Israel, Justice, Politics

The State of Israeli Civil Rights 2009

Democracy or ethnocracy? The only democracy in the Middle East or just the easiest to swallow?
Israel offers many of the protections we expect of self-labeled Western democracies. Women can vote. The press is vibrant. There is separation of governmental powers. In some cases, Israel is ahead of the US, such as permitting openly gay soldiers. Even with the fraught contradictions of defining Jewishness and rabbinical courts’ monopoly over civil marriage matters, Israel was founded with many good principles in mind. (You know, Zionism itself aside…)
That is, until those very democratic principles come under assault. The actions of Bibi Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition have seen a slew of anti-democratic legislation — normally relagated to die in committee — that are discussed seriously, have made it through Knesset hurdles, or have come up for vote. In the battle over what a “Jewish democracy” entails, there are plenty who want the J-word at 72-point font and the d-word at 9 points.
The following are the top 2009 Knesset proposals that threaten civil rights and the brain job we need to stop them: 
The top 2009 domestic threats to Israeli freedom
1) The Nakba Law aims to outlaw mourning on Israeli Independence Day. Iterations of the bills seek to defund any instutition for the actions of any staff member, including public services, schools and universities, who preaches the Palestinian Israeli experience of 1948. This is akin to defunding your public high school for your AP History teacher’s lessons on Native Americans, or to closing a local welfare office because the branch manager published a blog post praising black power. It’s a clear message that the identity of 20% of Israeli citizens should be erased from the public conversation.
2) A bill presently under debate would legalize “community acceptance committees” which the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled illegal. Many towns established these committees to prevent residency to newcomers if they didn’t match the community’s lifestyle. This essentially allows wealthy towns to turn away poor applicants, Orthodox from secular, Ethiopian from Mizrahi, and Arab from Jewish. This bill seeks to allow wholesale discrimination along any criterion. Said bill sponsor David Rotem of Yisrael Beiteinu, “When I want to establish a Jewish town, I am not ashamed of it.”
3) Israel’s judicial branch has routinely thwarted right-wing proposals that run counter to civil rights principles. This year, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman moved on a proposal to neuter the post of Attorney General by eliminating its power of chief prosecutor. Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines warned, “There is a war going on. It’s the same war that was fought over the establishment of a constitutional court and the powers of the Supreme Court. The same people are involved in each war. They want a weak court and a weak attorney-general. It is a war between the politicians and the legal system.”
4) This December, a slate of right-wing NGOs and coalition Knesset members gathered to discuss proposals to defund Israel’s human and civil rights NGOs. Speakers attacked foreign funding for NGOs — primarily B’Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Arab sector NGOs — by European and outside interests. The proposals leave foreign funding for settler groups whole, citing it as “a different issue.” Europeans countered that they fund human rights projects in Arab countries as well. Israeli NGOs declared their finances are more transparent than law requires, yet lead conference organizers NGO Monitor and the settler-aligned Institute of Zionist Strategies hide their finances.
These threats above use legislative vehicles only. They don’t include actions (or inactions) by Bibi’s administration, anti-democractic statements by senior officials, or ongoing civil rights battles. This excludes civil rights matters such as Arab lawmakers ordered to attend meetings with the General Security Service (Israel’s secret service) and the arrest of protestors against the Gaza war. This also excludes the Justice Minister’s statement that Jewish law should be made legally binding in Israel. It also excludes the U.S. Department of State’s 2009 report that Israel fails the benchmarks for tolerant and pluralist democracies. And it excludes the present battle over orthodox control of religious matters, such as the arrest of a woman for wearing a tallit at the Kotel or forcing women to sit at the back of public buses.
The brain job we need
I do what I can to support their work there with my work here. American Jews are doe-eyed about Israeli politics, largely blind to the causes they otherwise support en masse in their own country. Even those who are aware shy away from direct intervention in Israeli politics. And progressives are disinterested in “Israel issues” because those issues typically mean “defending” Israel, ignoring her ills, and don’t connect with our values.
So it’s time to change the relationship:
It’s time to trash the previous Diaspora-Israel relationship. The Diaspora has protected Israel’s government from criticism and funded it’s government and major institutions. Israel no longer is a fledgling state. The kind of support it needs is no longer institution-building or legitimacy. Israel needs different help.
It’s time to stop pretending that American Jews don’t already meddle in Israeli politics. Right-wing mogul Sheldon Adelson opened a free pro-Netanyahu paper in Israel. Netanyahu raised nearly 80% of his campaign money from American Jews. American Jews give the country $2.5 billion in philanthropy (nearly 2% of Israel’s $180 billion GDP). The America Jewish vote supports Israel financially, militarily and diplomatically.
If you believe in civil and human rights everywhere, then it’s sure as hell time to spot being squeamish about sticking our hands into Israel’s affairs. I laud the recent campaign by the New Israel Fund to desegregate the mehadrin public buses in Jerusalem — in which American Jews advocate towards an Israeli official directly.
A real relationship to Israel involves an equal partnership — not a patronage — where we out here partner with them in there to advance justice interests. I have no qualms assisting orthodox women to lobby to desegregate buses. I have zero hestitations about giving money to Arab NGOs pursuing equal funding for their public schools in court. I certainly have no second thoughts about spreading word about campaigns to preserve Israeli green space. Or halt home demolitions.
I’m willing to do it even without an Israeli partner — but luckily there are Israelis begging for our involvment in each of those campaigns. Discouraged of politicians and politics, progressive thinkers in Israel instead birthed an explosion of human and civil rights groups. They are now inviting us to join them in direct action. I do not make decisions for them, nor do I just do what they say. Together, we work for a country, a region, and a world that is just. Now that’s a model I can endorse.

