Effective military conflict, because by its nature, requires of secrecy and deception, misdirection, intelligence gathered in unsavory ways, and concealed decisions made by a few but that will affect the many. This is a paradox that affects every Western democracy engaged in war, because all of these are antithetical to the principles of democracy: Freedom of speech, openness, participatory government, human rights.
That is why, in a democracy, war is a last resort. Smart leaders understand that war is a temporary suspension of democracy that can happen only because there is no alternative to protect the lives and livelihoods of its citizens, and therefore every other possible effort must be done before beating the drums of war.
What, however, happens in the case of Israel, when a democracy is engaged in a protracted conflict? When it has been in a constant stage of conflict for several decades, and therefore “war” can no longer be considered a temporary suspension of democracy. I submit that at that point, democracy takes a back seat to “security,” and therefore its principles get eroded, to the point in which the citizens might eventually forsake them all together.
We have been able to clearly see that erosion in recent weeks. One example is the Anat Kamm affair: Anat, a former soldier and journalist for the newspaper Haaretz, was arrested because she leaked classified military documents that contained proof of extra judicial assassinations in the West Bank by the Israeli Defense Forces. Journalist Uri Blau published an article based on those documents, and the security services also issued an arrest warrant against him (fortunately, he was in London at the time). While most democracies would have been outraged both by the fact that the IDF was conducting killings against an order of the Israeli Supreme Court, and that a journalist that exposed these assassinations was under threat of arrest, in Israel, by enlarge, people were critical of the journalists and saw their arrest as justified.
More than a few other examples can be found: A recent proposal by several members of the board of governors of Tel Aviv University, which was fortunately defeated, to change its statutes to allow the university to censor or even fire professors “involved in activity perceived as harming Israel” such as criticizing Israeli policies or the defense establishment. That would have made Israel the only developed country without an affirmative defense of academic freedom. Or a poll by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University that found that the vast majority of Israeli Jews believe that there is too much freedom of expression in Israel, that human rights organizations that expose immoral conduct by Israel should be penalized, and support tough penalties for people who leak classified information exposing immoral conduct by the army. Finally, these views were further reflected in a recent bill proposed, not by the extreme right wing, but by members of the centrist Kadima faction, outlawing any Israeli NGOs that provide information to foreign bodies that result in the prosecution of Israelis for war crimes.
I don’t blame Israeli citizens for holding those views. It is a natural reaction to living in a state of protracted conflict that is diametrically opposed to the values of a democratic society. However, it is clear that unless Israel does everything in their power to take advantage of even the most miniscule opportunity to advance peace, the wearing away of these values will continue unhindered. In my opinion, the current government, far from taking advantage of every peace overture, seems intent in maintaining the status quo. They live under some naïve illusion that the current situation can continue ad infinitum without destroying the core of the Zionist values and ideals that the founding fathers of Zionism held dear.
As a committed life-long Zionist, this erosion of democratic values in Israel is particularly troubling for me. I am truly and completely committed to Herzl’s Zionist ideal of a Jewish and Democratic state as an exemplary, pluralistic society that would serve as a model for the rest of the world. In that sense, there is nothing more anti-Zionist than the failing to seek every opportunity for peace and the resulting erosion of democratic values in our little, visionary state that was suppose to be a light unto the nations.