We must uphold democracy, however unsavory its results may be - opinion

A call for democracy: Israel’s longest-serving prime minister is back. How can we help him? 

 BEFORE THE inauguration of the new government, Benjamin Netanyahu and Itamar Ben-Gvir chat in the Knesset plenum. Netanyahu is doing everything to calm spirits and ensure that he will be the one who guides the coalition, says the writer. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
BEFORE THE inauguration of the new government, Benjamin Netanyahu and Itamar Ben-Gvir chat in the Knesset plenum. Netanyahu is doing everything to calm spirits and ensure that he will be the one who guides the coalition, says the writer.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Democracy has become somewhat of a challenge in the last few years across the democratic world. Now, in Israel, it is not Benjamin Netanyahu who is seen as the danger, but his far-Right coalition. We now pray that he has the integrity and will to save us from extreme far-Right interventions. 

The Israeli people have spoken again in favor of Netanyahu, despite all the put-downs. Some say that he is endangering democracy and even empowering his far-Right allies. The Israeli people declared they wanted him in, but this time not with the help of the center-left, but with the support of extremists. The people (including the Tel Aviv secular youth who voted for them) want these extremists even more than they want him. 

While uproar and indignation about his coalition in some Western nations may be understandable, it cannot and must not justify illegal, anti-democratic interventions in the name of saving democracy, either in Israel or in the diaspora.

Democracy is defined by establishing rules to be followed, not by rules that can be unilaterally changed on a whim. Furthermore, the flames of polarization must be extinguished as the fear they whip up encourages people to consider, and in some cases even normalize the most unreasonable predictions and forecasts. 

Some democratic countries have had to deal with very damaging movements. A sustained demonization of any political opposition (which often comprises half of the country), has served as a justification to shake the walls of democracy. Constant hostility weakens democracy. 

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a special session of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, to approve and swear in a new right-wing government, in Jerusalem December 29, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a special session of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, to approve and swear in a new right-wing government, in Jerusalem December 29, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

Government balance is all about opposing the coalition’s actions through the proper legal channels. This is not only possible but desirable. But stoking fear and division about what this coalition is doing, is no justification for anti-democratic moves, or for ignoring or attempting to overturn the established rules.

POLARIZATION IS not a moral compass. A moral compass can only be claimed where objectivity is paramount; would you have denounced a particular state of affairs as illegal or anti-democratic if the tables were turned, for example?

We must all give the new government a chance. In Judaism, we are called to pray for political leaders we don’t like so they can be guided by the light. Media and center-left support for Netanyahu, instead of condemnation or demonization, will help him counteract extremism from within his own coalition. 

In turn, the new coalition must also dampen the flames by implementing the changes they are planning slowly. They must also listen carefully to the opposition and their concerns, and tailor their moves so as not to antagonize them. They can also aid their success by engaging in dialogue. They should know that whatever is done without sufficient support, will simply be annulled by the next government. 

Netanyahu is doing everything to calm the situation and ensure that he will be the one who is in charge; as he should. Israel needs unity to face the challenging times ahead. We must all keep our anxieties and fears under wraps and extend a period of grace.

 We must recognize that it was security issues, and wanting fair treatment of police officers and soldiers, that brought this government to power with such a clear mandate. Our security personnel risk their lives and operate under merciless and unfair international scrutiny, while they constantly battle terror. 

The other point that brought this coalition to power, is the Israeli dilemma, the balance of Jewish identity with the Western concept of democracy. This struggle threatens to dilute the state’s Jewish identity in the name of an ultra-modern Western concept of democracy.

Let that sink in. There is no Israel without a pronounced Jewish identity. Yet, the question is how to protect this identity without oppressing and alienating the secular population. This struggle needs to be addressed. Viable solutions will only be found when neither side sees the other as an existential threat. 

Israel’s longest-serving prime minister is back. How can we help him? 

Perhaps we need to recognize that what was true a few years ago, is still true today. Despite the wariness of even some of his own voters, Israelis seem to think that Netanyahu is an extraordinarily experienced leader and diplomat who knows how to navigate the dangerous turning points waiting around every corner.

The diplomatic opportunities and serious security dangers require that all Israelis support him and give him a real chance to succeed – and he may just deliver. The media, on the other hand, can choose to help or hinder.

The writer is the founder/president of the International Trauma-Healing Institutes in the United States and Israel and co-founder of the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma of Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem.