Monday, July 9, 2012

Sad news

We are saddened to inform you of the tragic passing of David Brumer, z”l husband of Iris Brumer, and father of Nadav and Asaph Brumer, Sunday, July 8th.

A fund has been created to support Iris, Nadav, and Asaph.
Donations to Iris Brumer can be made at any Wells Fargo branch; checks made out to Iris Brumer can be mailed to:

Wells Fargo
 University Branch
4500 University Way NE

Seattle, WA 98105

May his memory be for a blessing.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon: A Realist's Perspective

Fascinating interview by Ari Shavit with a man of great integrity and a quiet wisdom, Moshe Ya'alon. His words may shock some, yet his perspective is measured and deliberate. We in the West want to always fix things, and right away. What if a "solution" is not possible in the near future? Do we act now for the sake of "doing something?" According to Bogie, the urgency to act now is a mirage; the demographic threat is overblown, as is the political necessity. One has to understand the situation through the lens of the Middle East; not Europe or America.  
david in Seattle
"We have to free ourselves of the way of thinking that holds that if I give to the enemy and if I please the enemy, the enemy will give me quiet. That is an Ashkenazi way of thinking; it is not connected to the reality of the Middle East.”

excerpts below; long article worth reading in its entirety
Moshe Ya'alon tells Ari Shavit he is preparing for war. He suggests you do the same.
By Ari Shavit

Exactly seven years ago, I interviewed the chief of staff. On the eve of his retirement from the Israel Defense Forces, Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon spoke with an expressionless face against the Gaza disengagement, against a Palestinian state and against giving terrorism a “tailwind.” He predicted that Hamas would seize control of the Gaza Strip and that rockets would rain down on Israeli cities. 

 Bogie has surprised the “national camp” time and again. He spoke out against the exclusion of women from public events due to religious strictures, opposed racism against migrants and objected to the silencing of reporters. He supported same-sex marriage and the right of Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran not to sing the national anthem.

But despite his partial “otherness,” this son of the Labor Movement became the hero of the followers of Jabotinsky, the hero of the settlement project and the hero of hawkishness. It is only in regard to the Iranian issue that the minister of strategic threats is perceived as a dove. In closed conversations he reiterates his deep concern about the influence wielded by Ehud Barak on Benjamin Netanyahu, and about the possibility that the former will drag the latter into a wanton Iranian adventure.

Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, could a war erupt this year?
“I hope not. I hope that in regard to Iran it will be possible to say, as the old saw goes, that the work of the just is done by others. But obviously we are preparing for every possibility. If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

If you had to provide a comprehensive intelligence assessment today, would you say that the probability of a war in the year ahead is negligible, low, middling or high?
“The probability of an initiated attack on Israel is low. I do not see an Arab coalition armed from head to foot deploying on our borders − not this year, not in the year after and not in the foreseeable future. Despite the trend toward Islamization in the Middle East, we enjoy security and relative quiet along the borders. But the No. 1 challenge is that of Iran. If anyone attacks Iran, it’s clear that Iran will take action against us. If anyone, no matter who, decides to take military action against Iran’s nuclear project, there is a high probability that Iran will react against us, too, and will fire missiles at Israel. There is also a high probability that Hezbollah and Islamist elements in the Gaza Strip will operate against us. That possibility exists, and it’s with a view to that possibility that we have to deploy.”

What the vice premier is telling me is that we are close to the moment of truth regarding Iran.
“Definitely. When I was director of Military Intelligence, in the 1990s, Iran did not possess one kilogram of enriched uranium. Today it has 6,300 kilograms of uranium enriched to a level of 3.5 percent and about 150 kilograms enriched to a level of 20 percent. When I was chief of staff, in the first decade of this century, Iran had a few hundred centrifuges, most of which were substandard.
“At present there are about 10,000 centrifuges in Natanz and in Kom, which are enriching about eight kilograms of uranium a day. Since this government took office in 2009, the number of centrifuges in Iran has almost doubled and the amount of enriched uranium has increased sixfold. The meaning of these data is that Iran already today has enough enriched uranium to manufacture five atomic bombs. If Iran is not stopped, within a year it will have enough uranium for seven or eight atomic bombs.
“In addition, the Iranians apparently possess a weapons development system which they are hiding from the international supervisory apparatus. The Iranians also have 400 missiles of different types, which can reach the whole area of Israel and certain parts of Europe. Those missiles were built from the outset with the ability to carry nuclear warheads. So the picture is clear. Five years ago, even three years ago, Iran was not within the zone of the nuclear threshold. Today it is. Before our eyes Iran is becoming a nuclear-threshold power.”