42 thoughts on “The State of Israeli Civil Rights 2009

  1. It is a war between the politicians and the legal system
    FM asks:
    How can it be anti-democratic if it’s being discussed in the knesset?
    @fm: I genuinely think that a lot of Jewschool commentators just don’t realize that politicians are elected to make the laws, in the Western system.
    (This doesn’t necessarily take away from the validity of some of KFJ’s arguments).

  2. Bravo! It is a great post, just why do you call the end of it “the brain job we need”? It seems like it is more what Israel needs. And what does it have to do with the brain? Israel is much more of an emotional issue that hits the gut rather than the brain.

  3. If these measures prove unpopular, the current knesset will simply be voted out. Like in a democracy. So what’s the big deal?

  4. FM and Jonathan really need to brush up on their Federalist Papers
    If you’re referring to the Federalist 10, did Madison not argue that representative democracy would be more effective than direct democracy to defend the rights of minority groups/factions? (correct me if I’m wrong, it’s been a while.)
    Is Israel not a representative democracy (at least inside of the Green Line?)
    And, btw., that U.S. Constitution that Madison was arguing for allowed for women to be prohibiting from voting, and it allowed for some men (like Madison) to own other men.
    ((psst . . . those things don’t exist today because politicians changed the Constitution.))

  5. formermuslim and J1 — This post obviously falls on deaf ears if you haven’t the slightest spine for civil rights. The Nuremburg Laws that stripped Jews of their property, rights and status were also enacted fully democratically, unanimously by the Reichstag I might add. Egyptians and Iranians also live under democracy. Some democracy that is.
    You also don’t seem to care about the swaths of Israeli public who don’t vote (Arabs), are from countries with poor (Russia) or non-existant (Arab nations) political participation, can’t vote (children, migrant laborers), or are minorities (Druze, Bedouin, Arabs, Christians, Holocaust survivors). These populations are struggling to be heard and serviced in a democracy that isn’t going to miss them. You are proposing a contentment with poverty and second-class status that is cruel.
    Don’t play stupid with us. Rule by the public is also tyranny.
    gili — I don’t think it’s an emotional issue that discourages us from getting directly involved. We care about human rights in Sudan, so we get involved. We care about labor rights in Taiwan, so we get involved. The world is globalized. But when we discuss Israel, suddenly we award them a blank check and pretend to not interfere locally? It’s intellectually inconsistent. But our hearts are in the right places, because we want to help the unrepresented, the disenfranchised, the poor, etc. That’s why I call it a brain job over a heart job.

  6. The Nuremburg Laws that stripped Jews of their property, rights and status were also enacted fully democratically
    This is a very legitimate critism of democracy. If you are arguing that democracy is a very flawed system, I would agree.
    Egyptians and Iranians also live under democracy.
    They do?
    You are proposing a contentment with poverty and second-class status that is cruel.
    I am?
    This post obviously falls on deaf ears if you haven’t the slightest spine for civil rights.
    Actually, this is what I wrote above: This doesn’t necessarily take away from the validity of some of KFJ’s arguments
    Or, maybe I have a weak spine.
    Anyway, in the context of the Israeli democratic system (again, inside of the Green Line, because the situation in the territories isn’t a democracy–and maybe that reality prevents Israel from being labeled a democracy)…anyway, in the context of the Israeli system, an “anti-democratic” act would be if the Kenesset passed a law to fund Nakba education in the public schools, and then Education Minister Lieberman diverted those funds to some other project and ordered the police to prevent teachers from discussing the Nakba in their classes.. . .but it’s not “anti-democratic” for MK Lieberman to propose a law to prevent funding for the Nakba. That’s just the system, for good and bad and right and wrong.

