Friday, May 28, 2010

American Zionism and Israeli Democracy

There's an interesting Bloggingheads debate between Peter Beinart and Eli Lake, in which they debate a few aspects of Israel-U.S. relations. I found two parts of it particularly compelling. First, they discuss the growing gulf between American Jews, especially young ones, and Israel. Beinart recently wrote an excellent article on the subject in the New York Review of Books, where he explains that young liberal Jewish Americans don't see Israel as a liberal country and so don't identify with it, while most of the young people in the States who still feel a strong connection with the Jewish State are illiberal Orthodox Jews. He says that part of the problem is that the major Jewish organizations support anything Israel does, and so young Jews don't see that they can be both liberal and Zionist at the same time. I think his analysis of the situation is spot on.

The other part I found interesting was the question of whether Israel is becoming more and more illiberal and undemocratic. Here, again, I think Beinart is right that there are alarming signs, but I also believe Israeli democracy is still strong.

Eli Lake keeps saying to Beinart that he (Beinart) just isn't capable of reading Israeli politics. First of all, it is kind of rude to dismiss these arguments by basically saying "you're an idiot". Secondly, I'm an Israeli, meaning I'm probably better at understanding Israeli politics than Lake himself, and I agree with most of what Beinart says. Lake seems like such a douchebag (I love that word).

On a related note, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy agrees with me about our democracy. He thinks our main problem is "small politicians".


  1. "I think his analysis of the situation is spot on."

    I'm a little surprised at your candour but I agree with that analysis too.

    A blog I like to follow, charting Israel's increasing illiberal tendencies, is 'Promised Land blog'.

    As regards 'small politicians', I can see that too. While I'm all for proportional representation it does seem to have as a consequence for Israeli politics that parties that would otherwise be quite marginal get very close to the levers of power. What do you think?

  2. "I'm a little surprised at your candour but I agree with that analysis too."

    I actually meant that his analysis of American Jews' relationship with Israel and the automatic support of government actions is spot on. Regarding illiberalism and the threat to Israeli democracy, I think he's right to worry, as do I, but I don't see Israel falling into authoritarianism any time soon (not for the next 20 years, at least).

    As for proportional representation - you're absolutely right that it increases the power of smaller parties. It's an age old question that politicians and political scientists have dealt with for centuries, and there's no perfect answer. I prefer proportional representation rather than single member districts (at least for Israel), but there should be something to incentivize voting for one of the major parties to decrease the power of the smaller parties (like alloting 115 of the 120 Knesset seats according to the proportion of the vote, and giving an extra five seats to the party with the most votes).