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Justice and Statehood
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Peter Levine, whose blog is one of my very favorites these days, has a smart and well-wrought post on Israel and the burdens of being a democracy.

P.S. Look out, the next Snarkmarket post is about reality-show superheroes! It might make your head explode if you read it too soon after this one…

July 23, 2006 / Uncategorized

4 comments

That’s a fucking awesome essay.

“America was built on land stolen from the indigenous population so that it could be worked, in significant measure, by imported slaves. We nevertheless have a legitimate–indeed, an excellent–polity that rests today on the consent of the governed. Israel’s foundation was, at the least, less bloody that our own. Like any democracy, Israel must show that its current behavior and laws are just; its origins are history.”

That is a good essay, though I demurred slightly at the equating of Syria, Egypt and Jordan. I feel that our (American) willigness to quickly dump most Arab countries into one or two boxes reflects and perpetuates our ineptitude in the region–and our ineptitude as citizens critiquing our government’s movements in the region.

Jordan, for instance, made a peace with Israel without being bribed by the United States to the extent that Egypt was, actually gave citizenship to Palestinian refugees instead of merely decrying their fate, and does have the very tentative beginnings of a constitutional democracy in the admittedly slow, slow works.

Secondly, I would say that the notion is not so much that democracies have a greater responsibility to be just as the citizens of democracies have a greater responsibility to work for justice. And in this I think no democracy has yet achieved a good record, though perhaps ours had one in the early days if one discounts the problems of the limited franchise. The extent to which practical operation of foreing policy and defense is resigned to the few by the many is one of our greatest failings. I’d like to think that if bulk of the citizenry had a more active, informed role they would make smarter, more truly self-interested and therefore peaceful choices. I have drunk the democracy Kool-Aid, despite remembering that Gandhi once said freedom includes the freedom to make mistaks. But even if the informed and careful mob turns out to still be a mob, at least it’s a mob that runs itself off a cliff instead of being piped over the edge by profiteers and egoists.

Good point re: the lumpification of Arab states… it’s sort’ve like when people refer to ‘Africa’ monolithically.

You’re right to put some of the focus on the people, but at the same time, even a democracy is a state — with all the apparatus of a state, the executive & military power & responsibility — so the people only participate to a point.

Thanks a lot for the link and these comments. I completely accept the criticism that I had lumped Arab states together. I was trying to draw attention to Israel’s moral obligations by singling it out as a democracy; but the last thing I want to do is perpetuate stereotypes about Arabs.

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