  7. J1 and FM are voicing a popular misconstrual of democracy as the rule of the majority. Unfortunately, this is what most Jewish Israelis believe as well, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

  8. Democratic means more than majority rules. That was a basic part of my civic education.
    Just do this and it’ll make more sense: any time you see “anti-democratic” please read in its place “anti-equality, anti-freedom, and anti-pluralist.”

  9. And, really, this whole discussion is going off track of where (I think) KFJ wanted it to go. Western democracy is a very flawed system (even though it seems to be the best system we know of.)
    But, if you’re against, say, the Nakba Law, then make an argument that it violates Human Rights, or make an argument that equal protection in the U.S. has served America very well, or make an argument that as Jews we shouldn’t tolerate something like the Nakba Law . . . . it’s just illogical to say that it’s “anti-democratic” for a freely-elected member of parlimanent to propose legislation with which you disagree.

  10. @KFJ: Maybe you don’t realize this, achi, but in the American democratic system, a majority can decide to enslave all Jews. That’s just the reality. If we didn’t like that, we could try to overthrow the system, or we could decide to act “anti-democratically” and ignore the such laws. But, that’s the system.
    But, I’ll drop it, because I don’t think this is going in the direction you wanted

  11. KFJ, I support your efforts completely. Personally, I am focused on other issues in Israel that I feel strongly about, but everything you’ve said is reasonable.
    I have just one suggestion. When you discuss and advocate for these issues, do it in a normal context of civil and political advocacy. In other words, Israel is not a single entity – it is an assembly of millions of individuals and institutions. There is a trend in Israel (or anti-Israel?) advocacy to lump the entire nation (primarily the Jews of Israel) as wholly, diplomatically and politically responsible for every misdeed committed – with the recent post you made on the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute being a recent example. Note the headline you used for that post – “Israel admits to harvesting organs in the 1990s”. Others said it more plainly – “Israel admits harvesting Palestinian organs“. That’s not normal advocacy. Every issue or scandal, no matter the context, does not need to be juxtaposed against the character, foundations and legitimacy of the state and its people.
    Otherwise, break a leg.

  12. J1-
    A majority Congress could enact something like reinstating slavery, but a majority electorate can do no such thing in the United States. And, at least in our era, and I am certain it has been the case since its inception, Congress does not represent the will or interest of a majority of the electorate, let alone a majority of the population, which are very different things. Saying something is anti-Democratic does not mean that it evades and interrupts Democracy, rather it is because it evades or interrupts the ideals of a Democratic society. At that, Israel and the United States are excellent examples of Democracies that do not have Democratic societies (as much as we like to think we do). Democracy can do away with equalities, Democratic values are always the same. And Iran and Egypt very much live in Democracies. Different than the manifestations in the US or Israel, which is different than the Democracy in Great Britain (which also does not have a Democratic society, when you factor in the extent of the Commonwealth).
    Democracy is a representative form of government that is not so easily broken down as majority rules, and it’s really only the Parliamentary body that functions on majority rules.
    I mean, it’s one thing to call people out for criticizing Israel because someone thinks they’re Jew-haters or whatever, but there comes a time, like in the organ harvesting or this general bleak outlook on Israel, as a state and society, not respecting the rights of their minority populations, there comes a time where someone has to put political interests and affiliations aside and just say, “Wow. This sucks.” And that’s it, there’s really no arguing it. It sucks. We can talk up instant messaging and desert irrigation and literature and arts and military prowess and blah blah blah but the fact is, this country that has a Jewish majority, it is not doing such a good job on the ethics front. I don’t believe KFJ actually thinks that you are a spineless person, but one has to wonder how someone can continue to look at this resume and defend it.

  13. I would never ask for you to defend my spinelessness, Justin.
    I do believe that somebody out there understands what I’m trying to say . . . in this stream and in the organ harvesting stream . . . obviously you don’t. That’s fine.

