The Tyranny of the Israeli Majority

The present political balance of power has created a Knesset that has become an assembly line of legislation that is dragging Israel down to the bottom of the list of civilized countries.

zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell
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zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell

In order to deal properly with the diplomatic dead end, we have to accept that the problem is not political in the narrow sense of the concept. It is not a question of right and left according to the common Israeli terminology: The problem is social and cultural, part of the structure of political culture in Israel. Therefore, it is unimportant who will be in the government in the near future, just as there was no importance to the identity of the coalitions that ruled during the Yom Kippur War, the two Lebanon wars and Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. The exception was the second government of Yitzhak Rabin.

The present political balance of power has created a Knesset that has become an assembly line of legislation that is dragging Israel down to the bottom of the list of civilized countries. In fact, the Israeli usually understands one thing about the concept of democracy: an unrestrained government of the majority. Here the principle of majority rule is considered the right of the stronger side to impose its authority on those weaker than it, without considering the limitations imposed by human rights.

The concept "majority" does not have the same moral and ideological meaning here that it has in Europe, where the right of the majority to rule was an expression of a liberation from the tyranny of the minority, which was acquired after long struggles and became another aspect of the right to freedom and equality and a means of guaranteeing the rights of the individual. That is not the case here: The average Israeli doesn't even understand why the same majority that elected the MKs is not authorized to decide who will sit on the judge's seat, or why Basic Laws have to protect the Arab minority from the majority.

The right of the stronger applies also, if not first and foremost, to our relations with the Palestinians. It is not only the settlement-oriented right that fails to understand why a great power like Israel even has to conduct discussions with the Palestinians, who are totally dependent on us. Even in today's Labor Party, which sees itself as the successor of Mapai, many believe the Jews are doing the Arabs a favor when they are even willing to discuss their demands.

That is why Israeli society is incapable of producing the moral and intellectual strength required to put an end to the occupation. Those who choose to hold on to the territories at any price are the minority, although a large one, but along with those who want to control as large a chunk of the territories as possible, there is a majority of society. Those who favor an apartheid state are a minority, but many have already accepted a situation of apartheid that does not call it by name, existing behind a smokescreen of being "temporary."

That is why the only significant argument between the left and the right was and remains primarily technical: How far, in terms of Israel's foreign relations, can we stretch the rope? As long as the gentile only barks and doesn't bite, there is no need to hurry. In that sense Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Revisionist boy from Rehavia, is a copy of another prime minister, Golda Meir, the "socialist" pioneer and the refugee from the land of pogroms in Russia, who arrived in Israel via Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Our American ally is not necessarily naive. Like President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in their time (see the article by Aluf Benn, "Better than Wikileaks," December 15 ), President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton know that Israel will not budge from its positions unless it feels that it is being bulldozed. Nixon and Kissinger wanted an Israel that was weakened and in mourning, but strong enough to enter negotiations with Egypt. Is it proper, is it worthwhile to wait for the day when Obama and the Europeans also reach the conclusion that it will be possible to talk only to an Israel that has suffered a stinging failure?



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