Crossing red lines
But you yourself are telling me that the Iranians have already crossed most of the red lines. They have swept past the points of no return. Doesn’t that mean that we are now facing the cruel dilemma of bomb or bombing?
“We are not there yet. I hope we will not get there. The international community can still act aggressively and with determination. Other developments are also feasible. But if the question is bomb or bombing, the answer is clear: bomb.

But the Iranians are rational, and the use of nuclear weapons is an irrational act. Like the Soviets, they will never do that.
“A Western individual observing the fantastic ambitions of the Iranian leadership scoffs: ‘What do they think, that they will Islamize us?’ The surprising answer is: Yes, they think they will Islamize us: The ambition of the present regime in Tehran is for the Western world to become Muslim at the end of a lengthy process. Accordingly, we have to understand that their rationality is completely different from our rationality. Their concepts are different and their considerations are different. They are completely unlike the former Soviet Union. They are not even like Pakistan or North Korea. If Iran enjoys a nuclear umbrella and the feeling of strength of a nuclear power, there is no knowing how it will behave. It will be impossible to accommodate a nuclear Iran and it will be impossible to attain stability. The consequences of a nuclear Iran will be catastrophic.”

Bombing too will have catastrophic consequences: a regional war, a religious war, thousands of civilians killed.
“Anyone who has experienced war, as I have, does not want war. War is a dire event. But the question is: What is the alternative? What is the other option to war? I told you once and will tell you again: If it is bomb or bombing, from my point of view it is bombing. True, bombing will have a price. We must not underestimate or overestimate that price. We have to assume that Israel will be attacked by Iranian missiles, many of which will be intercepted by the Arrow system. We have to assume that Hezbollah will join the confrontation and fire thousands of rockets at us. Rockets will also be fired from the Gaza Strip. The probability of Syria entering the fray is low, but we have to deploy for that possibility, too. I am not saying it will be easy. But when you pit all of that against the alternative of a nuclear Iran, there is no hesitation at all. It is preferable to pay the steep price of war than to allow Iran to acquire military nuclear capability. That’s as clear as day, as far as I am concerned.”

Hezbollah scenario
Hezbollah can hit every place in Israel today: population centers, army bases, strategic targets. Doesn’t the scenario of a massive missile attack make you lose sleep?
“My assessment is that Hezbollah will enter the fray. But what happened in the Second Lebanon War will not be repeated. The way to stop the rockets is to exact from the other side a price that will oblige it to ask for a cease-fire. We have the ability to hit Hezbollah with 150 times the explosives that it can hit us with. We can also do it a lot more accurately. If we are attacked from inside Lebanon, the government of Lebanon will bear very great responsibility.”

You answered my question about the home front. But what about the argument that bombing will spark a permanent religious war and will unify the Iranian people around the regime? What about the argument that bombing will in fact cause the collapse of the sanctions and allow Iran to go confrontational and hurtle openly toward nuclear capability?
“First things first and last things last. In regard to a religious war, isn’t the regime in Iran waging a religious war against us today? In regard to the people unifying behind the regime: I do not accept that. I think that an operation could even destabilize the regime. In my estimation, 70 percent of the Iranians will be happy to be rid of the regime of the ayatollahs.
“Let me reply in greater detail to the argument that Iran will hurtle toward nuclearization on the day after the bombing. Those who focus the debate on the narrow technological aspect of the problem can argue that all that will be achieved is a delay of a year or two, not much more. If so, they will say, ‘What did we accomplish? What did we gain?’ But the question is far broader. One of the important elements here is to convince the Iranian regime that the West is determined to prevent its acquisition of nuclear capability. And what demonstrates greater determination than the use of force?
“Therefore, it is wrong for us to view a military operation and its results only from an engineering point of view. I want to remind you that in the discussions of the security cabinet before the Israeli attack on [the nuclear reactor in] Iraq, the experts claimed that Saddam Hussein would acquire a new reactor with a year. They were right from the engineering aspect but mistaken historically. If Iran does go confrontational and tries openly to manufacture nuclear weapons, it will find itself in a head-on confrontation with the international community. The president of the United States has undertaken that Iran will not be a nuclear power. If Iran defies him directly, it will have to deal with him and will embark upon a collision course with the West.”

But the Americans are with us. The Americans will rescue us. Why jump in head-first?
“There is agreement between the United States and us on the goal, and agreement on intelligence and close cooperation. But we are in disagreement about the red line. For the Americans, the red line is an order by [Ayatollah] Khamenei to build a nuclear bomb. For us, the red line is Iranian ability to build a nuclear bomb.
“We do not accept the American approach for three reasons. First, because it implies that Iran can be a threshold-power which, as long as it does not manufacture nuclear weapons in practice is allowed to possess the ability to manufacture them. Second, because in our assessment there is no certainty that it will be possible to intercept in time the precious report that Khamenei finally gave the order to build a bomb . Third, there is a disparity between the sense of threat and urgency in Jerusalem and the sense of threat and urgency in Washington.”