  14. I mean, it’s one thing to call people out for criticizing Israel because someone thinks they’re Jew-haters or whatever,
    And, it’s always amazing to me how bad my writing is that you would write something like this (presumably it’s directed at me,) when I think there is only one time I wrote something like that on Jewschool (questioning why there was a Goldstone report only about Israel, and not also other countries, if I remember.)
    Anyway, c’est la vie.

  15. I think some here expect the worse from our co-coreligionists in Israel. Perhaps their concerns are well founded because of the settlements and the treatment of Arabs in the West Bank. But lets not forget that Israel has protected many of the democratic ideals in less than ideal security situations as experienced in Europe and N. America.
    Of the measures discussed above, they have not passed anything yet. The reason such measures are discussed in Israel and not in the US is because Israel has 10 or so parties, not two parties like in the US. If the US had 10 or so parties representing the voters, I wouldn’t even want to imagine what legislation would be discussed.
    Israel doesn’t have its civil rights hammered into law as much as the US but it is still a young country. Lets not forget the US still had slavery 62 years into its history. Given the history of Israeli jurisprudence, I see things getting better, not worse, even with the current right-wing government.

  16. i was taught the same thing in poli sci, KFJ. a fully functioning democracy requires free elections, protection for minority rights, a loyal opposition & an independent judiciary.

  17. I’d like to add in another to the list: Amendment 8.
    Amendment 8 is a reiteration of an amendment to the laws governing compensation cases for victims of violence to person or property at the hands of the IDF that passed the Knesset and was subsequently overturned as illegal by the High Court of Justice. Amendment 8, as it’s predecessor Amendment 7, makes almost any are where the IDF carries out operations in the Occupied Territories definable as a “conflict zone”, and therefore civil claims can’t be filed on behalf of people wrongfully injured, maimed, or who have had their property damaged or destroyed. Since the IDF will almost never open criminal claims into incidents of violence towards Palestinians at the hands of the IDF or settlers, filing a civil compensation claim is often their only recourse, and their only possibility for any kind of justice.
    While the HCJ overturned Amendment 7, there’s no stopping the Knesset from bringing it back, with only minor changes, as Amendment 8. It’s currently working its way through the knesset: it has passed two readings and is progressing forward.
    Whether or not the HCJ will overturn it again remains to be seen. The HCJ is getting worse and worse when it comes to human rights cases involving Palestinians. For an ongoing critique of the HCJ’s decisions that give the legal rubber stamp to human rights violations, see Court Watch:
    To read more about the issue of compensation, the Civil Wrongs law, and the proposed amendment, see this article:

  18. Michael W, in general I agree with you, but I believe Bibi is going to make worse before it gets better. In the long run and with Diaspora involvement, I believe civil society will fight back. But not if we continue to view Israel as we do now. And the road to return will be longer and more arduous if any of those bills become law.
    Hope is crucial. But it’s not a reason to sit back and wait.

  19. Aside from 2 I really don’t see anything wrong or anti-democratic among your 4 points. Especially 1, do you seriously expect Israeli taxpayers to foot the bill for anti-Israeli propaganda? Are you insane?
    If they want their “narrative” heard let them pay out of their own pocket. Just like religious Jews in America pay for Jewish education on their own because of the separation of church and state.

  20. @FM,
    The Nakba Law is a bad idea because it curtails free speech inside of Israel, which devalues the entire society, and sets the society on a course toward violence.
    See Justice Brandeis’s opinion in Whitney v. California: “Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the state was to make men free to develop their faculties, and tht in its government the deliberate forces should prevail over the arbitrary . . . . It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.”
    ((Still, you are correct that the Nakba Law is not “anti-democratic.” Only you and I seem to realize this though, despite the teachings of assorted civics teachers, poli. sci. professors, and California residents))

  21. FM — The Nakba is part of Israeli history. The displacement of the war of 1948 is the dominant narrative of 20% of Israelis. This bill will only enshrine it further.
    But that’s beside the point. This bill doesn’t defund teaching it — it defunds PUBLIC SERVICES administered by anyone who MENTIONS it. That means Arab towns’ utilities. Brilliant idea.

