Israel has enough critics without me beating up on it. But I make an exception here to note how an already imperfect democracy is going further in the wrong direction, noting two instances, one from politics and one from journalism. In both, Israel compares unfavorably to the United States:
Politics: In "From Miers to Gaza," Caroline Glick contrasts the upheaval over Harriet Miers' nomination with the ineffectiveness of the protests against the Gaza withdrawal. First, a description of the American scene:
Gazing from across an ocean at the undoing of US President George W. Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the US Supreme Court was like gazing at Elysium. In the public debate that erupted in the wake of Bush's announcement four weeks ago that he was nominating his personal attorney to the highest court in America, we saw what a real policy debate in a well-functioning democracy looks like. And if democracy is the best system of government known to man, then a well-functioning democratic system is the best of the best. That is, it is paradise. …
What could be better than a situation where as a result of a reasoned, rational, intelligent and passionate policy dispute a leader is forced to back off of an unreasoned decision that is grounded not in general principle or in the fundamental philosophy he claims to believe in and around which he has repeatedly rallied his base to support him but in self-interest, egotism and cronyism?
What is a more fundamental proof than the Miers nomination and its downfall, that free debate and deliberation and an informed populace is the basis for the assertion that democracy is the best form of government because it allows for mistakes to be corrected rather than compounded?
And then the Israeli contrast:
Back here in our Israeli foxhole, it seems like American democracy is not 6,000 miles away, but light years away. It isn't the ocean that separates us, but an unbridgeable chasm. Here, when in December 2003 Prime Minister Ariel Sharon abandoned his political base, strategic logic, his party's platform and ideology, not to mention common decency and announced, without any public debate that he was adopting the platform of the Left that had just been pulverized by the public in national elections, his former supporters had no ability to shape debate along rational lines.
They wrote columns, they went on television, on radio. Hundreds of thousands of law-abiding citizens went to demonstration after demonstration protesting Sharon's plan to expel all Jews from Gaza and northern Samaria. Ministers who opposed Sharon's policy resigned their positions in the government and those who refused to resign were fired. The Likud held a referendum; Sharon lost and proceeded to ignore the vote he promised to honor. …
Here in our foxhole in Israel, the nirvana that is American democracy seems like the land where the gods would play.
Journalism: In "Ha'aretz Indifferent to Journalistic Norms," Tamar Sternthal of the media-watch organization, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), looks at responses by the Israeli and American media when caught out making mistakes. She too notes the American Elysium:
For more than two decades, CAMERA has followed media coverage of Israel and the Middle East closely, contacting countless outlets with questions about factual accuracy and in many instances eliciting corrections. Virtually every major media outlet in America and some beyond U.S. shores have corrected errors in response to CAMERA, in accordance with professional journalistic standards asserting the paramount importance of accuracy — and accountability. Among those issuing corrections, often multiple times, have been the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, International Herald Tribune, National Public Radio, ABC News, and CNN.
Then over to Israel, as she recounts CAMERA's experience with Ha'aretz:
In the last year, CAMERA has contacted the paper's editors concerning multiple factual errors, taking the identical approach used with U.S. publications — emailing editors behind the scenes, providing data substantiating why a report is incorrect, requesting a correction, following up with phone calls, and finally, posting an item on our Web site and/or sending out an alert. However, unlike prominent American and international outlets, Ha'aretz apparently considers itself above criticism. Ha'aretz editors seem unaccustomed to responding to readers in a straightforward process and appear to believe readers have no right to fault them for shoddy, inaccurate coverage. Rather than considering the substance of CAMERA's queries, Ha'aretz has stonewalled completely, refusing to correct errors. Indeed, the English edition of the newspaper, in contrast to almost every major American newspaper, has no regular corrections section; a lone correction appears once every few months.
Sternthal then provides a host of examples of uncorrected mistakes in Ha'aretz.
Comment: Israel stands out as the leading and fullest democracy of the Middle East, a thoroughly decent country that has much to be proud of. At the same time, from its electoral system to its corruption, from the arrogance of its elites to its socialistic practices, the country labors under the dark side of its eastern European heritage and the current influences of its region. For those who wish it well, it is frustrating to see not only no progress in these areas but actual backward movement. (November 15, 2005)
Nov. 17, 2005 update: A reader who knows both the United States and Israel well makes this rejoinder to my second generalization above:
Generally speaking, whereas in the U.S. the standard for libel concerning public figures is beyond reach (prove malice), individuals can and do sue Israeli newspapers for libel and win settlements. In the United States, the most you can hope for, if you are smeared, is a correction on the bottom of an inside page. In Israel, you have a better chance of holding someone to account. It doesn't keep newspapers honest on general factual reporting, but it compels them to maintain standards when it comes to facts about individuals.
And on libel, an excellent example of a libel suit is the one brought against Teddy Katz, Ilan Pappe's student, who smeared the Alexandroni Brigade with a baseless accusation of massacre at Tantura. I wonder whether anything similar could happen in the United States.