Yet, Israel is not believed either internationally or domestically. The feeling is that Israel is crying wolf and playing a sophisticated game of ‘Hold me back.’
“Let me say one thing to you in English, because it is very important for English speakers to understand it: ‘We are not bluffing.’ If the political-economic pressure is played out and the other alternatives are played out, and Iran continues to hurtle toward a bomb, decisions will have to be made.”

Is there a danger that the Iranian crisis will reach its peak already in the year ahead?
“There was a time when we talked about a decade. Afterward we talked about years. Now we are talking about months. It is possible that the sanctions will suddenly work. But presently we are in a situation that necessitates a daily check. I am not exaggerating: daily. From our point of view, Iranian ability to manufacture nuclear weapons is a sword held over our throat. The sword is getting closer and closer. Under no circumstances will Israel agree to let the sword touch its throat.”

‘Cruel truth’
Bogie, what happened to you? You are a Mapainik from the Labor-oriented Haifa suburbs, a kibbutznik and a Rabinist from Oslo. Why did you suddenly move to beyond the hills of darkness of the right? Isn’t it odd for you to wake up in the morning and discover that you have become a Likudnik?
“The question is not what happened to me but what happened to the camp in which I grew up. The Labor Movement had Yitzhak Tabenkin and Yigal Allon and Yitzhak Rabin. Even Rabin, from the Oslo process, was never from Peace Now. A month before he was assassinated he spoke in the Knesset about an eternally unified Jerusalem, and about the Jordan Rift Valley under Israeli sovereignty and about a Palestinian entity that would be less than a state. Rabin supported the Allon Plan in the broad sense and was firmly against a withdrawal to the 1967 lines ... Morally, mortal danger overcomes land, but in practice giving up land causes mortal danger. That is the reality we live in. That is the truth, however cruel.”

Let’s assume there is no “land for peace,” but that there is “land for Zionism” - land in return for our ability to maintain a Jewish democratic state that does not commit suicide by occupation and settlements.
“As long as the other side is not ready to recognize our right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people, I am not ready to forgo a millimeter. I am not even willing to talk about territory. After land-for-peace became land-for-terror and land-for-rockets, I am no longer willing to bury my head in the sand. In the reality of the Middle East what is needed is stability above all. Stability is achieved not by means of imaginary agreements on the White House lawn but by means of defense, by means of a thick stick and a carrot.”
And we can live like this for another 20 years?
“We can live like this for another 100 years, too.”

But we are rotting away, Bogie. Demographically, politically and morally, we are rotting.
“The demographic argument is a lie. As for the political legitimacy, I prefer to operate against a threatening entity from within the present lines. And morally, as long as the Palestinians do not recognize the right of existence of a Jewish state, they are the aggressor. After all, they do not recognize my right to live in Tel Aviv, either. From their point of view, the occupation did not begin in 1967 but in 1948. Anyone who claims otherwise is throwing sand in your eyes or deceiving himself.”
And what do you propose for the future? Another 100 settlements? A million Jewish settlers in Judea and Samaria?
“The establishment of more settlements touches on political and state sensitivities. But there are now already 350,000 settlers in Judea and Samaria. If the political reality does not change, their number could rise to a million.”

If so, what kind of reality will we be living in 10 years from now? A million Jews in Judea and Samaria, the Palestinians with no state and the two populations intermingled?
“The Palestinians will have autonomy and have their own parliament. I can tolerate that state of affairs. Any other state of affairs will be irresponsible in security terms. Do you want snipers in Jerusalem? Do you want rockets hitting Ben-Gurion airport? It is the Palestinians who are placing us in this difficult situation.
“I was ready to divide the land. They are not ready to divide the land and recognize my right to exist here within some sort of border. Therefore, because they say ‘either them or us,’ I say ‘us.’ Until I hear Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] say there is a Jewish people with a connection to the Land of Israel, and until I see the three-year-old in Ramallah learning that Israel has a right to exist − that is the state of affairs.”

If so, there will be no peace, no withdrawal and no Palestinian state. There will be no two-state solution.
“In the present situation ‘solution’ is a dirty word. One of our biggest problems is that we have become solution-oriented and now-oriented and expect a solution now. We believe that we are omnipotent and have the ability to find a solution to this problem which torments us. But I believe a person should be more modest. What’s needed is not to look for a solution but to look for a path. There are problems in life that have no solution. And at the moment the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a problem with no solution. Anyone who suggests a solution-now of one kind or another is not suggesting a true solution but a false illusion. A golden calf. Self-deception.”

