Western Media and Israel's Democratic Facade
Western Media and Israel's Democratic Facade
This implies serious consequences which not only have the potential to deviate from the traditional definition of a liberal democratic nation-state, but has implications on how international law is interpreted and applied. In fact, the very premise of defining the nation-state as an â€˜ethnic democracyâ€™ imply a differentiation of rights which are ethnically based in favour of the majority.
The definition or the term may reflect reality, but in its very premise as an â€˜ethnic democracyâ€™ may violate the basis by which traditional views of democracy, international law and human rights are based.
In the case of
Smooha identifies liberal democracy and consociational democracy as the main variants of the democratic form. Liberal democracy is the prevalent form of democracy and is firmly established in places such as the
Smooha makes the argument that states which have a record of ethnic nationalism are practicing a diminished form of democracy based on favoring the ethnic majority of the nation-state. He cites countries in Central and Eastern Europe such as
Smooha characterizes some of its features in the following way:
"The ethnic nation, not the citizenry, shapes the symbols, laws and policies of the state for the benefit of the majority. This ideology makes a crucial distinction between members and non-members of the ethnic nation. Members of the ethnic nation may be divided into persons living in the homeland and persons living in the diaspora. Both are preferred to non-members who are â€˜othersâ€™, outsiders, less desirable persons, who cannot be full members of the society and the state. Citizenship is separate from the nationality, neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for membership in the ethnic nation, unlike the situation in the West where the idea of a civic nation is prevalent."
Ethnic democracy may meet the minimal and procedural definitions of democracy but by taking the ethnic nation, rather than the citizenry, as the cornerstone of the state, â€œthe state privileges the majority and strives to advance its interests rather than to serve all its citizens equally. The minority cannot fully identify itself with the state, cannot be completely equal to the majority and cannot confer full legitimacy on the state.â€
Smooha identifies four factors conducive to the emergence of ethnic democracy:
1. The primary condition is the pre-existence of ethnic nationalism and the ethnic nation which influences the form of governance. 2. The existence of a threat to the ethnic nation which requires the mobilization of the nation-state to cope with internal and external threats. 3. The majorityâ€™s commitment to democracy, without which a non-democracy would emerge. 4. When the minority is either small or disorganized, the majority can opt for a workable ethnic democracy without renouncing its domination. Facing a very large or too strong a minority, the majority may choose ethnic non-democracy because it is too difficult to maintain democracy.
Conditions of stability for ethnic democracies include a clear numerical and political majority for the main ethnic grouping in the country. In
Smooha defines a second condition as the majorityâ€™s sense of threat. A third feature includes non-interference in an â€˜external homeland.â€™ A fourth feature is â€˜non-intervention against, or even support for, ethnic democracy by the international community as an important aspect of maintaining stability.â€™
In traditional liberal democracy, Rousseau made a distinction between the general will and the will of the majority. Societies based on justice, equality and freedom may need to rely on the general will to a greater degree than the will of the majority. Smooha acknowledges that:
"...Ethnic democracy is conceptually inadequate because it can be seen as a contradiction in terms, an impossible unity of equality and inequality. It is a confusing and dismissable overstretching of the concept of democracy because a regime that by definition denies full equality of rights cannot and should not be construed as democraticâ€¦according to this criticism, ethnic democracy and Herrenvolk democracy are similarly non-democratic because they share hegemonic control and tyrrany of the majority."
Smooha makes the argument that ethnic states maintain a democratic faÃ§ade and â€œit is retained only as long as the majority is able to exercise its hegemony.â€
Benjamin Neuberger argues that ethnic democracy does not meet the minimum requirements of democracy and that the system and process is more akin to a semi-democracy. In his view, ethnic democracy does not meet the basic requirements of the procedural minimum definition of democracy which include the premise that all citizens enjoy full rights and secondly, that the â€œequality of rights they enjoy does not stand in contradiction to any hierarchical principle.â€
Smooha, in addressing the claim that ethnic democracies may serve to freeze internal conflicts, argues that such systems can moderate deep ethnic cleavages. He argues that, â€œas a mode of conflict regulation, it is superior to genocide, ethnic cleansing, involuntary population transfer and systems of non-democratic domination.â€
Smooha however does not address the question of whether the system is morally just or whether the application of unequal rights can actually lead to long-term stability. There is a legitimate argument that governance on this model could perpetuate existing cleavages which could continue to exacerbate social ruptures and inequality.
Smooha cites Arab Israeli Member of the Knesset and critical scholar Azmi Bishara in presenting the view that:
"ethnic democracy is objectionable because it misrepresents a non-democracy as a democracy, thereby legitimating the illegitimate. It is maintained that ethnic democracy wrongfully serves as a normative model for democratising states and as a tool for justifying injustices perpetrated by non-democratic states and majorities."
Israeli jurist Yehuda Cohen makes the argument that since democracy is secondary to the existence of the ethnic nation, ethnic democracies can work and even allow for some collective and individual equal rights for minorities to the extent that the application of those rights do not impinge on the national character of the state.
