13 June 2010

Article: Israeli Post-Democracy: Origins and Prospects

Keith Kahn-Harris and Joel Schalit are the authors of an article titled "Israeli Post-Democracy: Origins and Prospects", published on 10 June 2010 on the pro-democracy news and opinion website openDemocracy.net.

The full text of the article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "'The middle east's only democracy'. [...] This profound sense of itself as a democracy, which by that token makes the country an exception in the region, is woven into Israelis' self-perception. This makes it all the more painful for many Israelis to feel obliged to lament that the country's political character is now seriously threatened and that its democratic political institutions and culture are in effect under siege. It is even harder for them to confront the reality that as the repressive nature of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories is increasingly exposed to the light, Israel's government has begun to treat sections of its own Jewish citizenry as it does Palestinians. True, the project of settling the West Bank (and until the withdrawal of 2005, Gaza) has always carried dangers for Israeli democracy within the 'green line' that demarcated Israel proper from the territories it conquered in 1967. The central conceits of the settlement project [...] rely on the false supposition that Israeli democracy could avoid being undermined by a fundamentally non-democratic project imposed on its closest neighbours. [...]

"Alarm about the corrosive effects of colonial occupation on Israel has long been expressed by intellectuals, radicals and jeremiahs (such as the late Yeshayahu Leibowitz); but its spread can be measured in the way that even establishment political figures (such as Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert most recently) have publicly stated that without disengagement from Palestinian territory, Israel cannot remain a democracy. [...] [A] rightist [government] coalition led by Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud [...] seeks to hold onto the maximum possible number of West Bank settlements and contains figures with explicitly anti-democratic instincts. [...] These developments in themselves do not suggest that Israel inside the green line will, any time soon, dispense with elections or become a dictatorship. However, there is a real possibility that this Israel may drift into a kind of 'post-democracy' (in Colin Crouch's term): imposing restrictions on civil rights and the rights of minorities, the media and NGOs, in a way that erodes the checks and balances on the Israeli state. Israel would become a different kind of polity, one that in key respects might resemble Vladimir Putin's Russia or (at best) Silvio Berlusconi's Italy. [...]

"Even if Israel did fully withdraw to the green line, the 'post-democratic' tendencies that have been set in motion cannot now easily be stalled. The reason is in part because the tendencies pushing Israel towards post-democracy are connected to more than the settlement project; they are also the product of possibilities that have long been inherent within Zionism. [...] Zionism, in important ways comparable to other nationalisms even if the details differ, sought to create a national Hebrew culture forged out of the disparate Jewish diaspora, and to erect a state for Jews. [...] The strength of Israeli civil society has provided a powerful bulwark against the ever-present possibility that Israel would devolve into openly racist authoritarianism. In the post-democratic era, this bulwark is being eroded. Zionism is being reduced to a retrograde 'statism' that seeks only to build state power, and is suspicious of any counterweights. [...] Israel's political horizons were in historical terms always more limited than they once appeared, but [...] it has taken the rise of anti-democratic forces to national leadership for everyone, including Israelis, to figure this out."

Keith Kahn-Harris is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Centre for Religion and Contemporary Society at Birkbeck College, University of London.

Israeli-American Joel Schalit is a book author and editor based in Berlin, Germany.

No comments:

Post a Comment