Saturday, August 21, 2010

Democracy's End

Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss has some comments on a current Ethan Bronner story in The New York Times. Weiss notes Bronner's effective recognition of the death of the Two State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If I read Weiss correctly, he thinks it may portend the end of the Jewish State. I think it may mark an alternative, depending on how wedded Israelis and their American champions are to Democracy. Israelis and Americans are facing, largely independently, a parallel choice between preserving two increasingly incompatible Articles of National Faith. In Israel's case, they are the notions of Democracy and Jewish Statehood (which were arguably incompatible from the start, emphasis on arguably — not necessarily in my view). In the case of the US, the two are Democracy and (unlimited acquisition of) Wealth (termed free enterprise, private property — it has several names).

If the US and Israel are not already at a Moment of Truth (drumroll), they soon will be. The Jewish State may be finished, or — if Americans and Israelis choose to junk some other cherished notion — it may continue in radically altered form.

The obvious alternative to be junked is democracy. My view is that it will be the democracy that is dumped — not explicitly, but in substance and with a widespread, unstated recognition that this is what is happening.

There are calls in the Knesset for a more systematic denial of rights to Palestinians, but this has been true for some time. Likewise, there is a systematic denial of equal rights to non-Jews in Israel. The vast majority of non-Jews are Palestinian, so that systematic denial does the work, not just of latent racism, but of preserving the "Jewish character" of the Jewish state.

A further emphasis on protecting "Jewish character" to resolve the tension between a Two State Solution and Jewish Statehood will also bring denials of democracy to Jews in Israel. This, too, is happening with the grossly disproportionate power of the religious right. Israel is also seeing some evidence of liberal-intellectual flight.

How is the de-democratization of Israel to be managed in The World's Greatest Democracy? A good deal of Orwellian linguistic construction aided by the non-quite-coincidental de-democratization of the United States. Economists, first on the left and now increasingly among liberals, are noting this. And progressives generally have been warning of this since the Reagan years, when the "Danger of Too Much Democracy" was first attacked with malice aforethought.

In an interview with Bill Maher, Paul Krugman said, "The American Dream isn't dead, but it's dying pretty fast." Dean Baker has an essay on the service Congress renders to Wall Street and corporate America — not to us. Essential to Democracy are social mobility and some ideal of socio-economic equality serving as a goal. Both are near-dead in the US. Our politicians are becoming a political class. They become wealthier, use their elected positions to ensure or promote their own wealth and, if they leave office, go to work for precisely the companies they regulated (or didn't) through legislation. Their children take office after they leave. If we haven't already, when will we see a third-generation Kennedy take office — or a Murkowsi, Paul, Cuomo, Bush . . . ?

Elections are becoming near-irrelevant in the US. The great beacon of Change and Hope — Obama — has proved to be anything but, indeed almost the opposite. Who could imagine that Obama would not just fail to address Bush crimes, but actually further some of Bush's worst?

The decline of democracy in the US — coupled crucially with Orwellian language to perpetuate the Myth of Democracy — will make it easier for Israel-idealogues in the US to maintain the pretense that Israel is a democracy.

The irony in Israel's case is that a profound change in Judaism itself may be a consequence. If Judaism is identified with the Jewish State (as it is, above all by conservatives), then as Israel becomes more right-wing, less democratic and more discriminatory, Judaism will, sadly and possibly tragically, be also so identified. Liberal Jews will seek religious solace elsewhere, some abandoning Judaism, others seeking to create a true, liberal Jewish faith. Judaism will evolve in a way exactly counter to, and as a consequence of, what conservatives intend.

What will happen in the US is anybody's guess. Legal institution of oligarchy? Perhaps that is already happening with the formal protections granted Wall Street and corporate profiteering.

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