In this sense, the academic terminology and its presentation as a normative model does in practice legitimize the practises to an extent even if it reflects the working reality of the system.
Ruth Gavison has argued that there are some elements of allowing for equal rights of minorities which are irreconcilable with principles of equality and justice.
Smooha identifies four normative ways of dealing with the nature of ethnic democracy. He identifies defining ethnic democracy as a form of lesser evil because it allows for maximum freedom and openness while maintaining stability and the interests of the majority as â€œa mode of conflict management that is superior to violence, domination and other non-democratic modes.â€
Smooha also identifies ethnic democracy as a pragmatic response to the temporary necessity of maintaining order within a conflict environment. In the extension of this argument, relatively new states which face existential threats are justified in setting up structures to harness the state apparatus for the purposes of ensuring national survival and enacting â€˜a set of policies commensurate with â€˜affirmative actionâ€™ in favour of the ethnic majority.â€™
This is also a flaw in his argument in that ethnic democracy has become the long-term reality of the state and serves to exacerbate tensions within the country and outside of it. Whether maintaining that status is more or less dangerous than a more advanced form of democracy is difficult to empirically verify. However, it could be effectively argued that as a process of state building, maintaining order in a conflict environment and implementing a political agenda, it is remarkably effective if international law and other human rights obligations are not part of the evaluation.
Smooha makes the additional argument that ethnic democracy is compatible with universal minority rights including UN treaties such as International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. There are also European Council agreements such as the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. This is a questionable argument since many civil society organizations and international bodies regularly cite the violations of these covenants in the enactment of discriminatory legislation practiced by
Additionally, a more advanced system may merely create a new model of codifying inequality in order to meet the basic requirements of maintaining an ethnic state.
The other argument for the justification of ethnic democracy as a mode of governance despite the disequilibrium inherent in its supposition is that liberal democracy also has structural flaws which support elite formations and corporatist interests. As every democracy is flawed by its structural bias, so to is an ethnic democracy. This relativity in interpreting the status and legitimacy of a democracy must be weighed against the normative values and standards of the existing international system.
Another element in ensuring a Jewish majority in the state is the Law of Return which guarantees Jews the right to return to and settle in
Additionally 93% of the land in
Smooha cites three perceived threats to
The first threat is the perceived threat in the region for
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hosted a racist international conference about the denial of the Holocaust in December 2006.
Secondly, Arab citizens of
Smooha also cites anti-semitism and other forces which work to undermine Jewish culture and tradition in the diaspora as a threat to the state.
The very premise of ethnic democracy belies an acknowledgement of the status quo policy framework which openly discriminates on the basis of ethnicity. This may be accurate in explaining how things are, how they have developed and the ideas behind policies that may arise in the future to protect to the greatest extent possible, the Jewish and democratic nature of the state. Historic injustices to the Jewish community also help explain some of the official forms of historical justification for the political system which has been created in
Independent critical journalist Jonathan Cook from
Though Zionism emerged from Eastern European roots in response to the anti-semitism which existed there, it was also firmly attached to Western values and forms of governance from its inception. Its largest supporters were influenced by both social democratic and liberal democratic values. After the establishment of the state,
Smooha has argued that the willingness of Israeli governments to withdraw from occupied territories has largely been due to the demographic debate which exists within the borders of
Daniel Levy cites two significant challenges in the short-term:
1) While the world waits for the next pronouncements of
Edward Said in his collection of essays and articles, The End of the Peace Process, remained critical of the official peace process and argued that the Oslo Accords of 1993 simply created a legal structure around the administration of occupied lands without setting up a permanent two-state solution. In his view, the Oslo Accords merely legitimized the Israeli occupation and de facto control over occupied lands. Said remained a supporter of a future one-state solution.
The Israeli policies and governing philosophy which contribute to this approach is partially premised on some basic assumptions. First, that the international community will not intervene on behalf of the Arab Israeli population. Secondly, that the regional Arab countries will not intervene on behalf of Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the occupied territories.
The Israeli stateâ€™s distortions from the liberal democratic practices become the concern of civil society when normative models deviate from international standards and obligations related to human and collective rights. Critiquing
Civil society organizations have also been important in bringing issues of equal rights related to the Arab Israeli population to the United Nations and other regional bodies such as the European Parliament. Human rights reports have also begun to more thoroughly document policies which would be seen as discriminatory and are identified as distortions from the traditional liberal forms of democracy which
Smooha makes the argument that Zionism began as an ethnic nationalist movement in
Israeli academic Illan Pappe has challenged extensively the founding narratives of the Israeli state and has written extensively of the removal of Palestinian Arabs in what is now
According to Smooha:
"Ethnic democracy is located somewhere in the democratic section of the democracy-non-democracy continuum. Ethnic democracy is a system which combines the extension of civil and political rights to individuals and some collective rights to minorities, with institutionalization of majority control over the state. Driven by ethnic nationalism, the state is identified with a â€œcore ethnic nation,â€ not with its citizensâ€¦at the same time, the minorities are allowed to conduct a democratic and peaceful struggle that yields incremental improvement in their status."