  22. KFJ, I like hearing that Israeli NGO’s want to partner with Americans and American Jews. That said, there is a long standing pattern where Israeli activist groups tell American supporters that all they really want is money. In response to this, the NIF has historically said ‘cool, all WE really want is to help you raise money (through us) as well.’
    I’ve seen a number of efforts to get Americans involved in Israeli environmental struggles. But what happens is that SPNI, Friends of Arava Institute, and other groups make it absolutely clear that they do NOT want US Jews involved in efforts to be heard as American Jews. They just want support.
    Israeli human rights groups like B’tselem have (until very recently) only used the American support they have to raise funds and awareness, but not to activate the base they have on issues and campaigns.
    Even LGBT groups with supporters in the US were careful to stick mostly to a fundraising agenda, in the face of horrific homophobia around the Jerusalem pride march and the terrorist attack in Tel-Aviv.
    So please – is there really a shift? Can you name organizations and individuals who have opened the door to a partnership with Americans and American Jews to actually use the tools of advocacy? Contacting embassies and consulates, writing heads of municipalites in Israel, holding meetings for non-fundraising purposes in NY and LA, demanding resolutions from JCPA’s and denominations, and all the rest of it?
    Even the Reform movement has been notoriously weak kneed in defending religious freedom in Israel, preferring to spend their time on excellent positions and almost nothing on mobilizing American Jews to actually fight on the issues.
    It will take more than a single NIF sponsored action to show that a corner has been turned. Let’s see some more evidence – web pages addressing American Jews in English, appeals asking for action instead of money, internal lobbying efforts aimed at influential Jews or institutions, and all the rest of it. Then I’ll believe it.
    Having attended a number of NIF Forums WITHOUT seeing specific action plans that involve US Jews on the issues NIF supporters – I feel your analysis is premature. We need more pressure on Israeli NGO’s and their friends in the US to live up to your premise – not celebration and recruitment.
    Here’s hoping that ‘if you will it, it shall become a reality.’

  23. In my contact with B’tselem – a mid-level guy there working on checkpoint issues – he (they?) have been adamant that while they encourage financial support from abroad, they do not want political interference or activist mobilization from abroad. They see themselves as Israelis, nationalists even, representing Israeli society and seeking transformation in that society based on Israeli values, not agents for American or European interests. The way I heard it was, if you want to help us so much, get on a plane and I will be happy to put you to work here.

  24. I mean, it’s one thing to call people out for criticizing Israel because someone thinks they’re Jew-haters or whatever, but there comes a time, like in the organ harvesting or this general bleak outlook on Israel, as a state and society, not respecting the rights of their minority populations, there comes a time where someone has to put political interests and affiliations aside and just say, “Wow. This sucks.” And that’s it, there’s really no arguing it. It sucks. We can talk up instant messaging and desert irrigation and literature and arts and military prowess and blah blah blah but the fact is, this country that has a Jewish majority, it is not doing such a good job on the ethics front. I don’t believe KFJ actually thinks that you are a spineless person, but one has to wonder how someone can continue to look at this resume and defend it.
    @Justin. You know, I was reading through this stream today, and it’s astounding to me that you would write this.
    So . . ..
    I. A. I am not a proponent of organ harvesting.
    B. I have not/do not/will not defend the organ harvesting
    which apparantly took place in Israel in the 1990’s.
    C. I do not doubt the veracity of those reports that organ
    harvesting occurred in Israel during the 1990’s.
    D. I have no clue as to why Justin keeps implying that I am
    defending the organ harvesting that apparantly occurred.

  25. II. Our frind KFJ has written quite passionately–in this posting–about all of the injustices perpetrated against many Israeli residents. How can I not respect such genuine passion?
    However, instead of arguing against such wrongs on the basis of them being (1) contrary to how we Jews should behave, or on the basis of (2) our common humanity, or on the basis of how such (2)proposed legislation will likely lead to chaos and violence and an unhealthy society . . . . KFJ, and many others insist on writing that they are un-democratic ideals.
    So, to clarify: Democracy is simply a political system. It has no inherent beauty or ugliness. Most Western countries employ a democratic system, to extraordinary results. Sometimes, societies use democratic systems to terrible results. We can use automobiles to drive to visit our sick grandmothers in the hospital and to take our children to school, but we can drink too much, get behind the wheel, and use our automobiles to run over a pedestrian. Similarly, a society can use democracy for great goods and evils.

