Israel, Democracy and Politics


Israel, Democracy and Politics


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Justice and the Arab Vote: A Socratic Issue

By Paul Eidelberg

Justice is the central theme of Plato’s greatest dialogue, the Republic. What has this dialogue to do with the Arab vote? Let us proceed step by step.

The key figure of the Republic is of course Socrates. Socrates was a poor man. Poor men tend to be partisans of democracy. Why? Because democracies usually equate justice with equality. As a consequence, democracies give the poor the same rights as the rich. Not that Socrates was a partisan of oligarchy. But he also saw that democratic equality is a boon to the ignorant and even to scoundrels. Socrates was a philosopher, a seeker of truth. Hence he was skeptical about democracy, whose egalitarianism made no distinction between the wise and the unwise, the virtuous and the vicious. Even disloyal individuals may vote in a democracy. Can this be truly just?

The answer to this question is so obvious that it is not discussed in the Republic. Even though Athens was a democracy, none of the various definitions of justice discussed in that most subtle and profound dialogue entails the indiscriminate egalitarianism found in contemporary democratic societies, where individuals of diverse ethnicity--even of antagonistic beliefs and values--enjoy equal political rights.

Although members of the Athenian assembly were chosen by lot--seemingly the most democratic of all systems--still, to be eligible for the lot certain qualifications were required. First, one had to be an Athenian, meaning a person more or less identified with Athenian culture, then based very much on the epic poetry of Homer and the theogony of Hesiod. Second, one had to have performed military service and/or be a tax-payer. In short, one had to be a patriotic or law-abiding citizen.

Now, of the various definitions of justice discussed in the Republic, only one conforms to these qualifications, namely, that justice means “giving to each his due.” This is a matter of proportional equality, not of arithmetic (or indiscriminate) equality. The latter results in the democratic principle of one adult/one vote, which renders a person’s intellectual and moral character irrelevant. This is why democracies are ruled not by the wise and the virtuous but by mediocrities, if not worse. Which means that democracy is not the best regime; indeed, it may not even be a truly just regime. (This was also the conclusion of Aristotle.)

Socrates led Athenian youth to this subversive conclusion. He willingly paid the penalty for undermining their loyalty to Athens in the process of liberating them from their Athenian, i.e. democratic, prejudices. Democratic Athens sentenced him to death.

Well, we don’t give hemlock to philosophers any more; we ignore them. And no wonder: Philosophy, understood as a passionate love of truth, is dead. Still, what would the “gadfly” of Athens do were he in Israel today? He would surely inquire about justice. Sooner or later some Israeli would say justice is “giving to each his due.” Socrates would probably lead him to a more refined definition, perhaps something like the following.

Justice is giving equal things (such as rights and honors) to equals, and unequal things to unequals in proportion to their inequality, i.e., in proportion to their merit (as is done in classrooms), or in proportion to their contribution to the common good.

Any sensible Israeli would then see that to give Arabs, who strive for Israel’s demise, the equal political rights of Jews, who struggle for Israel’s welfare, is not consistent with justice. He would then conclude that if justice is to prevail in Israel, its Arab inhabitants must either be disenfranchised or undergo a profound political and religious metamorphosis.

If Socrates led Israelis to this conclusion he would probably be condemned by Israel’s political and intellectual elites and indicted for “incitement” and “racism.” True, he might point out, during his trial, that Israeli Arabs do not perform military service; that they engage massive in tax evasion; that they supported Saddam Hussein despite his threat to incinerate Israel (including themselves); that they identify with terrorist organizations such as the PLO-Palestinian Authority; that they even aid suicide bombers; hence, that it is simply unjust to endow such disloyal Arabs with the equal rights of Jews.

All this would probably be of no avail at Socrates’ trial. He would almost certainly be convicted as a “racist,” imprisoned, and any appeal to Israel’s egalitarian Supreme Court would be futile. This is quite a commentary on Israel’s ruling elites, from whose lips the honeyed words Peace and Democracy are ever dripping but hardly a word about Justice. Not a single public figure in Israel has the courage to tell the truth about the manifest injustice (and deadly consequences) of giving the vote to this country’s Arabs inhabitants. Indeed, it is against the law in Israel to tell the truth about this issue.

Now we are prepared to go to root of things. What needs to be said, and what no one dares say in Israel, is that this country was founded, in 1948, on a monumental injustice: giving to Jews and Arabs--to loyal and disloyal inhabitants of Israel--the equal right to vote in this supposed-to-be Jewish State.

Not Peace but Justice is the true and most fundamental issue in Israel today. In Israel, however, justice has been reduced to a leveling equality, which is why the sense of justice has been murdered in this country. This is why the killers of so many Jews in this country go unpunished. This is why Arabs who have butchered Jewish women and children have been released by various Israeli governments. This is why various Israeli politicians have clasped the bloodstained hands of Yasir Arafat.

You will not go to the root of things by explaining their behavior in terms of their desire for “peace.” You will not truly explain their surrender of land for which Jews have so long yearned for, fought for, and bled for, in terms of “American pressure.” No, the suffering and humiliation of Israel today is the inevitable result of the monstrous injustice prescribed in the very Proclamation of the Establishment of the State, that all inhabitants of this State--Jews and Arabs alike--would receive equal political rights. This is not justice but the negation of justice and even of common sense.

This negation has made babes of Israel’s rulers. It has made fools of Israel’s intellectuals. It has driven this country to suicidal madness--the prey of Arabs armed by Israelis posing as men. All this is described in Isaiah 3:4; 5:20; 28:7, 15-18; 29:9, 14; 44:25. Hence the Oslo “peace process” and even its critics obscure the most important issue, the issue of Justice. Until this issue is faced—until Jews pursue Justice--neither politics nor political analysis nor prayer will save Israel from recurring disasters.


from the October 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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