Israel: Demography vs. Democracy

Preliminary election results from the Israeli elections are due in a couple of hours and no one who follows this even a little bit imagines that the path going forward is anything but fraught with uncertainty. Indeed it is not clear that given the polling that any stable government can be formed. But what is clear is that on this election day Netanyahu threw down on democracy. He is openly appealing to his base that the existential threat to Israel is a get out the vote campaign among ‘Israeli-Arabs’ aided in his view by foreign NGOs and hostile states.

In an American context this is exactly parallel to shouting “ACORN!” and “New Black Panther Party!” and “Aztlan!” Except where the latter cries are only an implicit (tho barely hidden) appeal to an old idea that ‘American’ = ‘Anglo-American Judeo-Christian’ that ‘dares not say its name’ Israel is officially committed to being a Democratic Jewish State. Well there is nothing democratic about voter suppression among those citizens of your country that are not Jewish (in the case of Israel) or ‘American’ (under the definition used by much of the American Right).

Israel faces some stark choices today. There is a path forward that yields an actual Democratic Jewish Israel. It runs through the Two State solution. There is another path that yields a simple Jewish State of Israel. It runs through a policy of Permanent Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and perhaps through disenfranchisement of the ‘Israeli-Arab’ population of Israel proper. And for those of a certain Real-Politik frame, which at this point certainly includes Netanyahu, this may be workable and realistic, at least under the medium term. After all the apartheid regime of South Africa ‘worked’ (in the sense of supplying well-being to the white minority) for decades. As did in many ways and seen from the same perspective did Pinochet’s Chile over the same time period. And in both cases the U.S. government gave explicit support to both those regimes under the Kirkpatrick Doctrine.

But foreign policy ‘Realism’ or not what was clear to all was that neither South Africa or Chile was a democracy. Which wasn’t a problem to the Kissingers and Reagans and Kirpatricks then or to the Boltons and Kristols now. And it is certainly possible that U.S. governments going forward will simply embrace Israel under a Netanyahu policy of Neo-Apartheid as just being the ‘realistic’ thing to do. But as in the past it will make a mockery out of our claims to back ‘Democracy’. Because Israel will not be small d ‘democratic’.

Netanyahu threw off is cloak of deception by announcing that under no circumstances would there be a Palestinian State along side Israel. He doubled down by declaring an emergency for his party followers in the form of ‘Israeli-Arabs’ actually exercising their rights as citizens to a vote. That combination makes it impossible to have a Democratic Jewish Israel that permanently includes the West Bank. Such a State can be Democratic or Jewish but not both. (Not even if every European Jew exercised his or her right to Aliyah – another stop-gap policy Netanyahu has been pushing.)

It will be an interesting few hours, days and weeks ahead.