Syrian debacle
Bogie, I understand what you are saying, but it is impossible live with what you are saying. All you are offering me is a wall, an iron wall, a determined stance. There is no hope in your words. No latitude. No movement toward some sort of horizon.
“I am actually very optimistic. I see where my grandfather and grandmother were and where my parents were and where I am and where my children are − and I see that time is not working against us. Time works in favor of everyone who knows how to take advantage of it. That is the secret of Zionism. And when our ethos is to build and the ethos of the other side is to destroy, our ethos will triumph. But what we have to free ourselves of is being solution-oriented and now-oriented and of self-blame. We have to free ourselves of the way of thinking that holds that if I give to the enemy and if I please the enemy, the enemy will give me quiet. That is an Ashkenazi way of thinking; it is not connected to the reality of the Middle East.”
“There is a knight-on-a-white-horse phenomenon in Israeli politics: the Democratic Movement for Change, Shinui, the Center Party, Kadima. These knights appear like fireflies and then disappear. Why? Because they do not possess an ideological backbone, only rhetoric that generates white hope of a white knight on a white horse. Regrettably, there are fools who flock to these white knights.

But you are not the defense minister; you are a kind of upgraded minister without portfolio. Yair Lapid claims that this is a form of corruption.
“I certainly welcome everyone who is ready to plunge his hands into the cold water of politics. Truly. But it seems to me a little pretentious to appear on television and write columns in a newspaper and think that you can be prime minister. A little humility, a little responsibility. First work as an MK, then become a minister, prove that you can manage a system. Occupy yourself with questions of life and death, like the ones I dealt with for 37 years. I find the notion that you can move from the media to being the leader of the country a bit childish.”

And the goal is to win the game: to become prime minister?
“One of the good things in Likud is that when there is a leader, he gets backing. No attempt is made to subvert him. But in the remote future, after a lot more water flows in the Jordan and Benjamin Netanyahu decides that he no longer wants to head the party and the country, we will be in a different situation. I definitely see myself contesting the leadership. The premiership, too.”


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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ambassador Michael Oren: Why Jews Boycotting Israeli Settlements Is Wrong (and Counterproductive)

Ambassador Michael Oren is perhaps Israel's most eloquent spokesperson. A historian of the first order, he authored the definitive work on Israel's 1967 War; 

Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, and more recently, Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present

This week, he graced Seattle's shores with his presence, appearing on Steve Scher's Weekday, met with the Seattle Times, spoke at AJC's Inter-faith/Inter-ethnic Group (AJC hosted an Interfaith and Intergroup Luncheon with Seattle’s religious and cultural leaders, allowing for an opportunity to engage in an open and honest dialogue about Israel), and culminated his whirlwind visit to Seattle with a talk at Temple de  Hirsch Sinai. 
Ever the diplomat, as well as an individual of class and distinction, Oren did not mention individuals (Peter Beinart) or groups (J-Street) by name. But his message was clear: Being Pro-Israel cannot mean advocating boycotts of any sort against the Jewish State, or bemoaning the state of Israeli democracy (in fact, democracy in Israel is alive and well and thriving, messy as it may be). And the settlements, however problematic they may be, do not constitute a major impediment to a peace process and an ultimate two-state solution. Presenting them as such is disingenuous. They are a red-herring. Were there a realistic partner on the other side who could deliver, any issues vis-a-vis the settlements could be accommodated. But as long as the Palestinians refuse to sit at the table without pre-conditions, and as long as Hamas remains ascendant in Palestinian politics, it is a categorical misrepresentation to lay the blame for the impasse in the "peace process" at the feet of the Israelis. 
david in Seattle

American Jews boycotting Israeli settlements is terribly wrong

Sometimes it seems that we, Israelis and American Jews, not only inhabit different countries but different universes, different realities," Israel Ambassador to U.S. Michael Oren says • "At stake is nothing less than the unity of a Jewish people."
Israel Hayom Staff
Ambassador Michael Oren. [Archive]
 Photo credit: AP

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Daniel Gordis Puts His Finger On Peter Beinart's Identity Crisis: Why Particularism (Tribalism) Must Precede Universalism

Daniel Gordis locates the root of the problem with Beinart's "critique" of Israel, in his new book, The Crisis of Zionism. 

