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Paul Eidelberg has written a provocative essay about Democracy, with reference to Israel.. Democracy is an important subject, much abused.



Eidelberg writes quite correctly:


The word “democracy” is both one of the most used and one the most abused terms in Western public discourse, especially in Israel. The prevalent tendency among modern political theorists is to define democracy without reference to any ethical standards. Democracy is usually treated as a kind of procedural form which is neutral in regard to the substance of the popular or majority will. Rousseau called this “plebiscitary” (or majoritarian) democracy.


Eidelberg has identified the great problem of the Bush administration;s push for democracy in the Middle East. In the West, democracy "works" because it is built on a framework of normative liberal guarantees of the rights of the majority, a written or unwritten constitution. "Democratic" decisions are always subject to the review of a court, which can nullify them if they violate the constitution. A "democracy" that votes to establish a religion and excluce all others, or a "democracy" that votes to kill off a minority group would not be considered a democracy. In most countries of the Middle East however, it is accepted that if the majority of the people want an Islamic Republic, it is "democratic" to institute an Islamic Republic. Thus, the Hamas, which has a plan to institute Muslim Sha'aria law in Palestinian society after a plebiscite, is touted as "democratic."

Eidelberg is not writing in favor of constitutional democracy however, though he would have us believe that it is so. In the next sentence he writes:


We shall call it “normless” or morally neutral democracy.


Wherein it is understood that Eidelberg is the prophet of Allah, and will decide what is morally correct or not correct.

What Eidelberg is complaining about, is that the Israeli people decided to elect a government that promissed to end the occupation of large parts of the West Bank. This is a political, military and foreign policy decision that has nothing to do either with religion or morality. It may be a correct or incorrect decision, but it is not a constitutional issue.

Eidelberg deliberately confounds two separate issues:


Although a draft constitution—by no means Jewish—is before the Knesset Law Committee, it will probably get nowhere.. Indeed, the Kadima-led government of Ehud Olmert has an agreement with Labor that there will be no change in the method of appointing the Supreme Court...


Israel has made some progress in drafting basic laws, but the constitution is stymied over issues such as "who is a Jew?" "is Israel a Jewish state or a state of all its citizens?" and "what is the role of religion in the state?" The failure to agree on a constitution remains an enduring problem. Israel has an unwritten constitution and some basic laws, but these are insufficient. Among other menaces to democracy, we still have with us the ominous emergency laws that permit administrative arrest. These were first promulgated in 1945 by HM British Mandate for Palestine in an attempt to control the Jewish Revolt, and were roundly denounced by Menachem Begin.

On the other hand, in a totally unrelated development, right-wing politicos dissatisfied with the defense of individual rights by the Israel High Court introduced a bill to bypass the High Court and appoint a "constitutional court" that would be amenable to their own convenient interpretation of the law. This is a bad example of plebiscitory democracy if ever there was one. The attempt to confound the two very different issues is not a shining example of intellectual honesty.

Eidelberg makes some very odd judgements about Israeli society. He writes:


First, with the decline of the Likud and the National Religious Party, hence, with the collapse of secular and religious Zionism, Israel now lacks even the illusion of an ideology.


With the stroke of a computer keyboard, Eidelberg dismisses the entire glorious history of the Labor Zionist movement, which was instrumental in creating the state of Israel. Only Bibi Nethanyahu, Menachem Begin and Ze'ev Jabotinsky have or had ideology according to Eidelberg. Rob the poor to feed the rich is ideology, as he would have us believe, while Socialist and Progressive Zionism are nothing. In any case, democracy and ideology are not always the best of friends, so it is questionable why Eidelberg chose to raise the question of ideology here.

Finally, Eidelberg descends to utter absurdity with this remark:


Machiavelli... is the father of normless democracy.



Machavelli, who wrote "The Prince," can scarcely be accredited with paternity of any sort of democracy.

Ami Isseroff


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