By Jonathan Tobin, Israel Hayom—
As Israel heads to its fourth Knesset election in two years on March 23, polls show that the outcome is very much in doubt. Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor any of his rivals seem to have a clear path to a 61-seat Knesset majority, leaving open the distinct possibility of another stalemate and the excruciating possibility of a fifth election later this year.
But if you listen to some of the usual suspects opining about Israel for English-language readers, more than just the fate of the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history is at stake in the voting.
As we’ve been hearing for years from some of the same sources, Israeli democracy is in danger. Liberal critics of Netanyahu believe that he and his political acolytes, and their ultra-Orthodox partners, are a threat to the country’s democratic system. The Israeli right’s criticisms of its Supreme Court and other elements of the judicial system are spoken of as an ominous threat against the rule of law.
Others make familiar claims that the anomalous situation in the West Bank – where Arabs are autonomously ruled by the Palestinian Authority with Israel retaining security control – is a form of apartheid. Taken as a whole, it’s easy to see why many people who only read left-wing Jewish outlets or the mainstream press accept the notion that Israeli democracy is, at best, a shaky proposition and heading towards pure authoritarianism if Netanyahu holds onto power.
Like the old line about the Jews being “an ever-dying people,” always one step away from the threat of extinction, Israeli democracy remains under perpetual threat. But the key to understanding why these jeremiads about the collapse should be taken with a shovelful of salt is that the worries about the future of Israeli democracy were rarely heard during the first 29 years of its existence when the Labor Party ruled the country.
The first decades were marked by paternalistic rule from its Socialist founders and their immediate successors. During those years, Labor ruled with a heavy hand, operating an economic model that was more reminiscent of East Germany than a free nation. Leaders like David Ben-Gurion, the country’s visionary first prime minister, worked miracles in terms of bringing the nation to life and maintaining it amid the constant threat of war. But he also maintained an iron grip on every aspect of life, including refusing to allow television into the country because he thought that it would distract workers from their jobs and keep them up at night. That kind of decision was a lot closer to authoritarianism than even the most egregious abuses that Netanyahu is charged with. Continue Reading….