Israel and liberal values

The new Israeli loyalty oath law is, quite clearly, ‘bad, harmful, and useless’. (One might add racist, insulting, and baffingly myopic.) In this Ha’aretz column, Carlo Strenger argues that it represents not an attack on Arabs but rather an attack on liberal ‘Western values’. (HUGE quote-unquote there…) He seems to suggest that the bill is some kind of turning point for Israel; that this is the moment when the disparate right-wing forces in Israeli politics united to turn Israel ‘east’, away from the liberal, Enlightenment values of the West.

His questioning of the alliance between Shas and Yisrael Beitenu is valid:

‘Consider this strangest of alliances between Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas; one is a completely secular, ultra-nationalist, the other an ultra-Orthodox party. What do they have in common? Why are they lately so effectively cooperating with each other, together with other extreme-right parties?’

He makes the important point that the two parties have an, at best, cavalier attitude to human rights and democratic values, although for slightly differing reasons – Lieberman and Yisrael Beitenu because they are far-right nationalists who see no problem in suppressing Israeli Arabs in order to strengthen Israel’s Jewish character, Yishai and Shas because democracy, for them, is a sideshow to their spiritual program.

According to Strenger: ‘Israel is now facing a fateful question: will it remain a liberal democracy, or is it on the way to becoming a totalitarian ethnocracy?‘ In other words, Israel is abandoning its commitment to liberal, democratic, ‘Western’ values, and is turning ‘east’, a word the author does not elucidate but one can take to mean some kind of Oriental despotism.

The old canard that Israel is the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ no longer bears up to any serious scrutiny, and has not done for a while; the encroachment on liberal, democratic values began long before this latest measure. This incomprehensibly bad loyalty oath is a further step in this direction, but to acknowledge that should not mean ignoring the fact that this bill is undoubtedly targeted at Arabs, and is an attack on them. To separate these two sides is to oversimplify the issue. Lieberman and Yishai are not attacking an Enlightenment ideal of liberal democracy; they are attacking Israel’s Arab population, and are taking democracy down with them. Not that, in Israel, it has very far to fall.

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