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Concern Grows About Israel’s Future as a Democratic Society

Allan C. Brownfeld
Special Interest Report
December 2011

Concern is growing on the part of respected voices in both Israel and the U.S. about that country’s future as a democratic society.  
Benny Morris, an Israeli historian, wrote an article in Newsweek (Sept. 19, 2011) entitled “Is Israel Over?”  
Morris argues that, “This is no longer Israel. A profound, internal, existential crisis has arrived. It stems in part from the changing nature of the country, more right wing, more restrictive, far less liberal, far less egalitarian. Many moderate Israelis fear the country is headed for ruin.  
Indeed, the country’s ruling class, including Benjamin Netanyahu and his predecessors Ehud Olmert (now on trial for corruption) and Ehud Barak (a former head of the Labor Party and current defense minister), live in opulence, and the feeling is that they are out of touch with reality. In Tel Aviv, where some 350,000 gathered in protest, a widespread chant ... was ‘Bibi has three apartments, which is why we have none.’”  
In political terms, writes Morris, “Israel is a deeply troubled democracy. A democracy it still is, for its citizens both Jewish and Arab. But Israel is no democracy when it comes to the semi-occupied 2.5 million Arabs of the West Bank and the 1.5 million semi-besieged Arabs of the Gaza Strip. Since the West Bank and Gaza were conquered in 1967, successive Israeli governments have failed to fully withdraw from them. ... The Arabs may have been largely at fault in 2000 when Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat turned down an Israeli offer to withdraw from 95 percent of the West Bank and 100 percent of the Gaza Strip — but Israel retains its stranglehold over these people and continues to expand its settlement enterprise.”  
At the same time, Jewish extremism and terrorism appear to be on the rise. The Jerusalem Post (Oct. 7-12, 2011) reports that, “The attack against the mosque in the Galilee on Oct. 2 is a clear escalation, and if proven to have been carried out by right-wing extremists it will be just the latest sign that Jewish terrorism is gaining steam. ... While attacks on mosques in the West Bank have sadly become something of the norm in recent years, an attack on a mosque in an Israeli town is quite rare, particularly in a Bedouin village like Tuba Zanghari whose residents serve in the IDF.”  
This attack, declares the Post, needs to serve as a long-overdue wake-up call ... In recent months, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has recorded a growing number of so-called ‘price tag’ attacks, amounting to several dozen over the past year. These include attacks on mosques, the uprooting of olive trees, the puncturing of tires on military vehicles, and the harassment of left-wing activists, IDF officers and Shin Bet officials and others. ... In most cases no one is arrested and those detained are let off without charges.”  
Forward (Oct. l4, 2011) columnist Leonard Fein laments that, “... the ship of the Israeli state and, for that matter, of its people lists rightward ... things that were unthinkable 20 years ago and unspeakable 10 years ago are now part of daily discourse, are now proposed as legislation by Knesset members; that survey after survey shows a coarsening of attitudes regarding Palestinians, whether Israelis or not ...”  
In the recently published book, Israel’s Palestinians: The Conflict Within (Cambridge University Press), Professors Ilan Peleg and Dov Waxman write that the Palestinians “suffer from numerous inequities, tacit discrimination, government neglect and social prejudice. They are largely excluded from the country’s public life, they have not been integrated socially or economically, and they are generally treated with suspicion by the state and by Israeli Jewish society. As such, collectively, Arabs are very much second-class citizens in Israel.”  
More and more Jewish voices are being heard in criticism of the direction in which Israel is now moving. New York Times (Aug. 21, 2011) columnist Roger Cohen wrote that, “Jews with their history cannot become the systematic oppressors of another people. They must be vociferous in their insistence that continued colonization of Palestinians in the West Bank will increase Israel’s isolation and ultimately its vulnerability.” •

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