I've blogged about the discomfort American Jews have with the "tribalism" of Judaism here, referencing another important article by Gordis related to young American Rabbis. Natan Sharansky also added important insights to this conversation several years ago with his book, Defending Identity, which I wrote about here
Gordis' penetrating analysis of how and where Beinart goes off the tracks. Psychologically astute as well. Beinart's critiques of the Jewish State read like an adolescent's naive apprehension of the world in black and white tones. Only perfection will satisfy. 
Never mind the imperfection of the world, not to mention Israel's neighbors. 
david in Seattle

 “But what distinguishes Palestinian terrorism and settler terrorism is the Israeli government’s response.” Really? That’s all that distinguishes Palestinian and Jewish terror? How about the fact that there have been very, very few incidents of Jewish terror, while the Palestinians have turned it into a cottage industry? How about the fact that Israeli society detests the Jews who do this sort of thing, while Palestinian society lionizes them? Why does Beinart not mention those enormous differences? His sort of accusation and absurd misrepresentation is what one would expect from the enemies of Israel, not someone who professes love for the Jewish state. When Beinart and I debated some time ago, I actually left the evening believing that he loved Israel. This book convinced me that I was horribly mistaken.
BUT WHY does he hate Israel so?

A Dose of Nuance: Peter Beinart's mis-identity crisis

Peter Beinart is right. The relationship between American Jews and the Jewish state is indeed in crisis.

Peter Beinart's book
Photo by: Courtesy

Peter Beinart is right. The relationship between American Jews and the Jewish state is indeed in crisis. Beinart and his title are just wrong about what the crisis is. What we face, as his book accidentally demonstrates, is not The Crisis of Zionism, but a crisis of American Judaism.

The Crisis of Zionism is, as countless reviewers have already noted, an Israel-bashing-fest. The second intifada was Israel’s fault: It “erupted because while many Israelis genuinely believed that [Ehud] Barak was trying to end the occupation, Palestinians felt it was closing in on them.” Israel attacks terrorists “nestled amid a stateless and thus largely defenseless Palestinian population,” as if the terrorists’ decision to lodge there were Israel’s fault. Such myopia abounds.

Israel is blamed everywhere in this book, often thoughtlessly. The most obvious example is the one with which the book opens. Beinart watched a video of a young Palestinian boy wailing uncontrollably as Israeli troops arrested his father for “stealing water,” and found himself “staring in mute horror” at his computer screen. He is right, of course, that it is painful to watch a five-year-old weeping as his father is arrested. But Beinart is so anxious to blame Israel that he abandons any investigative savvy. Haaretz, not known for its enthusiastic support of the occupation that so troubles Beinart, reported that Fadel Jaber was actually arrested on suspicion of attacking the police. Border Police sources also suggested that the whole scene of the sobbing five-year-old was staged for the cameras. And everyone admits that Jaber was breaking the law.

Why, though, does Beinart never even wonder if there is an Israeli side to the story, never entertain the possibility that Jaber deserved to be arrested? The mere fact that Israeli actions cause people pain is too much for him to bear.
Here, then, is the rub, and the central question that I kept asking myself as I read the book: Why do Beinart and his ilk expect their Zionist bride to be free of all blemish? And worse, what is the reason for their instinctively blaming the bride they allegedly love, without asking whether anyone else might bear some responsibility for the painful realities they witness?

Why is there not one mention of the extraordinary social organizations in Israel, or the many cultural, literary and other accomplishments of Jews and Arabs in Israeli society? Why does one finish the book with the sense that Beinart, his protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, actually detests Israel? Why are assaults on Israel described in the cold language of the pathologist, while the scene with Jaber is so emotional? When Beinart mentions Gilad Schalit, this is all he has to say: “Hamas was not innocent in all this: it had abducted an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, and refused to release him until Israel released Palestinians in its jails.” That’s it?! No mention of the fact that Schalit was captured inside Israeli territory? Or that Hamas never once allowed the Red Cross to visit him? Or that Schalit emerged from captivity emaciated? Or that he was held in virtual solitary confinement, with no sunlight, for five hellish years?

Where’s the Jewish soul here? What kind of Jewish observer weeps over young Khaled Jaber but has nothing else to say about Schalit? It’s worse than infuriating; it’s stunningly sad.

