The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy


What’s Wrong with Zionist Organizations (or How to Alienate Friends)

Filed under: Zionism/NationalismThe Foundation — eidelberg @ 7:30 am

The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy was established in 1995. Its constitutional reform program was published in the United States as well as in Israel. I am repeatedly asked: “Why doesn’t the nationalist camp in Israel or any prominent Zionist organization in the United States more or less endorse the Foundation’s program?” What prevents them from saying something like this: “We support, with some reservations, the institutional reforms proposed by the Foundation for Constitutional Democracy.”

This puzzles me because some Zionist organizations in the United States have occasionally sponsored one or another of my lectures. This makes me reluctant to set forth any blanket criticism, lest I be accused of ingratitude and back-biting. But Israel is going down the tubes largely because of its dysfunctional system of government, so candor is necessary; and I hope I will be forgiven for stepping on the toes of well-meaning people.

The nationalist camp in Israel and Zionist organizations in the United States have published penetrating critiques of Israel’s 30-year policy of “territory for peace” without having any discernible impact on Israeli governments, whether headed by Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon, or Ehud Olmert.

In other words, regardless of which party or party leader heads the government, Israel continues to retreat toward its indefensible pre-1967 borders. Israel’s ruling elites compulsively persist in a policy that shrinks and further endangers the country. They seem to be preoccupied with the question: “What further concessions can we make to pacify our enemies?”

It never occurs to any Israeli government to go on the offensive against the enemy, and with the object of enlarging the territory of this country.

Nor is such a policy or goal to be expected given Israel’s ephemeral as well as feeble and fractured system of multi-party cabinet government. What long-term strategy can one expect of a government whose average duration is only two years, and whose cabinet consists of rival party leaders, each animated by some narrow if not ego-centered agenda?

The writers of the nationalist camp and of Zionist organizations abroad find it quite easy to criticize the government’s failed policy of “territory for peace,” whether manifested in the Oslo Agreement or in its most defeatist derivative, “unilateral disengagement.” The best of these writers see in these intellectually bankrupt as well as empirically discredited policies not only the abandonment of Zionism, but also a rejection of Torah principles and values. Yet they offer no clear and constructive alternative which can readily receive widespread popular support. They excel in futile opposition and agonize in their failure to effect salutary change.

Ponder, therefore, the wisdom of Israel’s first pre-state Chief Rabbi, the illustrious Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook. He teaches that true opposition is only achieved when we can present a positive alternative that promises to govern society in a better way. But this requires not only basic change in the pernicious and undeviating policies of the government, but in the system of government that perpetuates these undeviating policies. Rabbi Kook teaches that it is insufficient merely to point out the harmful or dangerous consequences of this or that policy. We also need to open up an offensive front by presenting a constructive alternative based on Torah principles and values.

Although such a constructive alternative can be found in books and countless articles published under the auspices of the Foundation for Constitutional Democracy—suffice to mention Jewish Statesmanship: Lest Israel Fall—this Foundation has yet to receive publicly expressed support from the nationalist camp in Israel or from any major Zionist leader in the United States. I am repeatedly asked “Why not?”

A prominent official of one Zionist organization candidly informed the present writer that egocentrism animates the group’s leaders. The importance of their group or of its goals may be diminished if they endorsed the institutional reform program of another organization. Besides, while they felt free to criticize the policies of Israel’s government, they were reluctant to criticize the institutions of that government (as if one could be separated from the other). To see why, read on.

The head of another Zionist organization informed me that his organization could not support the Foundation’s program for institutional reform because the Foundation’s publications reveal that Israeli democracy is a myth. If his organization was to acknowledge that Israel is not a democracy, it would lose financial support from American philanthropists who proudly believe that Israel really is a democracy. This motive is obscured by the myth that it’s precisely Israel’s reputation as a democracy that garners U.S. support for the Jewish state.

Perhaps, but Israel’s reputation as a democracy does not prevent the United States and democratic Europe from insisting on the establishment of a Palestinian state which, sooner or later, would facilitate the destruction of the “only democracy in the Middle East.”

To prevent this inglorious end, we need to drastically reform Israel’s system of governance. Israel cannot survive under its decrepit system of multi-party cabinet government. It cannot survive when the system of voting for party slates enables foreign governments to buy Israeli governments by buying their party leaders. Only the Foundation for Constitutional Democracy has had the guts to spell this out in the clearest political and institutional terms.