Michael Oren: Israel's Resilient Democracy
Michael Oren is Israel's ambassador to the United States and author of Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present and Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East.
At 64, Israel is older than more than half of the democracies in the world. The Jewish state, moreover, belongs to a tiny group of countries -- the United States, Britain, and Canada among them -- never to have suffered intervals of non-democratic governance. Since its inception, Israel has been threatened ceaselessly with destruction. Yet it never once succumbed to the wartime pressures that often crush democracies.
On the contrary, conflict has only tempered an Israeli democracy that affords equal rights even to those Arabs and Jews who deny the state's legitimacy. Is there another democracy that would uphold the immunity of legislators who praise the terrorists sworn to destroy it? Where else could more than 5 percent of the population -- the equivalent of 15 million Americans -- rally in protest without incident and be protected by the police. And which country could rival the commitment to the rule of law displayed by the Jewish state, whose former president was convicted and jailed for sexual offenses by three Supreme Court justices -- two women and an Arab? Israeli democracy, according to pollster Khalil Shikaki, topped the United States as the most admired government in the world -- by the Palestinians.
These facts are incontestable, and yet recent media reports suggest that democracy in Israel is endangered. The Washington Post was "shock[ed] to see Israel's democratic government propose measures that could silence its own critics" after several Israeli ministers proposed limiting contributions to political NGOs by foreign governments. Citing "sickening reports of ultra-Orthodox men spitting on school girls whose attire they consider insufficiently demure, and demanding that women sit at the back of public buses," New Yorker editor David Remnick warned that the dream of a democratic, Jewish state "may be painfully, even fatally, deferred." In response to legislation sanctioning civil suits against those who boycott Israelis living in the West Bank, the New York Times concluded that "Israel's reputation as a vibrant democracy has been seriously tarnished."...
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