Sunday, 15 May 2011

The rise of true Israeli democracy

The rise of true Israeli democracy

In: Israeli Politics|Zionism

A heated debate has taken place in the last few decades on the definition of what is a true democracy. While democracy has traditionally been seen solely as the implementation of majority rule, a new definition has risen among academics who were unhappy of the results of democratic decisions.

“A democracy of the majority alone that is not accompanied by a democracy of values is but a formal, statistical democracy. True democracy limits the power of the majority in order to protect society‘s values.” (Chief Justice Aharon Barak in the famed Bank Mizrahi case)

With these few sentences, Justice Barak redefined Israeli democracy from that of majority rule to that of a society ruled by “proper values”. Of course, what Justice Barak failed to clarify who would be responsible for deciding what values deserve protection. A deeper look at Barak’s philosophy gives us a clear answer: the decisions are made by a small group of homogenous academics sitting in a body called the High Court of Justice. This small group of intellectuals have more legitimacy, according to Barak, than the majority of Israelis to decide what values are proper for the State of Israel.

The elitist coterie of Supreme Court judges is but one example of how unrepresentative the State of Israel’s main institutions have become. It is well known in Israel that the media is highly tilted to the left. Haaretz, for example, is considered the most influential newspaper in Israel (Rebecca L. Torstrick. Culture and Customs of Israel). Yet, Haaretz has been accused of clear bias for the opinions of its small elite of journalists and editors, with few dissenting voices ever appearing on its pages. Its readership is far from representative of the Israeli public, as most are wealthy Ashkenazim. Israeli author Irit Linur has even canceled her subscription, accusing Haaretz of an anti-Zionism that turns too often to “foolish” journalism. While Haaretz is an extreme example of the media’s bias, its influence is unmatched by any other newspaper and is the most read newspaper by decision-makers. Therefore, in Israel, a small elite is writing the newspaper that is influencing decision makers.

In the last year, much has been said about the high level of bias in Israeli universities. Reports by Im Tirtzu and the Institute of Zionist Strategies have shown that Israeli universities and professors tend to skew towards post-Zionist and anti-Zionist views. While much noise has been made about Im Tritzu’s alleged McCarthyism, no one in the academia bothered denying the accusations made by the organization. Once again, we see that an essential and influential institution in Israel is being run by a small, elitist minority.

Finally, in Israel, many organizations calling themselves human rights organizations, funded by European countries, have put all their energies in the de-legitimization of Israel. Instead of protecting the legitimate human rights of Israelis, Palestinians and all other human beings, those organizations have constantly attacked the State of Israel, fought against its right to defend itself, and often even questioned the very legitimacy of the existence of the Jewish State.

When the courts (and the very definition of democracy), the media, human rights organizations and the academia is all run by a small minority that does not represent the majority opinion, it is only natural that the majority stands up and demands to re-take control over these institutions.

This year was transformative for Israeli democracy.

This year, the nation of Israel rejected Justice Barak’s vision of democracy and decided to take its fate back in its hands. Through campaigns by organizations like Im Tirtzu, NGO Monitor and various other organizations, Israelis rejected the values of the minority elites who’ve never represented them and demanded that the power centers of Israeli society be returned to the Nation.

Unbiased news started appearing both through online technologies and blogs, as well as the growth of more representatives competing newspapers. Human rights organizations were put to task and a law was passed which will require those organizations to provide full transparency. The academia has been served a serious message when, for the first time ever, individuals started requesting that the bias be stopped and that all opinions be given equal treatment in academic discourses. Democracy has moved once again: It has left the hands of the small and unrepresentative elites and is slowly returning to the nation.

Of course, this change has created a lot of opposition. Every time transparency was required from these small elite, they argued that this request for transparency is undemocratic. Instead of admitting that this is a fight between the right of the nation to decide its own fate, and a small elite that does not want to lose its power.

Surprisingly, and to their credit, Tamar Hermann and David Newman (“Israel’s democratic veneer”) properly diagnosed the cause for the current struggle in Israel. They properly defined this struggle as a struggle between the sectors which have been left out of the decision making process and the small elite which has decided for them. However, instead of welcoming the fact that those sectors are finally speaking up, they are worried of the consequences of such a trend. Yes, they, like Justice Barak, do not trust the majority.

They describe their fears from the rule of a majority which is formed of, amongst other people, the Hareidim, Mizrachi Jews, Religious Zionists, and Russian immigrants. As a proud Mizrachi (Moroccan) Religious Zionist Jew, who also respects the human rights of Russian immigrants and Hareidim, I am not only insulted at the insinuation that our right to speak challenges the democratic ethos of the State of Israel, but I am also worried that unless we give these groups the right to express themselves and to be part of the decision making process, Israel will stop being a true representative democracy with majority rule.

My answer to Hermann and Newman is simple: Do not be afraid of true democracy. Yes, the elites will change, but Hareidim, Mirazchi Jews, Religious Zionists and Russian immigrants are also allowed to have a say as to the nature of the State of Israel. If we truly seek to have a democracy that reflects all of our views, we must help them get their voice heard and help the State of Israel decide its fate through democratic means, through elections which allow for majority rule, and not through the forced rule of self-appointed elites.

Dan Illouz is the former Overseas Communications Coordinator for Im Tirtzu. He currently blogs at

Taken from:Dan (

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