Yesterday, Sunday, “Book TV” on C-Span 2 aired a panel discussion on Joshua Muravchik’s new book, The Next Founders: Voices of Democracy in the Middle East. If you go to the Book TV Web site and watch the program, or catch its repeat on August 9, stay with it until the end; Muravchik did a really good job of responding to an extreme anti-Israel questioner in the audience.
The panelists were Ziad Asali of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP), Laith Kubba of the National Endowment for Democracy (and former spokesman for the Jafaari government in Iraq), and Tamara Wittes of the Brookings Institution. The moderator was Marc Plattner, co-editor of the Journal of Democracy and director of the International Foundation for Democratic Studies which hosted the event.
I first knew Josh Muravchik when we were both students at CCNY in the late 1960s. He was chair of the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL) at the time, the youth arm of the Socialist Party USA and then the Social Democrats USA. (I eventually became a “Yipsel” myself.)
While remaining a registered Democrat in the 1980s, he became a neoconservative think-tank intellectual, working at the American Enterprise Institute for many years. Recently, he became a fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
While I do not share Josh’s general political outlook, I was pleased at the high level and civility of the discussion. Dr. Asali, president of the ATFP, is a partner with Meretz USA, and other groups of the pro-peace/pro-Israel camp, in advocating a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. Dr. Asali was very precise in indicating that Israel is a democracy within its internationally-recognized borders but not in the occupied Palestinian areas. He also insightfully stated that the struggles for democracy and peace, while parallel, do not necessarily reinforce each other. (He gave the examples of the ongoing peace agreements between Israel and the non-democratic regimes in Egypt and Jordan.)
This brought to mind the narrow Hamas electoral victory in 2006. Yossi Beilin, the former Meretz party chair, had sharply criticized the Bush administration for allowing Hamas to run in those elections, without first having endorsed a negotiated peace as mandated by the Oslo Accords as the price of admission.
Tamara Wittes pointed out that democracy is not just about elections, it’s also about having a tolerant and non-violent democratic culture. The heroic figures in the Islamic world whom Josh Muravchik discusses in his book are fighting for such a culture, which would likely help peace along if it prevailed.
Unless I missed it, however, there was no discussion of the threat to Israeli democracy manifested by measures advocated by the Yisrael Beitenu party of Avigdor Lieberman in the new government of Prime Minister Netanyahu: e.g., requiring loyalty oaths attesting to Israel’s Jewish and Zionist character, with a loss of citizenship rights for refusing; and threatening criminal prosecution for Arab citizens commemorating the “Nakba” (the “catastrophe”– as Palestinians regard Israel’s victory in 1948 at the cost of hundreds of thousands of Arab homes at the time).