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September 30, 1994 - Image 5

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-09-30

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Community Views

Opinion

The Future Of Democracy
Requires Our Attention

Where's Palestinian
Democracy?

RICHARD LOBENTHAL SPEC AL TO THE JEW SH NEWS

MITCHELL G. BARD SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS

Maybe rm wrong. mosexuality, aid to parochial ed-
In truth, however, ucation (no longer limited to
I don't think so. parochial schools, given home-
Those who know schooling, charter schools and
me well got to jok- other developments), "moral val-
ing, until last year, ues" and the like; increasing
that I always start- numbers of incidents against
ed my speeches Jews and other minorities; rapid
quoting what proliferation of radical groups in
we've all heard so the United States, and increas-
often: "It's the best of times; it's ing terrorism here and abroad;
the worst of times." Last year, I drugs, crime, loss of civility, vio-
dropped the `test of times" part. lence and a host of other illus-
It will stay out this year as well. trations which comprise the
My job has three often very overlapping portions of the un-
separate components: Obvious- conscious lists we all carry in the
ly, the Anti-Defamation League back of our heads.
director deals with incidents and
And to be sure, intruding on
individuals and institutions; in that list is a separate and dis-
addition, rm expected to have an connected list of the "good things"
overview of what exactly is hap- like the peace accords for Israel,

pening, and the third aspect is to Vatican recognition, local and na-
try to figure out what it all tional black leaders denouncing
means; it's the "data collection" anti-Semitism, and whatever else
and "evaluation" part of my job. each of us wants to add to the list.
Ifs the "what's it all mean?" part
It's the "what's it mean?" that
that's getting scarier.
is troubling. After all, incidents,
We all know a pretty good prejudice, discrimination, even
piece of the "what's happening?"
— black-Jewish tension fueled by
demagogues within the African
American community, who often
become semi-staples of headlines,
whether or not that's an accurate
picture of the black community
in America; church-state sepa-
ration issues, fueled by an in-
complete picture of the whole
agenda of the religious right, aid- extremist and hate groups aren't
ed by what I would call short- new to us, whatever variations
sighted cooperation (complicity?) occur from year to year. One can
from some groups within the even argue that in some respects,
Jewish community who are more certain forms of anti-Semitism
comfortable with the religious are diminishing — albeit only
right's position on abortion, ho- certain forms (social and housing
discrimination, maybe employ-
Richard Lobenthal is director of
ment).
the Anti-Defamation League in
As America confronts diver-
Michigan.

America's
fragmentation
threatens its
democracy.

sity, its backlash is chauvinism.
As America confronts inequity,
its backlash is social castes. As
America confronts poverty, its
backlash is withdrawing support
systems from the poor. As Amer-
ica confronts style difference, its
backlash is incivility. As Ameri-
ca confronts a shrinking labor
market, its backlash is venomous
hostility between groups. As
America confronts differing val-
ue systems, its backlash is to reg-
ulate private behavior. In short,
America's fragmentation threat-
ens the essence of democracy,
which is, after all, predicated
upon shared assumptions of its
citizens.
This is no esoteric philoso-
phizing. William Ebenstein, in
his book Today's
ISMS (over 30
years ago!) pointed
out that fascist
governments are
virtually always
post-democratic, in-
stalled by a citizen-
ry that suspended
constitutional guar-
antees "temporari-
ly" to meet a
perceived threat,
and never restored
those guarantees.
It is, said Mr. Eben-
stein, democracy
out of which fas-
cism grows. Mr.
Ebenstein is hard-
ly the first. From
DeToqueville to
Madison to Jeffer-
son to modern day
philosophers and
political scientists,
anxiety around the
fascist potential of
American democ-
racy is a recurring
theme.
And, of course, we Jews have
the most to lose when democra-
cy is under attack. But, I would
argue, we Jews are most partic-
ularistic at this moment. The fi-
nancial concerns about our
institutions, anxieties about the
Middle East, the rise in anti-
Semitism, raising our children,
intermarriage and a host of oth-
er very legitimate and very
parochial concerns sap our ener-
gies, even as the competition in
the charitable world saps our dol-
lars. This occurs even while it is
the most important time for us to
bring our unique values, tradi-
tions and history to bear on the
fights to preserve democracy.
My favorite "line" of all time
might just be the one from The
Man Of LaMancha:"The great-
est folly is to live in the world as
it is, and not as it should be." It
is time that the full weight of our
community devote itself to the fu-
ture of democracy. ❑

