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Democratic Fanaticism?

The liberal, modern orthodox political commentator Yair Sheleg, wrote an interesting op-ed for Tisha B’Av, in which he criticizes both “right-wing and ‘liberal’ fanatics”. He starts out by pointing out to the great potential danger the extreme religious right-wing constitutes and then goes on to expose what he calls ‘liberal’ fanaticism, a force that endagers the existence of Israel as a Jewish state by supporting the Citizenship Law. Sheleg recognizes that “[i]t is true that the security-related explanation given by official government representatives [against the law] doesn’t [fixed translation typo. -AST] inspire confidence . It is also true that the restriction on the right of an Israeli citizen to marry anyone he/she chooses and to allow his/her partner to become an Israeli citizen is very problematic in terms of the principles of natural equality and justice”. So whats the big deal? Well, demography of course.

Every such belligerent liberal should, therefore, be asked the simple question: Would he be willing to live, with his children, in an Israel with an Arab majority? We can reasonably assume that even those among that group who do not vehemently protest against the possibility that Israel will lose its Jewish character, will certainly be shocked by the possibility that it will lose its Western character… Moreover, the threat to the Jewish majority in the state endangers not only Israel’s Jewish character, but its democratic character as well. Not only because an Arab majority will in all probability bring to Israel accepted norms in the Middle East regarding democracy, but because in any human society, the principle of life takes precedence over the quality of life. Therefore, there is a fear that a large Jewish public, which will not agree to stand idly by in the face of the loss of its hold on the state, is liable to be tempted into an anti-democratic revolution, to prevent the danger.

Sheleg Acknowledges that the Citizenship Law makes a lot of sense “in terms of principles of natural equality and justice”. Thus, the only thing fanatic about supporting it is the fear of an Arab majority. Sheleg focuses his argument on the fact that an Arab majority is a threat to democracy and western values. But there is an obvious contradiction here – how can an Arab majority be a threat to Israel’s democratic and western tradition if such a tradition does not exist according to Sheleg himself – I mean, he is afraid of a Jewish anti-democratic revolution!

Sheleg’s fears are irrational, and are very similar to those of European right-wing extremists such as Jean-Marie Le Pen. The same racist approach was held by many of the Ashkenazi elites against their fellow brother and sister Jews from the Magreb countries. Democratic tradition is only aquired through education and Israel has created a democratic state within the green lines quite successfully in a short period of time; the Palestinian-Arabs in Israel are a living proof for that.

The weakness in Sheleg’s argument is in the fact that he is trying to show the grave danger to democracy in a law that is inherently democratic. By doing so he is joining the camp of the ultra-zionists he himself has criticized; he is willing to compromise human liberties for the sake of a possible threat to a Jewish majority that is supposedly a threat to democracy. He may as well drop this weak ‘democratic’ argument in sake of the ‘Jewish character’ one (“We need garbage collection and other government functions to be Jewish in order to preserve Israel’s Jewish character”). Anyhow all of Sheleg’s arguments (and my responses accordingly) are based on the assumption that the law will actually create an Arab majority, which is simply untrue based the numbers he cites.

5 thoughts on “Democratic Fanaticism?

  1. moishe oofnik is my new name for jewschool for the moment. i might change it any time in the future 🙂

  2. Anyhow all of Sheleg’s arguments (and my responses accordingly) are based on the assumption that the law will actually create an Arab majority, which is simply untrue based the numbers he cites.
    I guess. But isn’t what we really need an Israel in which an Arab majority would pose no problem at all?
    That’s an enormous challenge, in my opinion. But it’s certainly a do-able one. I think Israel needs to start cataloguing the cultural challenges it wants to overcome, and dividing them into two groups, one Israeli, the other Jewish, with a clear line between them.
    The Israeli side would represent those cultural aspects which attach to citizenship. Perhaps Hebrew as a common language — some common language is required, after all — though even this, I’m not sure of this. Perhaps an educational curriculum which includes awareness of the history of all of the cultural groups in israel, including the Jews; some of Jewish intellectual tradition, perhaps. I don’t know.
    The Jewish side would represent cultural and religious aspects which are exclusive to Jews. Some of this is already in place, like a legal system in which both parties can be governed by religious (Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Druze) laws, although this should becoming an opting-out regime — a civil system would be in place for cases where both parties didn’t agree on a religious system (as is today the case in Ontario and, I think, in certain U.S. states).
    More than that, many aspects of official israeliness that are exclusive to Jews would be guaranteed funding and moved into civil society. The relationship between JNF and the Israeli Lands Authority that Brown Babylonian went on and on about is among them. But the larger point would be an Israel whose Constitution — guess that’s what I’m talking about — guaranteed its mission to the Jewish people, but distinguished clearly between Israel and the Jews.
    In a lot of ways I think this is already implicit in how Israel functions. I even think it’s the underlying direction, sort of, in which some left groups want to take the country. But I’d like to see it articulated as a vision, and held up against how certain religiously- or nationalistically-oriented parties want things to go.
    Okay, now this rant is over. Apologies.

  3. No one I’ve read who’s supporting this ‘citzenship law’ has been able to relate why Israel needs to have one of the most liberal citzenship laws in the world while other ‘enlightened’ countries don’t even come close to what we already have.
    I’m still waiting for my left-wing friends to come up with the names of several western countries that aloow every tom, dick, and harry to marry and get an instant passport and to explain why Israel has to be the first ‘open border’ country.

  4. Josh,
    You are forgetting – Israel must be a “light unto the nations.”
    This, of course, takes precedence over everything, even logic.

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