Again, the pathologist: Discussing the March 2011 murder of the Fogel family, Beinart first says, “[The terrorists] murdered Ehud and Ruth Fogel and three of their children, Yoav, Elad and Hadas, in their beds. Elad, aged four, was strangled to death. Hadas, aged three months, was decapitated.” Even about the Fogels, he can summon no emotion?

read the rest here

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Friday, April 6, 2012

Michael Oren, Israel's Most Eloquent Spokesperson, Elucidates On The Resilience & Vibrancy Of Israeli Democracy

There is no better spokesperson for all that is right and good and just about Israel than Ambassador Michael Oren. Here Oren beautifully demonstrates that for all its flaws, Israel is a model of democracy in action, and under the most difficult of circumstances. We have much to be proud of and celebrate!                                                                                        Happy Passover to all!!!

david in Seattle
below, multiple excerpts of his long essay in Foreign Policy, well worth reading in its entirety

Israel's Resilient Democracy

Like the United States, we have our flaws. But to say Israel is undemocratic is just dead wrong.


At 64, Israel is older than more than half of the democracies in the world. The Jewish state, moreover, belongs to a tiny group of countries -- the United States, Britain, and Canada among them -- never to have suffered intervals of non-democratic governance. Since its inception, Israel has been threatened ceaselessly with destruction. Yet it never once succumbed to the wartime pressures that often crush democracies.
On the contrary, conflict has only tempered an Israeli democracy that affords equal rights even to those Arabs and Jews who deny the state's legitimacy. Is there another democracy that would uphold the immunity of legislators who praise the terrorists sworn to destroy it? Where else could more than 5 percent of the population -- the equivalent of 15 million Americans -- rally in protest without incident and be protected by the police. And which country could rival the commitment to the rule of law displayed by the Jewish state, whose former president was convicted and jailed for sexual offenses by three Supreme Court justices -- two women and an Arab? Israeli democracy, according to pollster Khalil Shikaki, topped the United States as the most admired government in the world -- by the Palestinians.
These facts are incontestable, and yet recent media reports suggest that democracy in Israel is endangered. The Washington Post was "shock[ed] to see Israel's democratic government propose measures that could silence its own critics" after several Israeli ministers proposed limiting contributions to political NGOs by foreign governments. Citing "sickening reports of ultra-Orthodox men spitting on school girls whose attire they consider insufficiently demure, and demanding that women sit at the back of public buses," New Yorker editor David Remnick warned that the dream of a democratic, Jewish state "may be painfully, even fatally, deferred." In response to legislation sanctioning civil suits against those who boycott Israelis living in the West Bank, the New York Times concluded that "Israel's reputation as a vibrant democracy has been seriously tarnished."
The most scathing criticism of Israeli democracy derives from the situation in the West Bank, captured by Israel in a defensive war with Jordan in 1967. The fact that the Israelis and Palestinians living in those territories exercise different rights is certainly anomalous -- some would say anti-democratic. "There are today two Israels," author Peter Beinart wrote recently in the New York Times, "a flawed but genuine democracy within the green line and an ethnically-based nondemocracy beyond it." The latter, Beinart concluded, should actually be called "nondemocratic Israel."
Together, these critiques create the impression of an erosion of democratic values in Israel. Threats to freedom of speech and equal rights for women are cited as harbingers of this breakdown. Several observers have wondered whether the state that has long distinguished itself as the Middle East's only genuine democracy is deteriorating into one of the region's many autocracies and theocracies.
But are the allegations justified? Is Israeli democracy truly in jeopardy? Are basic liberties and gender equality -- the cornerstones of an open society -- imperiled? Will Israel retain its character as both a Jewish and a democratic state -- a redoubt of stability in the Middle East and of shared values with the United States?
These questions will be examined in depth, citing comparative, historical, and contemporary examples. The answers will show that, in the face of innumerable obstacles, Israeli democracy remains remarkable, resilient, and stable.
Creation Ex Nihilo
In the United States, as in most Western countries, democracy evolved over the course of centuries. First nobles and then commoners wrested rights from monarchs, established representative institutions, and expanded the parameters of freedom. Democracy in Israel, however, emerged without the benefits of this gradual process. Taking root in hostile conditions, nurtured by a citizenry largely unfamiliar with Western liberal thought, democratic Israel appeared to sprout from nothing.
Under its declaration of independence, Israel ensured all of its citizens "complete equality of social and political rights ... irrespective of religion, race, or sex." It guaranteed "freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture." In addition to a popularly elected government, Israelis would be represented by the 120-seat Knesset and protected by an independent judiciary. Suffrage was universal and assembly safeguarded.
**Israel had forged the Middle East's first genuinely functional democracy. But the obstacles confronting that system -- domestic and external -- remained immense. A nation founded by pioneers from autocratic societies would have to wrestle with identity and security issues that would daunt even the most deeply rooted democracies, especially as it subsequently absorbed nearly two million immigrants from the Middle East and the former Soviet bloc. Indeed, in the annals of modern democracy, Israel is entirely unique.

