, most of which has yet to fully comprehend the weight of its newfound responsibility.
1. This process represents a massive shift for those who, until rather recently, were taught that others, not they, dictate norms of thought, behavior and governance. Quite often, in order to gain independence, one must question that which came before and perhaps rebel against the fundamental and accepted norms. It is imperative to cut the apron strings of the previous ideology for the purpose of shaping an independent ideology as a new, legitimate elite—one that will influence not only the outcome of the elections, but also public opinion and culture.
It is important to accept the fact that any significant change in the old world order will be met with powerful resistance from the members of the old elite. The resistance won’t prevent the change, but it is important to go beyond legislation and governance, and establish an intellectual, ideological and cultural foundation as well. The new elite must listen carefully to the threats and insults made by the opposite camp, because they reveal the most painful places at the heart of the struggle over the identity of our people and our state.
2. Of all the threats and insults coming from the opposite camp, the most oft-repeated refrain is that “democracy is in danger.” So let’s examine this claim. Democracy is not just rule of the people by the people; it is a system that allows individuals with opposing views and values to co-exist. In a democracy, individuals make minor compromises on their personal freedoms and accept the decisions of the majority in order to enjoy the many benefits that the state provides: ownership rights, freedom of expression and religion and the right to life.
Democracy is also good for the minority, more than any other system of government. In a democracy, the minority can protest against the majority in the city square. It can try to convince the majority and, of course, establish small minority parties that take advantage of the delicate political dance that the system dictates to achieve sectoral victories. That is the direction that our wise sages tried to take us when they taught us to pray for the welfare of the government. Because if not for its rule, “people would swallow each other alive.”
In this regard, democracy is a tool. It is a framework where all the opinions and views can compete for the public’s support, and then, by way of parliamentary elections, and later by majority legislation, decisions can be made. Democracy is a tool that lets the people decide which values they want to adopt and which values they want to reject.
When people throw the warning that “democracy is in danger” around, they don’t mean this democracy. They are referring to a different democracy; let’s call it the liberal-left democracy. The aim of this liberal-left democracy is to turn the actual democracy from a decision-making tool of compromise into a value-laden ideology, rife with categorical directives. The liberal-left democracy is actually a secular religion that sees itself as “humanist” and engages in behavior very similar to conventional religion. It has temples, priests and religious authorities. Its disciples accept its principles as absolute truth, and anyone who questions this truth is excommunicated and burned at the virtual stake. Like with traditional religions, the degree of faith among the liberals’ religion varies widely; some are more traditional, some are less resolute, and some are dangerous fanatics.
3. The problem is that when you turn democracy the tool into a religion or ideology it gives rise to the kind of totalitarianism that contradicts the very idea of democracy. When the liberal democracy is presented as the only option, all other ideologies are, by default, presented as heretic and wrong. But if the liberal ideology were to be presented as one desired option among many competing ideologies, its supporters would have to fight for its continued existence, just like everyone else, and everyone would acknowledge the legitimacy of rival ideologies.
Incidentally, when was the last time anyone heard the left not just give lip service but actually, honestly acknowledge the legitimacy of the right’s efforts to advance the conservative ideology? I made every effort to recall such an acknowledgement, but all I came up with were insults, condescending attitudes and comparisons to the worst regimes in history.
So why are things the way they are today? Because the left perceives its liberalism as an absolute imperative, without which democracy would collapse. Because of this perception, the democratic debate has become an existential battle, in which the left delegitimizes rival ideologies and calls them a threat to democracy. The war against any rival ideology is unrelenting, presented as an attempt to defend democracy. This breeds political correctness—not for the purpose of protecting the minorities, but rather to be used as a weapon to silence the majority. It also breeds the violence and silencing tactics experienced by anyone with right-wing or conservative views on the predominantly, almost homogeneous left-wing Western campuses.
No one ever wonders why the church doesn’t employ Jewish rabbis or Muslim qadis. So does it come as any surprise that the disciples of the liberal-left church admits (almost) only people who share its views? Institutions of higher learning in Israel are funded by the state, so why does the state allow them to behave as though these institutions belong exclusively to them? But the media, which is expected to be critical of the monolithic homogeny in the academia and should be demanding greater freedom of thought, is, in reality, also horrifyingly homogeneous and behaves in the exact same way. Think of them as a religious establishment; it may ease your frustration.
4. The same left-wing liberal institution demands the separation of religion and state and vehemently rejects any religious overtones in any public sphere. It also urges the separation of the nationality from the state and opposes the right of the Jewish people to anchor in law their right to self-determination in their only homeland. Their fear of religious coercion drives them, but don’t they coerce themselves? Don’t they force their values on others? Any democratic agreement includes some degree of coercion from one side or another. The thing is that the disciples of the liberal-left religion think of their worldview as the only and absolute truth, thereby rejecting any other worldview, including the religious one. That’s how the norm was established that one set of values is considered democracy, and another set of values is considered the enemy of democracy.
Several years ago, the Supreme Court considered allowing the reunification of married couples in which an Israeli Arab and a Palestinian were separated by geography. The court almost approved it. Had this reunification statute been approved, it would have seen Israel comply with the deceptive Palestinian demand for a “right of return.” In the court, the proponents of the reunification cited the basic law defending Human Dignity and Liberty. But what about the nation’s dignity and liberty? The religious authorities of the liberal-left reject the state’s rights as an invalid consideration.
Ultimately, the petition for reunification was short one vote. It was denied on security considerations. Both the proponents and the opponents only took individual rights into consideration—the right to dignity, under the broad interpretation of former Chief Justice Aharon Barak, and the right to life, as interpreted by the majority of the justices. In all fairness, the justices who rejected the petition did not have the nation-state law in their arsenal back then.
The notion that the hurt feelings of the minority should outweigh the majority’s right to self-determination is blatantly undemocratic because it forcibly imposes the minority’s wishes on the majority. This is particularly true since the opposition to the nation-state law among the Israeli Arab population is not driven by a demand for equality—equality already exists—but by the fundamental objection to define Israel as a Jewish state.
In any case, the disciples of the liberal-left faith believe that a state must not impose religious or nationalist norms on the individual, and they wish to sever these legal decisions from ideology (except their own). But how is that possible, when the legislative body, the Knesset, is made up of ideology-based parties, some of which are religious, that represent Israeli society?
Their solution is to transfer the decisions into the hands of an “impartial” team of experts, free of ideological considerations, that confronts the issues only on a purely technical or legal level. That’s how the Supreme Court became the overarching legislative branch in addition to being the legal branch, and we were sent 2,500 years back in time to the era of Plato who crowned the philosopher king. Karl Popper cast Plato as a proto-fascist. In the language of our day: an enlightened dictatorship. An elite that wants to thrive and to ensure a plurality of views needs to restore the democracy to its lean, initial format and allow the people to decide what’s best for them.
Dror Eydar is a columnist for Israel Hayom, whose English-language content is distributed in the United States exclusively by JNS.