Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Illusion of Democracy

Several friends have asked me why I am so critical of "The Only Democracy in the Middle East". Over the past few years I have grown more and more critical of the "Illusion of Democracy" perpetrated here in Israel. Not to deny that it has some benefits entirely, my criticism is that "democracy" is a tool, not an "ultimate value" in and of itself.

Israel's democracy is not "representative" of the wishes of the People, as the politician have absolutely no accountability to the electorate! The political process therefore draws not upon the values the people support but those the political parties generate and support. Part of this is the result of the fact that Israel's political system is really just a transplant of the Zionist Congress from pre second-World-War Europe. The compromises and ideologies that fueled those movements gradually metamorphosed into today's political parties, but true "democratic" process has little to do with how the actors are chosen or policies determined. There are no "riding associations" like in the Canadian parliamentary system. The average party member has little power in determining either policy or selecting representative. These are really accomplished by the various power-brokers in the guise of "Central Committees". Israeli politicians are not in anyway accountable to their electorate. As Arik Sharon has demonstrated, they can even contradict and ignore their own party's decision if it so suits them.

My second complaint is the fact that the "conventional wisdom" in Israel's political world is that the body of values a democratic system of government should draw from are "Western Secular" values, with a clear negation of anything identifiably Jewish. The US system apparently draws upon an ethos of "melting pot" and "immigrants" who left old-world cultures to join in the great-American-dream. But with all due respect to the principles upon which the American democratic experience is founded, it is not the only approach ... as Canada, England, Germany etc. etc will demonstrate. There is nothing illogical about a country deciding to draw upon its religious and cultural roots but employing the methods of democratic process to arrive at important collective decisions or manage the process of government.

If Israeli democracy would be "accountable" I'm certain the "political process" would influence the selection of decision makers who would reflect the values of the society. Israel is, despite it seemingly secular exterior, a very Jewish country.