Sui Generis
While Israeli democracy is grounded in the institutions and principles intrinsic to democratic systems, the Jewish state is nevertheless exceptional. It is a nation-state much like Bulgaria, Greece, and Ireland, but it also includes a large minority -- the Arabs -- whose distinct national and linguistic character is officially recognized. Though Judaism has a prominent place in both public and political life, Israel -- unlike Denmark, Great Britain, and Cambodia -- does not have a national religion. And in contrast to any of the world's democracies, Israel has never known a moment of peace, and must struggle to reconcile the often-clashing duties of preserving liberty and ensuring national survival.
**Israel is not in any way a theocracy. It is, rather, the nation-state of the Jewish people. 
**All countries establish criteria for citizenship, and Israel is no exception. Nation-states such as Finland, Germany, and Hungary guarantee citizenship to their repatriating nationals. Israel, too, has a Law of Return, assuring citizenship to Jewish immigrants. The law is a form of affirmative action, righting the historic wrong of statelessness that cost the Jewish people immeasurable suffering and loss.
**But Israel isn't just home to Jews. Muslims, Christians, Druze, and other minorities account formore than 20 percent of the population. Each enjoys autonomy in religious affairs and supervises its own sacred places. Indeed, the holiest site in Judaism, the Temple Mount, which is also revered by Muslims, has remained under the auspices of the Islamic waqf.
**Discrimination, unfortunately, is common to virtually all countries, and Israel also grapples with it. Still, Arabs serve in the Knesset and on the Supreme Court, and they represent Israel diplomatically as well as athletically on its national teams. Though Arabs are exempted from national service,thousands volunteer to serve in the Israel Defense Forces alongside conscripted Circassians and Druze.
Israeli democracy is distinguished not only by its receptiveness to public opinion but, perhaps most singularly, by its ability to thrive during conflict. Whether by suspending habeas corpus or imprisoning a suspected ethnic community, as the United States did in its Civil War and World War II, embattled democracies frequently take measures that depart from peacetime norms. "Congress should have spent more time learning from the Israeli experience," wrote Harvard Law School dean Martha Minow and professor Gabriella Blum in 2006, noting that Israel provides broader rights to security detainees than the United States. In spite of the unrelenting and often existential nature of the threats confronting Israel, it has stuck with the standards established on the day of its independence. As Arab armies joined with local Arab forces in an attempt to destroy the nascent state, Ben-Gurion determined that Israel "must not begin with national discrimination." Israeli Arabs received the right to vote and run for political office.
**In fact, Israel has tolerated acts that would be deemed treasonous in virtually any other democracy. Ahmed Tibi, who once advised PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat and recently praised Palestinian "martyrs" -- a well-known euphemism for suicide bombers -- serves as a member and deputy speaker of the Knesset. Another Arab Knesset member, Hanin Zoabi, was censured for her participation in the 2010 flotilla in support of the terrorist organization Hamas, but retained her seat and parliamentary immunity. Israeli Arab parties routinely call for dismantling the Jewish state, yet only one party was ever barred from Israeli elections: Kach, a Jewish party that preached hatred of Arabs.
In 1988, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan found that "Israel ... provides the best hope for building a jurisprudence that can protect civil liberties against the demands of national security." Confronted with a phalanx of dangers -- suicide bombers, tens of thousands of enemy missiles, unconventional weapons -- Israel strives to maintain what its own Supreme Court calls "a delicate and sensitive balance" between meeting the country's defense needs and preserving human rights. Though terrorists have used ambulances to ferry ammunition and carry out attacks, the court in 2002 instructed Israeli forces to refrain from impeding medical care even at the cost of compromising security. And when, in 1999, Israel's defense services argued that physical duress was necessary to extract life-saving information from terrorist suspects, the court banned the use of all moderate, non-lethal pressure. In fact, Israel became the first democracy to tackle this controversial issue. In 2011, the court upheld the right of Mustafa Dirani, a Lebanese terrorist captured by Israel and later released in a prisoner exchange, to sue the state for alleged abuse during his imprisonment. "This is the price of democracy," the Supreme Court has concluded, "It is expensive, but worthwhile. It strengthens the State. It provides a reason for its struggle."
Democracy's Litmus
Clearly, Israeli democracy is distinctive, capable of bearing unparalleled burdens and coping with dizzying complexities. And yet, with increasing frequency, Israel's commitment to democratic principles has been challenged.
Take, for example, the Washington Post's claim that the Israeli cabinet had stifled free speech by proposing to tax and cap foreign government donations to NGOs operating in Israel. European governments contribute more to NGOs in Israel than to similar groups in all other Middle Eastern states combinedEighty percent of those funds are directed toward political organizations that often oppose the government's policies or, as in the case of Adalah and Badil, deny Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state. The United States also places restrictions on foreign funding for NGOs, which can forfeit their tax-exempt status by engaging in political advocacy.
