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Democratic despotism: a case study



The Knesset: 61 years of parliamentary democracy, and counting, in Israel. But do its members properly love their country? Or does the dysfunctional way Members are chosen, with their election rules that do not conform to Jewish law, lead to a pointless scramble for patronage? A new Manifesto calls for radically reforming the way Israel picks Members of this body. Furthermore, terms like right and left, as in other parliaments, mean little when no one will articulate first principles.

Herewith a case study in democratic despotism. The date: April 21, 2004, 16 months before the Judenrein in Gaza




The form of tyranny sometimes described as “democratic despotism” (it would have been unthinkable in the Middle Ages) was championed by the Economists [the socialists of the 18th century] well before the Revolution. They were for abolishing all hierarchies, all class distinctions, all differences of ranks, and the nation was to be composed of individuals almost exactly alike and unconditionally equal. In this undiscriminated mass was to reside, theoretically, the sovereign power; yet it was to be carefully deprived of any means of controlling or even supervising the activities of its own government.  For above it was a single authority, its mandatory, which was entitled to do anything and everything without consulting it.  This authority could not be controlled by public opinion since public opinion had no means of making itself heard; the State was a law unto itself and nothing short of revolution could break its tyranny.  De jure it was a subordinate agent; de facto a master.

Alexis de Tocqueville

The Old Regime and the French Revolution

Democratic despotism and public opinion

A seat of democratic despotism?

The Knesset Building, a south angle from the Israel Museum, on Yom HaAtzmaut. Photo: Uer Beny Shlevich on Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported License

One may ask: If the people of Israel know that their government is run by unprincipled individuals, why don’t they get rid of them?  The question assumes that Israel is a conventional democracy where public opinion is ultimately decisive.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Israel’s form of government should be classified, de jure, as an oligarchy, and, de facto, as equivalent to the democratic despotism described by de Tocqueville.  This despotism ignores public opinion with impunity.  But what is public opinion?

Public opinion is an ambiguous concept.  Four distinct types of public opinion may be distinguished.  The first is “media-generated.”  It is usually transient and does not require much thought or discussion.  A second type of public opinion is “party-generated.”  This type is manifested during election campaigns, when diverse political parties discuss various issues and offer the electorate alternative public policies. Those of the winning party may be said to approximate public opinion.  This type of public opinion is more stable and rational than that generated by the media.

A third type of public opinion is “government-generated.”   It emerges from public inquiry and discussion occurring in legislative committees and assemblies, executive agencies, and judicial bodies.  This type of public opinion is embodied in public law and may be said to represent the deliberate sense of the community.  It is subject to change, but not as readily as those previously mentioned.

A fourth type of public opinion is “tradition-generated.”  It consists of a nation’s fundamental, hence more or less unquestioned, beliefs and moral values.  Obviously a nation cannot long endure or retain its identity if its government-generated opinions are in conflict with its tradition-generated opinions.  But this means that a government may be at war with its nation’s heritage.  This is the case in Israel.  Consider the Sharon Government.

Democratic despotism: the government of Ariel Sharon

Ariel Sharon received an unprecedented 63% of the votes in the February 2001 election.  This was a clear mandate to put an end to the wanton murder of Jewish men, women, and children by Arafat’s terrorists.  But the termination of Arab butchery logically entails the disarming and destruction of the Palestinian Authority (PA), reoccupation of the land turned over to Arafat, hence the abrogation of Oslo. Mr. Sharon did nothing of the kind.  He appointed Oslo’s architect, Simon Peres, Foreign Minister; he continued to negotiate with the PA; and he pursued a policy of self-restraint against Arab suicide bombings and rocket attacks, in consequence of which more than 900 Jews have thus far been murdered under his premiership.

Turn to his present Government.  It has been said that those whom the gods wish to destroy they first drive mad. In January 2004, the Sharon Government, in addition to violating Jewish law, which limits the ransom for captives, also violated international law—nullum crimen sine poena, “no crime without a punishment”—by releasing some 400 terrorists in exchange for the corpses of three Israeli soldiers, plus a single Israeli citizen who was kidnapped while trying to conclude a drug deal with Hezbollah operatives!  The release of those unrepentant terrorists not only augmented their killing power but also their determination to annihilate Israel.

In forming his present Government, Mr. Sharon appointed two leaders of the ultra-secular Shinui Party, chairman Tommy Lapid and Avraham Poraz, to head, respectively, the Justice and Interior Ministries.  These two ministries have the power to de-Judaize the State of Israel.  Sharon placed under Lapid’s ministry the Rabbinical Courts. Their subsequent elimination cannot but accelerate the Left’s crusade for a “secular revolution” in Israel.

Meanwhile, Poraz, in addition to fostering commercial violation of the Sabbath, eased the entry of gentiles into the country by “flexible” interpretation of the conversion and immigration laws.  In fact, he froze the immigration of gentiles who underwent orthodox conversion!  Under his anti-religious agenda, citizenship may be granted to the children of foreign workers and to any non-Jew that could make some contribution to the country, whether financial, artistic, scientific, or even athletic. Sharon raised no objection to this blatant attempt to de-Judaize Israel….

If further proof is wanted regarding Sharon’s betrayal of the millions of Jews who have come to this country because they wanted to live in a Jewish nation-state, (1) he opposed any amendment of the “grandfather clause” of the Law of Return, which has enabled hundreds of thousands of gentiles to enter Israel;  (2) in justifying his choice of Poraz to supervise immigration to Israel, he said:  “I see that [a Jew is] whoever comes, sees himself as part of the Jewish people, serves in the army, and fights”;  (3) he even referred to Judea and Samaria as “occupied territory” and thus made a mockery of Jewish history and Jewish national consciousness.

This study of the Sharon Government—all too brief as it is—sufficiently illustrates the phenomenon of democratic despotism and how this Government is at war with the Jewish heritage.

Related article

An Israeli speaks out, by Yair Lapid. He originally published this in French. CNAV translated it into English.

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