I will not argue in favor of the widely held idea that democracy is the best form of government. Rather, I will simply point out that the current practice of democracy in the United States and Israel is testing its wisdom. In both societies democracy has been perverted and now amounts to doing everything possible to stay in office or keep someone else out. What has been lost are sound principles and policies that serve people’s needs and achieve justice and security. Forty years ago, I told a member of Congress and a friend how upset I was that his colleagues voted in absolute support for Israel to pursue policies that not only defy international law and human rights law but also US policy.
I knew that Israeli practices were worrying some of these members. And they’d say, ‘I’m really with you, but you know how it goes. I am running for re-election and cannot risk taking a stand on this issue now.” I asked my friend: “Where are their principles and their concern for the national interest?” He replied, “Zogby, what you don’t understand is that since the day they were elected, the primary concern of my colleagues and their definition of the national interest has become synonymous with their re-election.” My naivety passed away a long time ago. It is true that there are principled members of Congress who take risks to do the right thing, but the vast majority will not. The waters have been polluted by extreme partisanship and the millions being campaigned for congressional seats and “dark money” groups, and this has made our politics a very ugly caricature of democracy.
This has resulted in an immobilized Congress that is unable, or unwilling, to pass legislation to save lives from disease or firearms, protect the environment, or even protect the right to vote. Instead of defending the interests of the American public, too many members of Congress vote on the basis of what hurts their opponents, raises money and appeases lobbies capable of pumping huge expenditures either for or against their re-election. And the continued attractiveness of former President Donald Trump only makes matters worse. Two-thirds of Republican voters still believe Trump’s insistence that he won the 2020 election. Too many Republicans are campaigning to win Trump’s support and base by emulating his efforts to downplay any elections he or they do not win.
In short, American democracy is in danger. On the other hand, in Israel, the coalition government that overthrew Benjamin Netanyahu was celebrated as a democratic manifestation that united the various political currents in Israel. But the only principle that united this alliance was to remove Netanyahu from power. In a coalition government that holds power with a minimal majority, Arab and “left” members have always been embarrassed to vote “forced” to protect their “coalition”. They were asked to veto legislation proposed by Netanyahu’s allies that would require the study of Arabic in primary schools.
They were asked to support a right-wing bill shared by coalition members that would extend the discriminatory “citizenship law” in Israel. They were also asked to oppose bills from Arab competitors outside the coalition to investigate the police’s failure to combat Arab organized crime gangs. I conclude the article with what I started with, that is, by noting that when democracy becomes the act of doing everything possible to stay in office or to remove someone from it, sound policies that serve the needs of the people, justice and security are lost.