Many Israelis saw the bill not as a threat to free speech, but rather as a means of defending their state from international isolation. The proposed bill did not, in fact, restrict the right of NGOs to speak freely -- only their ability to receive unlimited foreign funding. Even so, the bill was keenly debated within the government and ultimately not approved.
To call Israeli democracy into question because of one suggested bill that never made it into law is unjust. Democracies consider many laws, some of them imperfect, without compromising their democratic character. In Israel, as in America, legislation is tabled, deliberated, and often rejected without impugning the democratic process. In fact, that is the democratic process.
Anomaly or Non-Democracy?
Still, there have been calls to boycott the settlements. "Israel," argues Peter Beinart, "is forging ... an entity of dubious democratic legitimacy" that bars "West Bank Palestinians ... from citizenship and the right to vote in the state that controls their lives." Beinart's reasoning is based on the assumption that the West Bank Palestinians are denied democratic rights, legal recourse, or any say in their future, and that Israel has taken no serious measures to facilitate Palestinian statehood.
In reality, the majority of the Palestinians in the West Bank reside in areas administered by the Palestinian Authority. Together with the Palestinians living under direct Israeli control, they vote in the Palestinian elections. These were scheduled for January 2010, but have been delayed by the Palestinian leadership -- not by Israel. The Palestinian inhabitants of East Jerusalem, for their part, have also voted in the Palestinian elections.
Similarly, the legal situation in the West Bank cannot simply be reduced to democracy or non-democracy. Palestinian law applies to those Palestinians living under Palestinian Authority auspices. In Israeli-controlled areas and for Palestinians arrested for security offenses, Israeli military law, based on British and Jordanian precedents, is enforced. Such a patchwork might confound any democracy, but Israel has endowed all Palestinians with the right to appeal directly to its Supreme Court. Palestinian villagers in the past have contested the location of Israel's security barrier, claiming it infringed on their land. Though the barrier has proven vital in protecting Israelis from terrorist attacks, the justices often found in the Palestinians' favor and ordered the fence moved. "One of the most unusual aspects of Israeli law is the rapid access that petitioners, including Palestinians, can gain to Israel's highest court," the New York Times observed in 2003, noting that even during periods of fierce fighting, "the high court was receiving and ruling on petitions almost daily."
**Of course, the Palestinians are not passive observers of this process. They have exercised their agency by rejecting Israel's multiple offers of independence. During their last elections, the majority of the Palestinian people voted for Hamas, a terrorist organization that is dedicated to Israel's destruction and has transformed Gaza into a terrorist mini-state. In recent years, Palestinian Authority leaders have balked at direct negotiations with Israel, preferring instead to seek independence unilaterally without making peace and pursue reconciliation with Hamas.
As impediments to peace, settlements pale beside those posed by Palestinian support for terror and the rejection of Israel's right to exist as a secure and legitimate Jewish state. Yet, in spite of all the disappointment and loss, Israelis still hope that the Palestinians will achieve sovereignty -- that they, too, will face the myriad challenges of maintaining a Middle Eastern democracy. And next door they will have a seasoned, dynamic model.
A Work in Progress
The fulfillment of the two-state solution might ease Israel's difficulties balancing defense needs and civil rights. But regional instability, combined with a highly pluralistic and value-diverse society, will continue to test Israel's democratic resolve.
The litmus test for any democracy is its ability to protect the rights of its minorities. Along with its need to reconcile civil liberties with security needs, Israel must also strike a balance between democracy and pluralism. The task can become onerous, especially when the interests of large minorities conflict with democratic norms. Many ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, for example, object to billboards depicting women. They, too, have a right to express their beliefs, however inconsistent with democracy, and Israel has a duty to hear them.
For all this, Israeli democracy remains a work in progress. Like all democracies, even those in less turbulent parts of the globe, Israel's has its flaws. We have to work harder to safeguard minority rights and gender equality, harder to achieve a just balance between defense and civil liberties and between democracy and pluralism. And we must never abandon the vision of peace.
But we must also acknowledge that Israel is a work of progress. Founded by individuals from dissimilar, often illiberal cultures, pressed with the absorption of millions of immigrants and saddled with the West Bank situation which it has repeatedly offered to resolve, confronted with the relentless threat of war, democracy in Israel is today more robust and effervescent than ever. Against incalculable odds, Israel remains unflaggingly -- even flagrantly -- democratic.

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