The level of coercion which such an approach implies clearly has a traumatizing effect on the polity which is the subject of differential treatment. The development of a political agenda, the sophistication of methods to win legislative advances and other aspects of social practises apply within this context.
Smooha goes on to argue:
In a critique of Smoohaâ€™s model of ethnic democracy and the way it is applied to
"extend ... previous questioning of the modelâ€™s viability, sustainability, and content, and to question its empirical and theoretical claims and coherence. We acknowledge, of course, that important democratic features are practiced in
This criticism of Smoohaâ€™s model of ethnic democracy by Ghanem, Rouhana and Yiftael is presented on the following basis:
1. Though Smooha makes a distinction between individual and collective rights, the limitation imposed on collective rights also entails the violation of individual rights and, hence, the breaching of a fundamental democratic principle of individual civil equality. 2. That
On this basis, the three argue that basic principles of equality and consent are absent in the Israeli state system.
They also make a more problematic assertion which Smooha has been unable to refute adequately:
As an ethnic state,
The three make the argument that assimilation in to
Additionally, mainstream political debate includes right wing elected politicians openly calling for the ethnic transfer of Arab Israeli citizens, such as Member of the Knesset, Avigdor Lieberman. The
Underlying these polemic and existential debates about political systems is the process of time utilized by state authorities to redraw boundaries and implement policies in the short and long term which alter the basis of the conflict such as the construction of the Separation Wall, the expansion of settlements and other policies which place at their center the Judaization of the land where Arab Israelis and Palestinians are not equal partners.
Since September 11th, the expansion of using security concerns as the primary means of pushing forward policies which further legitimize unequal rights is of very real concern to Palestinians and Arab Israelis. Additionally, policies of unilateralism continue to serve Israeli interests in the broader perspective. How the European Union engages in these matters of human rights remains an important question.
Furthermore, by placing normative democratic principles on to a long-term conflict environment, they argue that such critiques are lacking full contextualization and do not adequately acknowledge the extent of the threats which
In responding to Smooha, the three state an important point:
"As shown in a wide body of literature, there is little theoretical rationale, moral justification, historical evidence, or political foresight in expecting that a national minority should accept unequal status within its own homeland, especially when its minority status within the homeland is based on its recent collective dispossession. Considering equality as a continuum on which the constitutional position of the subordinate group can only improve but never reach full equality, as the model of â€œethnic democracyâ€ would have it, is an innovation that can become a recipe for protracted social conflict. Inequality becomes a central issue of mobilization and political consciousness to the subordinate group that can be maintained only if the dominant group is willing to use force as its ultimate means of control, thus violating one of the essential ingredients of democratic government."
They also argue that improvements in socio-economic conditions of the minority may in fact continue to lead to destabilization due to increased awareness, capacity and ability to participate in public affairs.
On this basis, they make a clear point which coincides with Hungarian dissident Istvan Biboâ€™s theme of fear utilized in undemocratic states as a form of coercion:
"Thus the viability of the model is, by definition, based on control and not on consent â€“ a clear violation of democratic practice."
Other writers and thinkers, such as Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent, would argue that even Western liberal democracies have deep structural flaws and are subject to distortions by elite formations.
Marx, Gramsci, Althusser and Foucault make similar critiques from different perspectives. Even post-structuralist thinkers like Juergen Habermas view the understanding of distortions in state systems as fundamental to understanding power arrangements. However, the baseline of appropriate assessment standards either philosophically, theoretically or built in to international conventions has not been thoroughly established at the practical or institutional level.
In criticizing Smooha, the three cite Alex de Toquevilleâ€™s warning against the â€œdangers associated with constitutional tyrrany of the majority.â€
Additionally, it is their contention that it breaches the fundamental principle of the protection of minorities. Arab Israeli citizens feel alienated by the primarily Jewish symbols of the state including the flag and the national anthem.
They argue that legislation which reinforces the Arabâ€™s inferior status continues to be ratified at the political and legal level including land development policies, housing evictions and demolitions and restrictions on citizenship through marriage.
They also argue that the potential for upward mobility and the establishment of rights for the Arab minority as part of an historic evolution has limits which are irreconcilable with basic principles of equal rights. Furthermore, settlers in occupied territories receive at least 18 Knesset seats which is more than the number of elected Arab Members of the Knesset. The Palestinian diaspora also lacks the political lobbying power and acumen of the Jewish diaspora in Western nation-states.
Based on the current legal framework of Arab Israeli citizens, Yiftachtel makes the argument that
" a more appropriate analytical term to account for the structure of the Israeli political system, which is neither democratic nor authoritarian. In ethnocratic regimes, the state is appropriated by one ethnic group and its diasporas, relegating other groups to a secondary type of citizenship."
In responding to Smoohaâ€™s argument in support of calling
That the Western media continues to support the idea that