I

once asked Israel's leading
authority on Palestinian na-
tionalism whether, given the
chance, he thought the Pales-
tinians would ever create the
"secular, democratic state" they
desired. He thought I was nuts.
According to him, the Palestini-
ans never said this was their ob-
jective. The notion of a secular
state in the Islamic world was
absurd. In fact, the slogan I
asked about never appeared in
Arabic, but was a staple of Pales-
tinian-American propaganda in
the United States because the
Arab lobby assumed — correct-
ly — this was a goal Americans
could understand and support.
It was unlikely the public would
rally behind creating yet anoth-
er autocratic Arab theocracy.
Israel has tried to introduce
Palestinians to democracy.
Those who are citizens of Israel
are the only Arabs in the Mid-
dle East to enjoy living in free-
dom. Even Palestinians in the
territories were given opportu-
nities to participate in free elec-
tions. Moreover, successive
Israeli governments have be-
lieved that Palestinians should
assume authority in the territo-
ries through plebiscites. The De-
claration of Principles signed
last year specifically laid out a
timetable for such elections.
Alas, the voting expected to take
place by midsummer was in-
definitely postponed. Mean-
while, Yassir Arafat continues
to show his distaste for democ-
racy by installing cronies in po-
sitions of power, intimidating
critics and banning newspapers.
Mr. Arafat's behavior should
not come as a surprise. Despite
the preposterous claims of pro-
PLO groups in the United
States, the organization was al-
ways governed by those with the
most bullets rather than the
most ballots. Though Mr. Arafat
is personally popular in the ter-
ritories, primarily as the sym-
bol of Palestinian nationalism,
resentment toward his Tunis
clique is strong. The prospect of
free elections has always scared
him. It is therefore understand-
able why he has been in no hur-
ry for a vote.
Israel has not tried to impose
a separation of church and state
on Palestinians. After all, the
line in Israel is not as distinct as
in the United States. Americans
tend to see Palestinians as sec-
ular because prominent Arab-
American spokesmen do not
talk about Islam. Though not all
Palestinians are as radical as
the extremists in Hamas and Is-
lamic Jihad, most are devout
Muslims who see their religion
Mitchell G. Bard.is executive
director of the American-Israeli
Cooperative Enterprise.

providing a guide to behavior
that cannot be separated from
politics.
Since all other Arab states have
Islam as their official religion, it
should not matter if the Palestin-
ian state does the same. Howev-
er, it is not in Israel's interest to
allow an Iranian-style Islamic re-
public to emerge on its doorstep.
Although no Palestinian state will
seriously threaten Israel's exis-
tence militarily, a Hamas-run gov-
ernment would ensure perpetual
instability and the likelihood of
unremitting terrorism.
The issue of Palestinian
democracy is not as clear-cut. In
theory and on principle, democ-
racy is the preferred form of gov-
ernment. Nevertheless, if it was
clear that radical fundamental-
ists would come to power, it
might not be in Israel's best in-
terest to have free elections.
Also, Arab dictators are able
to control their people. A total-
itarian Palestinian regime
might be needed to maintain do-
mestic tranquility and prevent
zealots from provoking Israel.
On balance, Israel has made
the right decision to foster

It is not in Israel's
interest to allow
an Iranian-style
republic.

democracy in the territories and
to encourage Palestinians to
hold elections. It has long been
an anomaly of U.S. foreign pol-
icy that it pursues democratic
principles in every part of the
world except the Arab nations.
The Clinton administration now
has an opportunity to influence
an emerging nation. It should
not let it become yet another
Arab dictatorship.
Meanwhile, Congress should
tie aid to establishing democra-
tic processes: Palestinians
should be given enough money
for police and basic services, but
the bulk of funding should be
withheld until the Palestinian
Council is elected.
Finally, Arab-Americans who
used the "secular, democratic
state" slogan should encourage
leaders in the territories to move
in this direction. To her credit,
Palestinian leader Hanan
Ashrawi seems to be trying to
hold the Palestinians to inter-
national standards of human
rights. No substitute can be
made for such a commitment by
those on the ground, but the
Arab lobby can, at last, play a
constructive role by showing no
tolerance for Palestinian abus-
es of power. ❑

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