Now here's an interesting thought: have citizens from countries with no democratic tradition weakened democracy in Israel? That's certainly the opinion of two prominent Israeli writers of German-Jewish extraction, Tom Segev and the late Amos Elon - argues Seth Frantzman in The Jerusalem Post. There is a separate but related issue: should hardline Jews from the ex-Soviet Union be blamed for constituting an impediment to peace - an opinion recently voiced by Bill Clinton? Or could it be that immigrants to Israel from Arab countries and eastern Europe are the best guardians of democratic values simply because they know what it's like to live under totalitarian regimes?
Elon, who was then living in “exile” in Italy because he had become estranged from the Israel that had provided him with fame and luxury, called the country a “quasi-fascist” state with “religious people [who] would be better off behind bars and not in politics.”
He complained that Israel was no longer a democratic Western country, and summed up his views with: “There was provinciality here. [in Israel]. There was this upstart’s arrogance.
I’m not surprised when you look at the population. We know where it comes from. Either from the Arab countries or from Eastern Europe.”
Here Elon adds the category of Jews from “Arab countries” to the reasons why Israel became, in his view, a non-Western nondemocratic society. The argument over Israeli society’s lack of democracy thus tends to decline into the realm of blaming “others,” especially immigrants, for taking away the Western democracy that once flourished here.
But it depends partly on the background of the beholder. Segev was born in 1935 to parents who fled Germany that year. His first language was German, which his parents spoke at home. Elon too was born to German- Jewish parents; he explained to Shavit “my parents’ friends were all immigrants from Germany and Austria. The big library at home was all German... But they were really the first free Jews. And the first Europeans.
They built a civil society and believed obsessively in Bildung, which is self-improvement through the fostering of social concerns.”
From the perspective of Segev and Elon, who in many ways represent a very strong stream within elite Israeli society, the complaint can be boiled down to the fact that non-German Jews ruined their country. It is an extraordinary insult to the millions of Jews who have come here, especially considering that, far from being haters of democracy, many of them yearned to breath free in the undemocratic states they fled.
The Jews of the Arab countries, whether Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria or Iraq, were almost all firm absorbers of the latest Western ideas in the early 20th century. Some of them became ardent socialists before they became Zionists, if they became Zionists at all. The Jews of the Soviet Union, especially the refuseniks, were all democrats to the core.
There is a question that must be asked of those like Segev (Elon died in 2009 so he cannot be asked) who believe that it is the Jewish immigrants who came after 1950 that brought nondemocratic values with them.
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