chapter  5
24 Pages

Israel and the World: The Democracy Factor


At precisely the same time that democratically driven upheavals are spreading throughout the Arab world, Israel is in the midst of a democratic recession. This process has widespread implications not only for its international position, but also for its internal priorities and its very identity. The debate over Israel’s global standing is as old as the state itself. For over

six decades, two schools of thought have vied with each other: that which claims that, regardless of what it does, Israel stands alone in a hostile world; and that which argues that Israel’s actions can-and do-affect its position in the international arena.1 Although these approaches reflect different conceptions, values, norms, and perceptions of Israel and its nature, they have always been an integral part of Israel’s democratic discourse. Recently, however, this discussion has taken on an innovative twist: Israel’s

growing isolation has become a topic of intense domestic controversy with broad implications for its democratic character and, by extension, for its global positioning. The question of Israel’s place in the world has been internalized, becoming a major cause for anti-democratic trends; the enemy from outside is now being hunted at home, leading to a democratic recession that further marginalizes Israel in the world. The civic nature of Israeli identity, as defined by its founders, is being questioned by a growing neo-nationalist surge bent on displacing the universal and Jewish values of equality, justice, and tolerance embedded in its Declaration of Independence with an ethnically driven mindset that ties the connection between the land and the people to an exclusivist agenda which denies diversity and denigrates pluralism. A process of de-democratization has been set in motion, dividing not only Israelis, but also increasingly splitting the Jewish world. Its consequences distance Israel even further from its democratic allies. Why is this process taking place? What are its key characteristics? Who is

fuelling the campaign and for what purpose? What are the results? And what does the systematic attempt to constrain Israel’s democracy mean not only for its relationship with the outside world, but also for its own being? This chapter seeks to answer these questions by tracing recent anti-democratic campaigns in Israel, examining their sources, analyzing responses, and assessing their implications.