Israeli Democracy Fades To Black – An Analysis (18 November 2011)
by Lawrence Davidson

Part I – Bad Movies

Have you seen those old time movies notable for their endings? The cowboy is
seen riding into the sunset or the lovers are reunited, etc. And then comes the
end – the screen dramatically fades to black. Most of these movies are pretty
bad. The stories are predictable, the acting melodramatic and directing inept.
Well, this genre seems to be making a comeback, but off the screen rather than
on it. In this revival, the Israelis are leading the way.

Israel’s bad movie starts out as an historical drama with moral overtones.
It’s the story of Israeli democracy but, unfortunately, it has an illogical and
misguided script. It begins with the premise that you can have a religiously
exclusive democracy amidst a multi-religious population. Under these
circumstances happy endings are impossible and the drama quickly turns to

Part II – Final Act

The final act of this tragedy appears to be playing itself out before our
eyes. It opened in 2009 with the second term of Prime Minister Netanyahu
Netanyahu is a hard-line “Likudnik” determined to expand Israel to the Jordan
River (if not the Potomac). That makes him an ally and supporter of the settler
fanatics who represent today’s version of Zionist fascists.

There is a correlation between the condition of Israeli democracy and the
ambitions of Netanyahu’s allies. As the settlements expand, Israeli democracy
shrinks. This in turn is tied into the fact that the prime minister is
determined to keep greater Israel demographically Jewish, and this means
expansion must be coupled with ethnic cleansing. One can see this clearly in
present Israeli policies in East Jerusalem as well as the violent harassment of
Palestinians by settler thugs throughout the West Bank. Following logically from
the flawed premise in the original script, this is a perfectly predictable
ending for the story of modern Israel.

The drama now turning into tragedy has its peculiarly Jewish subplots. There
have always been multiple expressions of Judaism. One has been the East European
insular version born of acute persecution. This version expressed an inward
tribal orientation that assigned the role of real or potential anti-Semites to
all those who are non-Jews. Then there was the pre-1967 American version. This
one was outward looking and held in high esteem the general principles of
tolerance. Here the reasoning was that, as a minority, Jews were safest in a
world where tolerance was a universal virtue. In Israel/Palestine it was the
East Europeans who shaped the outlook of most Jewish citizens.

That paranoid outlook is certainly the one held by Netanyahu, but he
inherited it from others of East European origin. He, and his supporters, are
the heirs of Vladimir Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin. This is not to say that
Israel’s Labor Party heritage was not also insular and expansionist. After all
David Ben Gurion was from Russian controlled Poland. The differences between the
two groups are a matter of degree. However, it is Netanyahu and his coalition
who control the Israeli government. They rule in the Knesset. And they are using
their power to destroy not only the Palestinians but also those Israeli Jews who
would defend the bygone American version of tolerant Judaism. One can only
imagine that Netanyahu and his fanatics look upon these other Jews, who would
make their peace with the Palestinians, as the Bolshevik fanatics once looked
upon the Kronstadt sailors. They ultimately see them as dangerous traitors.

Just in the past few weeks the Knesset has spat out a number of bills aimed
at restricting the voices of Jewish opponents and to make it more difficult for
them to secure appointed offices. Part of a continuing line of similar
legislation, these new potential laws represent scenes in the final act of this
tragedy. Here are some highlights:

1. A bill
“ban political organizations in Israel from
receiving donations of more than $5000 from foreign governments and other
international groups.” Peace groups such as Peace Now and human rights
organizations such as B’Tselem, as well as others which are normally critical of
the Israeli government would lose much of their funding under the new law.

2. Another
in the pipeline would then tax at 45% all
remaining income from foreign governments. Put together the two bills will have
a “staggering” impact.

Yet, it will come as no surprise that individual donors, such as wealthy
right-wing Zionists who give millions of tax free dollars to sustain the settler
movement, are exempt from the new laws.

As noted, there are other laws as well that are causing concern. It is now a
criminal offense in Israel to advocate a boycott of the country and its illegal
settlements, or to mark the occurrence of the Nakba. There are bills pending
that would make it easier to pack the Israeli supreme court with rightists and
even to punish media outlets who dare to investigate the prime minister or his
wife. Thus does Israeli democracy fade to black.

Part III – The Reviews

The argument on the part of the Netanyahu forces is that the money coming
from foreign governments and organizations represents “meddling” in the internal
affairs of Israel. Well the Israeli establishment should certainly know meddling
when they see it. Their politicians and agents are no doubt the world’s experts
at meddling in the affairs of other countries, particularly the United States.
Here, through the manipulation of large cash donations, they meddle away to
their heart’s content, to the predicable detriment of U.S. national interests in
the Middle East. Simultaneously, these same Israeli politicians see no problem
in receiving a minimum of $3 billion a year from the foreign government in

These new laws have a lot of Israelis upset, and not just those who are going
to be directly impacted. The official opposition in Israel, the Kadima Party
(ambitiously translated as the “forward” party) has suddenly taken it upon
itself to warn the nation that democracy is in danger. Tzipi
, former foreign minister and now leader of the
opposition (also rather infamous for her part in the “Cast Lead” invasion of
Gaza), said that “this is an attempt to turn Israel into a dark…dictatorship.”
The ceremonial president of Israel, Shimon
, has declared that “these proposals deviate from
the basis of democracy.” Of course there is a good bit of hypocrisy in these
protests. These dissenters never exercised their consciences over the
suppression of the democratic rights of non-Jews. Nevertheless, the targeting of
the rights of Jews, even tolerant ones, is “beyond the Pale.” But that is what
you get when you deny the rights of others. Sooner or later the process comes
full circle and those in the in-crowd lose their rights too.

When the screen fades to black all that will be left of Israeli democracy is
a facade, a democracy in name only. For many, however, that will be sufficient.
It will certainly be sufficient for the Israeli politicians who, living wholly
within their Zionist ideology, prize its commandments above all else. And it
will suffice for the lobbyists and propagandists who must manage the image of
the Zionist state so that those Americans who give money and make the policies
can maintain the fantasy that Israel is “just like us.” And finally, it will no
doubt suffice for American Jewish congregants who do not want to be ostracized
from synagogues run by businessmen whose only connection to “their people” comes
from blindly supporting Israel.

Will it suffice for the rest of us? Hopefully not. Perhaps as the last act of
this bad movie plays out many other reviews will come forth criticizing the
media image of Israel as fraudulent, the product of half-truths running on to
lies. That might take a bit of lobbying on the part of those who see this movie
as a real disservice not only to Palestinians, but also to Jews. But take heart
and remember what Will Rogers once said, “there is only one thing that can kill
[bad] movies and that’s education.”

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