Earlier this month, Tom Friedman bemoaned the fact that Israel’s leadership has become “disconnected from reality”.
Then came the New Yorker‘s David Remnick warning Israelis about the way the American Jewish community is changing:
A new generation of Jews is growing up in the US. Their relationship with Israel is becoming less patient and more problematic. They see what has happened with the Rabbinical Letter [proscribing rental and sale of property to Arabs], for example. How long can you expect that they’ll love unconditionally the place called Israel? You’ve got a problem.
And now comes Israel’s most loyal American liberal defender, Jeffrey Goldberg.
Before Christmas, Goldberg was fretting that the possibility of a two-state solution is slipping out of reach:
I would like someone in the Netanyahu government to please explain the plan here. It would make things so much easier to understand if we just knew the plan. Is the plan to continue settling Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] so that there is no chance whatsoever of creating a Palestinian state? And if this is the plan, then what happens to those Palestinians who are being denied a state? Will they be absorbed into democratic Israel, thus bringing about an end to the idea that there should be a single small country on earth where Jews can be a majority? Or are they going to be denied democratic rights, in which case, well, Israel as we know it will cease to exist. Or is there some other plan? Or — maybe — there is no plan.
And now Goldberg is acknowledging his grimmest fear: that Israel can all too easily dispense with democracy.
As I wrote last week, there’s very little Israel’s right-wing government has done in the past year or so to suggest that it is willing to wean itself from its addiction to West Bank settlements, and the expansion of settlements bodes ill for the creation of a Palestinian state — and the absence of Palestinian statehood means that Israel will one day soon confront this crucial question concerning its democratic nature: Will it grant West Bank Arabs the right to vote, or will it deny them the vote? If it grants them the vote, this will be the end of Israel as a Jewish state; if it denies them the vote in perpetuity, it will cease to be a democratic state.
I will admit here that my assumption has usually been that Israelis, when they finally realize the choice before them (many have already, of course, but many more haven’t, it seems), will choose democracy, and somehow extract themselves from the management of the lives of West Bank Palestinians. But I’ve had a couple of conversations this week with people, in Jerusalem and out of Jerusalem, that suggest to me that democracy is something less than a religious value for wide swaths of Israeli Jewish society. I’m speaking here of four groups, each ascendant to varying degrees:The haredim, the ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose community continues to grow at a rapid clip; the working-class religious Sephardim — Jews from Arab countries, mainly — whose interests are represented in the Knesset by the obscurantist rabbis of the Shas Party; the settler movement, which still seems to get whatever it needs in order to grow; and the million or so recent immigrants from Russia, who support, in distressing numbers, the Putin-like Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister and leader of the “Israel is Our Home” party.
Let’s just say, as a hypothetical, that one day in the near future, Prime Minister Lieberman’s government (don’t laugh, it’s not funny) proposes a bill that echoes the recent call by some rabbis to discourage Jews from selling their homes to Arabs. Or let’s say that Lieberman’s government annexes swaths of the West Bank in order to take in Jewish settlements, but announces summarily that the Arabs in the annexed territory are in fact citizens of Jordan, and can vote there if they want to, but they won’t be voting in Israel. What happens then? Do the courts come to the rescue? I hope so. Do the Israeli people come to the rescue? I’m not entirely sure. There are many Israelis who value democracy, but they might not possess the strength to fight. Does American Jewry come to the rescue? Well, most of American Jewry would be so disgusted by Israel’s abandonment of democratic principles that I think the majority would simply write off Israel as a tragic, failed experiment.