We continue our series “The World Without Israel” with a two-part piece by James Legee. Here he examines democracy’s place in Israel and the United States. Tomorrow will conclude with an examination of the fruits of the democratic harvest.
Israel and America are not mirror images. To think so is naïve, but just as the United States has the “American Dream,” so too does Israel have the “Israeli Dream.” These “Dreams” are the promise that with some blood, sweat, and tears, a person can make him or herself into a success. That both countries have a history of individual success is due in no small part to their shared adherence to the rule of law and vibrant civil societies.
America has a storied and at times tumultuous political tradition, but despite occasionally violent and vile rhetoric, the United States is unique in that it continues the world’s longest running peaceful exchanges of power: lost elections are not met with coups, but with promises of continuity. George Washington began this tradition by retiring from government to his home, Mount Vernon. It has continued ever since. Israel’s founding was no less turbulent than the United States’ and it too has held to a tradition of peaceful transfers of power.
This week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for new elections. As in America, there will be no assassinations and no party purges. Both nations embody an ancient idea: that the only just government is one in which the citizens choose their leaders. When political tensions are high and government ceases to function properly, the Prime Minister can call for elections, as is his or her prerogative in a parliamentary system. Whatever the outcome, Israel’s citizens know that their vote will be respected and counted. In any case, both nations will witness one of the most inspiring and—until recently—rare transfers of power: a peaceful one.
The importance of the peaceful transfer of power cannot be understated. We can look to the deaths and the wars that the Arab Spring has wrought to understand this. In nearly all cases the Arab Spring was a popular revolt against autocratic regimes. That is a good thing, we think, but none of these revolts were painless: people died. Had the Arab World subscribed to the same principles as the United States and Israel the Arab Spring would have been unnecessary.