Zionism and Democracy

January 27, 2011 by

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In amongst the turbulence across the world this week, with a horrific suicide bombing attack in Russia, the ‘Palestine Papers’, Lebanese, Tunisian, and now Egyptian upheavals, I went parochial.  

In Britain many of my friends are mobilizing to protest the non-decision of the Board of Deputies. The Board of Deputies of Jews is kind of the parliament of Jews in Britain, and it refused to adopt a motion supporting “the Two State solution”. Petitions are being signed to urge the Board of Deputies to reconsider.

Leaving aside the moot point of the significance of talking “Two State Solution” instead of “Two States for Two Peoples”, I was more interested in democratic representation for Jews.

The Jewish world outside of Israel is notoriously undemocratic. While the Board of Deputies has worked hard to make itself more connected in recent years, there are still no direct elections for it, if you’re what they call ‘unaffiliated’ you don’t have a say, and yet Jews in Britain are still surprised and indignant when they feel it does not represent their voice.

Likewise the Jewish community of North America would seem to be run by incredible generous rich people who may or may not be in touch with the democratic wishes of the Jews they wish to benefit.

Don’t get me wrong. Anyone who donates time or money to the Jewish community is a saint. But even saints don’t necessarily represent the people.

I’m reminded of the way that Gadi Taub very clearly explores how democracy and Zionism are inextricably linked. In order for Zionism to be the liberation movement of the Jewish People, it needed not only to liberate us from non-Jewish rule. It also needed to liberate us from oligarchies and patriarchies of our own making.

Jews around the world can comment (mostly correctly) about the dangers facing, and the flaws of, Israeli democracy, but it’s still a hell of a lot more democratic than the way in which they run their own Jewish communal lives.

Our system in Israel is incredibly muddled, counter-productive at times, and mostly infuriating. But I do not for a second think this is not an entirely plausible representation of where the People are at. If the government is not taking enthusiastic steps towards a settlement with the Palestinians, that’s because not enough people in the country want them to. I may be terribly upset about this situation (I am), but thankfully an online petition isn’t my only recourse to changing things. I can rally, I can demonstrate, I can vote.

In this sense, I’m still a far greater fan of the Zionist approach to Jewish liberation than any other.

And I know, my mates around the world can tell me that although their Jewish community leadership is unrepresentative, they are at least voting members of robust democracies in their host countries.

Even there I’m left pulling my eye down with my finger in Middle Eastern style. So long as the non-elected Queen is the head of government, and as long as the so-called “Upper House” in the UK is full of folks who gained the right to veto bills because their ancestors once knew King John, I’ll not get too excited by the purity of UK democracy. And while the US equivalent of a hereditary peerage – ie huge amounts of dosh – is required to run for office over there, it doesn’t leave me hugely impressed either.

In the end I’m just left with one loving response to all those people who fight over Israeli policies with their own local ‘leadership’ in the Diaspora:

Guys, leave them alone and come here.

It’s clear you care passionately about Israel  – come live here and make your voices really heard in the only democratically elected (overly-) representative government of Jews in the world.

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