The Assault On Israel’s Democracy


Recently I wrote about antisemitic Jews, the JVP-types who give cover to the worst Jew-hatred and anti-Israelism. The antisemitic Jews who associate with Jewish Voice for Peace or other similar groups, however, are not the only ones who are enabling the growing anti-Israel hysteria on the far left.

Seymour ReichThere’s another type that we see repeatedly, those who love Israel sooooooooooo much, that they just have to consistently point out all of its flaws, be they real or imagined. The latest example of this appeared in the Jewish Week, in the form of an op-ed by Seymour Reich, who touts his single year, from 1989-1990, a quarter century ago, as the Chairman of the Conference of Presidents, to try to gain credibility.

Though the title of his piece is “Israel’s Assault On Democracy,” it is ultimately Reich who is assaulting Israeli democracy. Reading closely, it is clear that Reich’s real problem is that Israelis are not choosing the government that he would like them to choose. His problem, in his own words, “began with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s re-election a year ago.”

I’m not sure how one would measure whether this is, as he says, “the most right-wing government in Israeli history.” Indeed, in a seeming testament to the vibrancy of Israeli democracy, the current governing coalition includes two political parties that have each been in existence for less than ten years, so it seems difficult to compare. Even if that’s true, though, right-wing is not synonymous with undemocratic.

The most ridiculous assertion that Reich makes is that, “the perilous state of free press is underscored by the free, unabashedly pro-Netanyahu daily, Israel Hayom, started and funded by Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson. By flooding the country with free distribution, his paper soon became the largest circulation daily in Israel.” Israel’s free press, he claims, is under assault because of circulation of a newspaper. Since, apparently, Freedom House also recently made the same idiotic argument, it seems necessary to spell out the obvious: the ability to circulate privately published newspapers is the very definition of free press.

As to the fact that the newspaper is distributed for free, Reich (and Freedom House) might need to be reminded that the majority of news is available for free today on the internet, including much of Haaretz’s inflammatory left-wing content. Network news broadcasts, too, are available for free. In fact, I read Reich’s op-ed — you guessed it — for free!

It’s not hard to tell what Reich’s real problem with Israel Hayom is: that it was started by Sheldon Adelson, a Republican, and “unabashedly” supports Netanyahu.

Most of the remainder of Reich’s arguments do not hold up to scrutiny much better. Reich’s claim, for example, that the Israeli government has an obligation, not simply to allow, but to actually finance flag-burning, incitement to terrorism, and mourning the country’s independence, seems equally absurd on its face.

Reich complains, as well, about the NGO transparency bill, but there’s nothing undemocratic about more disclosure or about allowing policy makers to be aware of possible conflicts of interest caused by foreign funding. As I’ve pointed out before, moreover, and as Ayelet Shaked has pointed out as well, the US has a similar law already on the books. If Reich thinks disclosure of foreign funding is undemocratic, he might want to first take aim at the law in his own country. But, of course, the problem is not that this law is undemocratic – the problem is that left-wing NGO’s are trying to obscure the fact that they are heavily financed by European governments.

His claim that the Israeli government has of late made “no serious efforts” to reach an agreement to end its military presence in the West Bank is belied by the left’s own darling, Tzipi Livni, who told the New York Times that it was Abbas, and not Netanyahu, who rejected US parameters in 2014. This was after Israel released over 70 convicted terrorists from jail for the sake of peace talks. And his claim that the “settler enterprise” has grown is contradicted in a Haaretz report from October. That report stated that, “since Netanyahu became prime minister in 2009, there has been less construction activity in the settlements than under any other prime minister since 1995.”

With such twists of logic and inaccuracies, it’s no wonder that the link was cited favorably by known antisemite Juan Cole and tweeted by the Executive Director of the pro-BDS US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.

As far as the struggles taking place in Israel between Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism, those are important matters that need to be addressed, and American Jews do have a stake in those disputes – a lesser one than Israelis, but an interest, to be sure. There is simply no reason, however, that we can’t take a position in those arguments without maligning the entire country.

Reich concludes, of course, with the arrogant and paternalistic claim that he is saying this for Israel’s own good. But it’s easy to see what this is really about. He is one of a handful of American Jewish liberals, like the Jstreeters who applauded his op-ed, who are becoming increasingly frustrated that their counterparts in Israel can’t seem to win a free and fair election. Part of democracy, however, is being able to accept the decision of the voters, even — especially — when you lose. It is Reich, not Israel, who has a problem with democracy.

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