It is now bon ton to forecast the demise of Israel’s democracy.
Everyone is doing it: from august forums such as the New York Times editorial board, to blogs run by North American ex-pats now living in Israel, to Facebook groups set up by disgruntled Israelis encouraging emigration.
For instance, the web headline to a Times editorial on Saturday warning of the dangers of presumptive Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government read: “The Ideal of Democracy in a Jewish State Is in Jeopardy.” And the headline adequately reflected the spirit of the editorial.
The editorial said that Netanyahu’s government “is a significant threat to the future of Israel – its direction, its security and even the idea of a Jewish homeland.”
The credibility of the editorial was cast in doubt further down in the piece when the renowned paper inexplicably left out Palestinian terrorism as a reason why “hopes for a Palestinian state have dimmed,” writing instead that the reasons are “the combined pressure of Israeli resistance and Palestinian corruption, ineptitude and internal divisions.”
But put that revisionist narrative aside for a moment. The Times has spoken and asserted that Israel’s democracy is in danger.
So what do the citizens of a country whose democracy is in danger do? Well, to hear some Israelis tell the tale, they leave.
One Facebook group started by anti-Netanyahu protester Yaniv Gorelik is called “Leaving the country – together.”
As of Tuesday morning, the group had 494 members. Not 49,400, or even 4,940, but 494. Not exactly a mass movement.
The members express concern mostly about religious and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) politicians’ declarations regarding issues of religion and state and also the expansion of settlements in Judea and Samaria. The organizers say that their goal is to come together so that they can all leave as one, with a goal of 10,000 sets as the first objective of expatriation and departing Israel.
Leaving the country because of politicians?
This is not the first time that political developments in Israel have led to predictions that the country would soon be falling off the precipice and that masses were searching for greener pastures abroad.
It happened when https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/politics-and-diplomacy/article-702838 became prime minister in 1977 and it happened again with the election of Ariel Sharon in 2001.
Ever since the establishment of the state, there has been a constant drumbeat of predictions that because of either dire political, security, or economic conditions, “many Israelis” were sitting on their suitcases waiting to board a ship and sail away into the sunset. How did that dark joke go before the start of the Six-day War: “Would the last person out please remember to turn out the lights?”
And the reality? The country’s population has ballooned since its establishment almost 75 years ago.
Why? Because Israel, despite what The New York Times may think, is a robust democracy comprized of people committed to the country who neither flee nor turn away from a challenge when things get tough. On the contrary, they stay and try to mold the country into their preferred image.
The parties making up the incoming government have a certain vision – though by no means homogenous – of their ideal Israel. The parties making up the opposition have a different idea.
Currently, those in the incoming government have the upper hand, but that could quickly change, as it has so often in the past. The maximum life expectancy of this government is four-and-a-half years. But if the past 30 years are any indication, it will count itself fortunate to last more than 24 months.
Even if the government would want to steamroll everybody else, and there is no indication that is something all 64 members of the incoming coalition want to do, it would not be an easy task. This is Israel, after all. Just witness the protests, media criticism and legal and parliamentary pushback that the presumptive government is already facing – and it hasn’t even been sworn in yet.
No, Israel’s democracy is not in jeopardy. On the contrary, what we are witnessing right now is what it has always been known for: its combative and very feisty nature.