Monday, December 20, 2004

Democracy is about more than having a vote

Much is made of the fact that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. But how secure is Israeli democracy amongst the younger generation? A new study comes up with some disturbing findings:
The study, published yesterday, examined the values of 1,750 young people between the ages of the 15 and 18 and between the ages of 21 and 24. It found that 67 percent of these Israelis believe that strong leaders can be more beneficial to the country than laws and public debate. Fifty-one percent of the Jewish subjects said that Israeli Arabs should not be allowed to be elected to the Knesset; about 30 percent of the subjects approve of nonviolent forms of civil revolt like demonstrations without a permit and refusal to serve in the territories, actions that involve disobeying the law; 24 percent support violent revolt, as compared to 9 percent who approved of this in a study that was conducted a number of years ago.
Ha'aretz correctly attributes this Israel's prolonged state of conflict with its neighbors ("When the cannons roar, democracy is weakened") -- and, I would add, the general militarization of Israeli society, where generals and army are considered the ultimate role-models and authorities. To help inculcate values of democracy in the younger generation, Ha'aretz recommends a constitution and stronger civics education in schools and in the IDF itself.
You have to ask, though, what's the use of any measures at all when the country's leaders themselves -- those who should be clearest on democracy's merits -- seem so uncomitted to the system. Just this week we have a settler leader urging his followers to 'break the law and be ready for prison.' Leaders on both sides of the political spectrum have urged soldiers to disobey orders and/or to refuse to serve in certain areas. We've seen political leaders inciting to assassination of politicians, and religious leaders publicly saying that rabbinic rulings trump state law. The ruling Likud party has allowed itself to be infiltrated by gangsters and bribery by MKs has become rife in the Primaries. Is it any surprise Israeli youth doesn't know the first thing about democracy?

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