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
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
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
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
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
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