Friday, May 4, 2012

Why "The only democracy"?

It's a phrase that's been criticized plenty, rarely as underestimating the rest of the ME, sometimes because of what Peter Beinart calls "non-democratic Israel," and often because Israel (limited to its actual citizens) often fails to live up to the ideals we have for democracy. Of course, so does every democracy come up short, and we should be careful about whether Israel is being singled out. (Particularly, when Israel is singled out for things it hasn't done. Israel is the only non-US nation I know of that regularly gets international press when a bill is merely introduced in the legislature!) But a peculiar charge is often used to justify increased attention: Israel is singled out precisely because it makes the claim of being "The Only Democracy in the Middle East." The charge is hypocrisy, which is somehow always worse than mere failure. It's absurd to me that hypocrisy should be judged so harshly, but that's certainly not unique to Israel. On the other hand, I've been thinking about how the position of Israel is unique. Created by the UN, Israel is the only state which owes its creation and continued existence in large part to international perception. Regimes in Iran or North Korea are pariahs, and the Korean peninsula might someday be unified, but this doesn't compare to the way people talk about the mere existence of Israel. To many, it is unjust. And Israel is in a position where it is forced to defend its very being rhetorically in order to support its physical defense. So we get TODitME. It's exaggerated, perhaps, but I don't think it's reasonable to force Israel to defend its existence and then criticize it for exaggerating.

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