While the Arab world joins together in a call for democracy, Israel’s democracy
As the Arab world demands accountability from its leaders,
Israel’s leaders are facing investigations and indictments.
As the Arab
world demands greater social mobility and economic opportunity, Israel’s gap
between the rich and poor continues to widen. The people in the Arab world
appear determined to proactively lead their countries to a more positive future,
but Israel appears floundering, leaderless, with no vision and, most troubling
of all, apathetic.
Where are the Israelis who should be demanding change
that leads to peace and prosperity for all? Where are the leaders? They are
preoccupied with staying in power, diverting indictment and shuffling to find a
Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s shameful systematic dismantling of
the Labor Party he once led is indicative of the state of leadership and
politics today. He set aside the values and positions for which he was elected
to maintain a position of power and bolster an ego that appears to inflate with
each passing day.
Perhaps he has learned from Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu, whose second term has been an exercise in futility. He has no policy
beyond staying in power. Any policy he might pursue is beholden to the veto of
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an individual reviled by much of the world
for his racist views, and who, this month, may face a potential
THE OPPOSITION is, sadly, also leaderless and disparaged.
Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni cannot instill party discipline nor generate
sufficient confidence in her leadership from the public. The dearth of any
credible and clear ideas from Kadima is disheartening. MK Shaul Mofaz’s comments
last week that the US should withhold military aid to Egypt – at a time when
this aid serves as a critical incentive to maintain cooperation between the
Egyptian military, the US and Israel – was particularly perplexing. Last week,
Kadima director- general Moshe Shehori was arrested on suspicion of corruption.
Indeed, Kadima looks very little different from its counterparts in the
government; and the country is left with little prospect of rising visionary
Where are the soldiers? Those who have spoken out against the
occupation are now defending themselves against accusations of treason. Soldiers
involved in such groups as Breaking the Silence have been labeled traitors for
criticizing and condemning certain actions by the IDF. At the same time,
officers and combat units are becoming increasingly ideological and religious
when in fact national security depends on nonideological soldiers.
1990, 2.5 percent of infantry officers were religious. By 2007, that number had
jumped to 31.4%. Meanwhile, religious preparatory programs are producing far
more recruits for infantry units than others. A full 80% of religious graduates
join combat units, compared to 40% of all soldiers. IDF soldiers have always
fulfilled their duties with dignity and discipline, and they must never be
dragged into the political morass.
Where are the mothers and fathers?
They are watching as their children are indoctrinated with zealotry and even
bigotry. Just over a year ago, a poll conducted by Ma’agar Mohot indicated that
nearly 50% of high-school students did not believe that Arabs should have the
same rights as Jews. Eighty percent of religious high school students supported
Meanwhile, 48% of all high-school students said that after
being drafted, they would not obey orders to evacuate settlements. As an
unidentified Education Ministry official told reporters upon the poll’s
publication: “This poll shows findings which place a huge warning signal in
light of the strengthening trends of extremist views among the
Rather than address the problem, the Education Ministry is
exacerbating it. Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar recently announced plans to
bring school children to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, in what amounts
to an unnecessary and untimely provocation aiming to bolster nationalistic – and
rightwing – perspectives among youth.
Where are the peace activists? They
are few in number, and are scrambling to find a voice.
have looked more like potlucks than protests. With the Labor Party decimated,
Meretz marginalized and Kadima in perpetual disarray, there is no home for the
so-called peace camp.
A majority of Israelis say they want peace, but
when presented with an historic opportunity to make peace through the Arab Peace
Initiative, 56% of the public oppose it. The peace process doesn’t even appear
on the radar.
WHERE ARE the spiritual leaders? They are sowing seeds of
division rather than coexistence.
Last week, 70 rabbis joined together to
support Rabbi Dov Lior, who is facing arrest for refusing to answer questions
regarding his endorsement of a book that advocates the killing of innocent
non-Jews during wartime.
In December, much attention was paid to the 50
rabbis who signed a letter opposing Jews renting homes to non-Jews. Another
letter, signed by nearly 30 rabbis’ wives, opposed Jews dating Arabs or even
working in the same vicinity as non-Jews.
Meanwhile, more progressive
religious leaders appear rather quiet, focusing on their efforts to gain greater
status, including the sanctioning of non-Orthodox religious ceremonies such as
weddings. Rather than part of the solution, spiritual leaders are all too often
becoming part of the problem of endemic complacency.
Where are the
entrepreneurs? They are content and aloof. Life for successful businessmen is
good. The economy grew by an impressive 5.4% last year, including 7.8% in the
fourth quarter. However, the latest National Insurance Institute report
indicated that 23% of the population lives below the poverty line, and another
29% risks joining them. The average salary of senior executives at the Tel Aviv
Stock Exchange’s 25 largest companies amounts to 94 times that of the national
Furthermore, the middle class is rapidly shrinking. In 1988, the
middle class amounted to 33% of Israelis; by 2009 it had dropped to
According to the Gini coefficient of inequality, which reached
39.2% in 2010, the country can now be considered one of the most disparate
societies. But the disadvantaged also remain quiet and alarmingly
FINALLY, WHERE are the students and the vibrant academic
community? More than a thousand university students marched in Jerusalem in
November to protest government stipends for yeshiva students. But where are they
to oppose a disastrous foreign policy? Why aren’t they in the streets protesting
against government policy that could usher in violent conflict by insisting on
maintaining the status quo? And where are the academics? Israeli scholars are
hailed for their ingenuity and imagination.
Nine Israelis have won Nobel
However, renowned scholars are too rarely heard using their
intellect and university pulpit in a consistent way to rally support for
policies that lead to a better future. Why aren’t they raising their voice
collectively, protesting the madness of a government that has lost its moral
compass? The emptiness of Kikar Rabin is frightening.
Without change, the
worrisome trends in society will become entrenched, and the region will be
headed toward another round of bloodshed that could be sparked at any moment.
Israel’s national anthem conveys an eternal “hope” and its founding father,
Theodor Herzl, famously captured the ethos of Zionism by declaring “if you will
it, it is no dream.” Today, hope is in short supply, and few are demonstrating
any will to create a better future.
If the country does not change
course, and begin to make what appears now to be a dream into a reality, it
could experience a nightmare of drastic proportions.The writer is
professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He
teaches international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.