  26. Representative democracy means that every few years there are free elections, the majority forms the parliment, and the minority agrees that the majority rules. In turn, the majority agrees to hold the next round of free elections, when the minority can re-take power. (So, my slavery example above is a terrible one, unless the slaves would be allowed to keep voting.)
    People in this stream keep referring to an independent judiciary as part of the democratic process. The job of the independent judiciary is to ensure that the the laws passed by the parliment are enforced. The courts take the circumstances of a given case, and they apply the laws. That’s it. That’s why so many US Supreme Court cases fall 9-0 and 8-1.
    In the USA, there are some values so important that the parliment cannot legislate them out. Those values come from the U.S. Constitution; they don’t fall out of the sky. On the controversial cases (which go 5-4), the Court’s slit is between how justices interpret the U.S. Constitution. About half the 2009 justices adhere to the “originalist” theory, and the other half adhere to the “living constitution” theory. But, if you read justices opinions and listen to their interviews, they all see themselves as interpreting the Constitution; they don’t see themselves as making up the law or invented morality (there of course have been rare exceptions over the years.)
    This is why, in Texas v. Johnson,
    the “conservative” Justice Scalia voted that flag burning is protected under the First Amendment, and the “liberal” Justice Stevens wrote the dissent . . . . because they were interpeting the U.S. Constitution, not writing the laws.

  27. Speaking of the U.S. Constitution, maybe everybody does not everybody realizes this, but it can be changed through the American democratic process. That is why that, when people in America realized that prohibition was a bad idea, the Supreme Court did not rule that prohibition was “anti-democratic,” but instead the Twenty-First Amendment was ratified.
    Lastly, KFJ continues to write that discriminatory pratices in Israel are bad BECAUSE they violate certain things written in the Israeli Declaration of Independence. Maybe everybody doesn’t realize this, but the Israeli DOI is simply a document written by David Ben-Gurion in 1948 (if my memory serves me correctly.)
    Discrimination is bad for many reasons, but not for that reason. What if Ben-Gurion had written that (God forbid) all non-Jews should be attacked? None of us would then use the Israeli DOI to excuse such behavior. Similarly, we shouldn’t simply point to the DOI as proof that something is good or bad, right or wrong.
    In summary, discrination of the Lieberman variety is often bad (maybe evil,) but it is not “ant-democratic.” And we should stop using democracy as a barometer of morality.
    @KFJ and Justin. I wanted to try to clear the air about my evil, ulta-radical thinking because I am going to have to hang up my keyboard. I know that you both are genuinely good-hearted people. I wish everybody only good health in the future.

  28. Jonathan, you are sorely mistaken. The word Democracy is a tricky one, and one can argue in all sorts of ways. For example, some Iranians argue that they have a democracy, because they have elections, parties, etc.
    Since the Western experience with Democracies electing folks like Adolph Hitler into power, the commonly accepted definition now includes things like ‘democratic norms’, respect for international human rights law, protection of minority rights and interests and the rule of law.
    So when, for example, there is a pattern of abuse in a given society (say, the abuse of Romany in Slovakia) we don’t just say, how awful! punish those responsible, we go further. ‘We’ (the community of Democracy supporters) insist that the Slovak state investigate the pattern; take strong and public measures against perpetrators who through action OR inaction have allowed abuses to continue; legislative special and specific legislation as warranted; and finally, do what is necessary to achieve the outcome of safety and security for the community under threat.
    Failure on any one of these fronts is not just ‘bad’ it’s also undemocratic, despite the weak link to elections and majority rule. Democracy is the opposite of tyranny. If any group or individual is suffering the arbitrary excesses of power, from the state or protected individuals, then they are experiencing tyranny, no matter the results of elections.

  29. some Iranians argue that they have a democracy, because they have elections, parties
    Correct. But Iran doesn’t have free elections. If this Iranian government had been elected in free elections, and there would be free elections in Iran in another few years, and the courts there interpreted Iranian law according to the freely-elected parliment, then Iran would be a functioning democracy . . . regardless of anything else.
    the commonly accepted definition now includes things like ‘democratic norms’, respect for international human rights law, protection of minority rights and interests and the rule of law.
    This just isn’t true. For instance, as recently as 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the notion that “international law” (whatever exactly that is) is binding within the U.S.
    By nature, in a democracy the majority imposes its will on the minority (while allowing the minority to regain power in the next round of free elections.) That’s why, if Congress passes universal health-care legislation, those Americans who disagree with such a change will still have to pay the taxes for a new program and to abide by any new regulations. They won’t have their “minority rights” to not participate in universal health care protected.
    Even more, in the U.S., private entities often can deny admissions to persons based on skin color, etc. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that the Boy Scouts could bar a homosexual scout master.
    Rule of law, as jg writes, means that the people elect the parliment in free elections and that the courts interpret those laws to given cases. It doesn’t mean that jg–or any of us–can just determine on our own what is good or bad, and then apply the label ‘democratic norms’ to them, and then expect the courts to just make up the law as they go along, according to whatever we have decide is ‘democratic norms.’
    Why are these ideas so novel?

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