Friday, September 19, 2014

Israeli 'Democracy'

The Sydney Morning Herald's international editor, Peter Hartcher, is reliably shallow on the subject of the Middle East:

"One measure of [autocratic Arab rulers'] success was that while the number of democracies in the world trebled in the 30 years to 2005, none of the new democracies was in the Middle East, according to Freedom House." (Oppressed Arabs waiting for spring, 16/9/14)

Of course, you wouldn't expect Hartcher, a twice-rambammed journalist (2009/2011), to question Israel's much-trumpeted 'democracy'.

That's why the following perspective, by Israeli-Australian political scientist Marcelo Svirsky, is so useful. It comes from his fascinating new book, After Israel: Towards Cultural Transformation

"Ask any political scientist... to choose just one principle or practice as the litmus test of democracy. The overwhelming majority will say fair elections... This wide consensus is reflected, for instance, in the way in which popular empirical indices measure the presence and depth of democracy. Freedom House places the electoral process as one of its major categories for rating democracies... The Economist Intelligence Unit's 'Democracy Index'... also favours in its calculation of the index the qualities of the electoral system... This is not the place to discuss the extreme bias of these organisations because of the way in which they construct their methods. These are fundamentally questionable mainly because they compare regimes with a particular image of democracy consistent with empire's neoliberal values and interests. In their ideological constitutive assumptions and methods, these empirical systems of measurement fail to rank countries such as Cuba or Venezuela appropriately, while at the same time they are blind to the different variables that should be taken into account when assessing regimes such as Israel's... How Western 'democracy indices' manage to avoid measuring the fact that for nearly half a century Israel has held under military occupation about 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, has kept Gazans under siege since 2007, and discriminates against its 1.6 million Palestinians by ethnocratic means - this is a wonder that defies reason." (pp 181-82)

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