In defence of Bibi and Israeli democracy

I would like to highlight this response to a recent New York Times op-ed by former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg. The response is written by Gil Troy on Karnage not-so-favourite editor Peter Beinart’s Open Zion blog (aka the best thing Beinart has done since he decided to dive head-first into the crowded pool that is the Jewish world’s Israel debate).

Troy makes some important points about Burg’s arguments, which I will conveniently identify below – although, as always, you are encouraged to click through and read the full piece.

Burg’s Blind Spots – The Daily Beast.

The first blind spot appears in Burg’s first paragraph, when he rants about a “misguided war with Iran” and calls Benjamin Netanyahu a  “warmongering prime minister.” … So far, as far as we can tell from the media, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reign has included unconventional alternatives such as cyberattacks, coalition sanctions, and assassinations, rather than bombing raids or battles—a salutary, more subtle approach.

This gets to me too. Bibi definitely talks a big game, but he has yet to launch any major military operations – let alone wars – in either of his terms as Prime Minister. By way of comparison, Olmert – the much-lauded peacenik – invaded both Lebanon and Gaza during his term last decade. Before him, Sharon launched Operation Defensive Shield. Judging Bibi on his actual record and not his rhetoric, he is the least war-mongering Prime Minister of the past decade.

The second blind spot ignores any signs of life, liberty, equality or fraternity in Israel’s polity in order to justify the article’s hysterical title: “Israel’s Fading Democracy.” … How come we only hear from Burg about the “exclusionary ideas” of unnamed “rude and arrogant power brokers” as opposed to noble tales about the princes of the Likud, Ministers Dan Meridor and Benny Begin, Knesset Speaker Rubi Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu himself, who, through their Beginite and Jabotinskyite liberalism have been fighting the anti-democratic and occasionally racist forces in their own party and coalition?

I was complaining about something similar in my Doug Cameron post last week. Bibi has spent the last four years blocking the vast majority of the antidemocratic reforms that Shas, Beitenu and the Danon faction of Likud have been trying to introduce. Instead of praising him for this, Burg et al seem to be doing whatever they can to make it not worth Bibi’s while to keep fighting – because win or lose, he gets condemned as though the reforms were his idea in the first place.

As a final thought, the Burg piece shows how the Israeli political debate seems to have descended into political point-scoring on every side. Ironically, this is not a sign that Israeli democracy is dying, but that it is just as vibrant as democracy in Australia or the US. (Yes, I said “vibrant”. That does not mean “good”.)

The problem is that partisan point-scoring makes more sense in a domestic context. Opened-up to the world, this does not do what Burg has developed these arguments to do (ie win votes for his party), it makes Israel look bad.


For an opposite perspective, see Liam.

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