“Stolen” election claims are one of Israel’s latest challenges to democracy


Even after five wars and Israel’s democracy remained resilient to several terrorist attacks. I took a while three undecided elections and a Defendant Prime Minister desperate to hold on to power to shake confidence in the system. Are we looking to a new day now?

When Hamas rockets rained down on Israeli cities and the Israeli Air Force beat up neighborhoods in Gaza, it looked like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu would avoid defeat again. However, shortly after the ceasefire was reached, Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid got back together form a coalition strange bedfellow, a political spectrum that ranged from a far-right settler movement to an Islamic party. Their common goal: to end Bibi’s twelve-year polarizing rule.

Netanyahu Attack on the new coalition was tireless, making allegations that the election was “stolen”, that there was “a deep state conspiracy” and that “fascist” media were trying to silence him.

Sound familiar? Israel’s democracy is being tested as well as that of the United States. It was not always like this.

In January 1987 I took part in an extraordinary conference in Sedom on the Dead Sea to discuss the pressures on Israeli democracy and the necessary precautions to preserve its essence. The National Democratic Institute sponsored the three-day meeting, and the US bipartisan delegation was led by former Vice President Walter Mondale, chairman of NDI. It included then Republican Senator Arlen Specter (Pa.) And Rep. Bill Green (RN.Y.), former House Majority Whip John Brademas (DN.Y.), State Department advisor Ed Derwinski, American-Israel Public Affairs Committee Director Tom Dine, former Presidential Advisor Stuart Eizenstat, and the United States’ longest serving Ambassador to Israel, Samuel Lewis, among others.

In 1987 the Likud and Labor parties formed a unity government. Their leaders would take turns in the role of Prime Minister under the current agreement between Bennett and Lapid.

Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister at the time of the conference, and he and Labor leader Shimon Peres, the foreign minister, gave keynote speeches. The Israeli delegation consisted of political leaders, prominent journalists, generals and academics, a who’s who of Israeli society.

One of Israel’s most respected academics, Shlomo Avineri, set the tone for the conference when, in the founding year of 1948, the year Israel was founded, he asked attendees to introduce themselves as political scientists:

“A small state has emerged in a region of non-democratic regimes. Surrounded by larger, hostile states. Five great wars and chronic terrorism force them to organize as a nation under siege. Immigrants from over 100 countries pour in … most of them only know of non-democratic regimes. What kind of government would you expect in this country 40 years from now? A democracy or something else? ”

Despite all odds, Avineri expressed pride in the survival of Israeli democracy. Nonetheless, he and the other Israeli participants realized that Israel’s occupation of land on the periphery was cause for too much hand-wringing.

Resolution 181. the United Nations In 1947 he called for the division of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states and for the first time referred to a two-state solution. It was also the catalyst for the first of the wars Israel waged with its Arab neighbors.

Fast forward to today. Israel has become one modern high-tech society with a first world economy. Netanyahu has been credited for both the nation’s economic success and its security. However, his reign polarized voters and allegations of corruption had begun to undermine his support.

In resolving the occupied territories dilemma, Israel confronted two roadblocks: The spread of settlements by Israelis who believed the West Bank was the ancient homeland of Judea and Samaria; and the lack of a negotiating partner. The Palestinian Authority, led by 85-year-old Mahmoud Abbas, was widely seen as ineffective and corrupt. Abbas recently a scheduled election canceledwhich further threatens its legitimacy.

The composition of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, was also a disadvantage. The threshold for a party to join the Knesset was originally set at 1 percent. This resulted in a multitude of parties, some of which were pretty extreme. That threshold was moved to 2.5 percent and then to 3.25 percent, still much lower than parliamentary democracies elsewhere. Hence the Bennett-Lapid coalition with a majority vote and a diverse range of ideologically incompatible parties.

Perhaps the most shocking thing for Israeli politics was that Israeli-Arab citizens uprising. Triggered by efforts to evict Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, a march through their neighborhoods in celebration of 60 streets to protest. Then Hamas launched its rocket attack.

The new Israeli government inherited this crisis. Its most realistic goal is to maintain a ceasefire, revive democracy and restore unity. Overcoming the polarization that Netanyahu has created will not be easy. Still, a majority of Israelis continue to take pride in the country’s democratic past. They know that a democracy with second class citizens cannot survive and that it is not sustainable to devour occupied land and unwilling people.

To paraphrase Shlomo Aineri’s question to those attending that 1987 conference, what would a political scientist predict for the State of Israel 73 years after it was founded?

Avineri, now in his late 80s, may have answered his own question last week. Referring to the new government coalition he said Roger Cohen of the New York Times: “The parties are different, but they share a commitment to restore Israel as a functioning liberal democracy.”

If you look deeply into Israel’s history and the aspirations of its founders, a two-state solution is the only option if liberal democracy is to survive. Getting there requires political courage and strong leadership from both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Brian Atwood is a visiting scholar at Brown University’s Watson Institute. From 1985 to 1993 he was President of the National Democratic Institute. During the Clinton administration he was Undersecretary and Administrator of USAID.

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