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2 Israeli Scholars Express Fear Climate is Being Created That Endangers Democracy in Israel

Fear for the future of democracy in Israel was expressed by two academicians this week. Dr. Arik Carmon resigned from the chairmanship of the Committee on Education for Democracy because, in his words, the climate created by the statements and attitudes of some government leaders, heads of the religious establishment and nationalistic elements made his task impossible.

Similar views were voiced by Prof. Asher Arian of Tel Aviv University’s faculty of social sciences, in his inaugural address on assuming the faculty’s Romulo Betancourt Chair in political science. Arian said that while Israel’s democratic record is impressive, the survival of democracy here is not a foregone conclusion.

There is no “grass roots democratic basis” for Israel’s political parties he said, describing them as “oligarchies led by relatively stable elite groups” which are not always in touch with the population.

He complained that Israel has failed to adjust to the new political realities created by the 1967 Six-Day War and did not pay sufficient attention to the question of civil rights for Israel’s minorities. The national debate over the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is foundering on the issues of land and settlement, he said.

URGES ENDING ‘FASCINATION WITH LAND’

“The time has come to abandon the fascination with land and to concentrate on the real stuff of democracy — namely freedom and equality. The greatest challenge Israeli democracy faces is to provide an answer to the question of the future role of the non-Jews under its control,” Arian said.

Carmon, an author who was appointed to head the Committee on Education for Democracy by the Ministry of Education, wrote in an article in Davar last week that his leaving that post should be a warning that democracy in Israel was endangered.

Referring to alleged members of a Jewish terrorist underground on trial for acts of violence against Arab civilians on the West Bank, Carmon said “The demand voiced by ministers and Knesset members to release the Jewish terror defendants, the violence by Jewish lawbreakers which has accompanied this demand, and the silence of political, spiritual and social leaders in the light of this violence have created the conditions for an anti-democratic climate which is beginning to prevail in Israel.”

TEACHERS NOT RECEIVING MORE SUPPORT

That climate, he said, makes the Education Ministry’s mission to educate toward a democratic way of life impossible. A teacher seeking to mold his pupils and educate them toward accepting moral responsibility requires broad support from government and spiritual leaders which the teacher is not getting.

“If the Deputy Premier (Yitzhak Shamir) damages one of the rules of procedure in a democratic regime and if he is joined in this — with violent overtones–by members of the legislative branch and political leaders, thereby providing indirect and sometimes direct support for trampling the democratic way of life under foot, and even worse, if no clear and unequivocal voice is raised against this, then a norm of undermining the foundations of democracy begins to emerge,” Carmon said.

He added, “These are times when Tehiya, Likud and National Religious Party Knesset members, together with other public figures, are giving forceful expression to the fact that in their view, when their positions clash with the rules of the democratic game, they prefer the former. These are times when tolerance and other views are on the wane among Israel’s rabbis if these views differ from their own extreme truth and when tolerance is being replaced by violence, currently verbal but incorporating terrorism.”

Arian said in his address that another major challenge to Israel’s democracy was the “deep social and cultural cleavage that exists between religious and secular Jews.” He said that the “ethnic division of Israel, while acute, is likely to resolve itself in the long run or re-emerge in the more familiar guise of social class conflict. The religious cleavage, in contrast, is likely to persist,” he said.

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