By Professor Paul Eidelberg
March 25, 2009
Avigdor Lieberman has been accused of racism for proposing a loyalty oath for Arab citizens of Israel. I’m no fan of Mr. Lieberman, but this charge of his being a racist is absurd. It has been well-established that most Arab citizens of Israel, while enjoying all the rights of this country, nonetheless identity with its enemies. Justice demands that those who enjoy the rights of citizenship fulfill the duties of citizenship. Otherwise, justice would be reduced to indiscriminate egalitarianism–¬the tendency in Israel whose ruling elites derive their legitimacy and respectability from Israel’s reputation as a “democracy.”
Justice is the central theme of Plato’s greatest dialogue, the Republic. What has this dialogue to do with a loyalty vote for Israeli Arabs? Let us proceed step by step.
The key figure of the Republic is of course Socrates. Socrates was a poor man. Poor men tend to be partisans of democracy. Why? Because democracies usually equate justice with equality. Democracies therefore give the poor the same rights as the rich. Not that Socrates was a partisan of oligarchy. But he saw that democratic equality benefits the ignorant as well as villains. Socrates was a philosopher, a seeker of truth. Hence he was skeptical about democracy, whose egalitarianism made no distinction between the wise and the unwise, the virtuous and the vicious. Even disloyal individuals may vote in a democracy. Can this be truly just?
The answer to this question is so obvious that it is not discussed in the Republic. Even though Athens was a democracy, none of the various definitions of justice discussed in that most subtle and profound dialogue entails the indiscriminate egalitarianism found in contemporary democratic societies, where individuals of hostile beliefs and values enjoy equal political rights.
Although members of the Athenian assembly were chosen by lot—seemingly the most democratic of all systems—still, to be eligible for the lot certain qualifications were required. First, one had to be an Athenian, meaning a person more or less identified with Athenian culture. Second, one had to have performed military service and/or be a tax-payer. In short, one had to be a patriotic or law-abiding citizen and not mere consumers of rights typical of today’s democracies.
Now, of the various definitions of justice discussed in the Republic, only one conforms to these rational qualifications, namely, that justice means “giving to each his due.” This is a matter of proportionate equality, not of arithmetic (or indiscriminate) equality. The latter results in the democratic principle of one adult/one vote, which renders a person’s intellectual and moral character irrelevant. This is why democracies are ruled not by the wise and the virtuous but by mediocrities, if not worse. Which means that democracy is not the best regime; indeed, it may not even be a truly just regime. (This was also the conclusion of Aristotle.)
Socrates led Athenian youth to this subversive conclusion. He willingly paid the penalty for undermining their loyalty to Athens in the process of liberating them from their Athenian, i.e. democratic, prejudices. Democratic Athens sentenced him to death.
Well, we don’t give hemlock to philosophers any more; we ignore them. And no wonder: Philosophy, understood as a passionate love of truth, is dead. Still, what would the “gadfly” of Athens do were he in Israel today? He would surely inquire about justice. Sooner or later some Israeli would say justice is “giving to each his due.” Socrates would probably lead him to a more refined definition, perhaps something like the following.
JUSTICE IS GIVING EQUAL THINGS (SUCH AS RIGHTS AND HONORS) TO EQUALS, AND UNEQUAL THINGS TO UNEQUALS IN PROPORTION TO THEIR INEQUALITY, i.e., IN PROPORTION TO THEIR MERIT (AS IS DONE IN CLASSROOMS), OR IN PROPORTION TO THEIR CONTRIBUTION TO THE COMMON GOOD.
Any sensible Israeli would then see that to give Arabs, who strive for Israel’s demise, the equal political rights of Jews, who struggle for Israel’s welfare, is not consistent with justice. He would then conclude that if justice is to prevail in Israel, its Arab inhabitants must either be disenfranchised or undergo a profound political and religious metamorphosis.
If Socrates led Israelis to this conclusion he would probably be condemned by Israel’s political and intellectual elites and indicted for “racism” or “incitement.” True, he might point out, during his trial, that Israeli Arabs do not perform military service; that they engage in massive tax evasion; that they aid terrorists and commit terrorist acts; hence that it is unjust to endow such disloyal Arabs with the equal rights of Jews.
All this would probably be of no avail at Socrates’ trial. He would almost certainly be convicted and imprisoned, and any appeal to Israel’s egalitarian Supreme Court would be futile. This is quite a commentary on Israel’s political and judicial elites, from whose lips the honeyed word “Democracy” is ever dripping but hardly a word about JUSTICE. There is hardly a public figure in Israel that has the courage as well as the wit to tell the truth about the manifest injustice (and deadly consequences) of giving the vote to this country’s Arab inhabitants. Indeed, IT IS AGAINST THE LAW IN ISRAEL TO TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT THIS ISSUE.
Now we are prepared to go to the root of things. What needs to be said, and what no one dares say in Israel, is that THIS COUNTRY WAS FOUNDED, IN 1948, ON A MONUMENTAL INJUSTICE: GIVING TO JEWS AND ARABS—TO LOYAL AND DISLOYAL INHABITANTS OF ISRAEL—THE EQUAL RIGHT TO VOTE IN THIS SUPPOSED-TO-BE JEWISH STATE.
Not Peace but JUSTICE is the true and most fundamental issue in Israel today. In Israel, however, justice has been reduced to a leveling equality, which is why the sense of justice has been murdered in this country. This is why the killers of so many Jews in this country go unpunished. This is why Arabs who have murdered Jews have been released by various Israeli governments. This is why various Israeli politicians have clasped the bloodstained hands of Yasser Arafat or his successor, Mahmoud Abbas.
You will not go to the root of things by explaining their behavior in terms of their desire for “peace.” You will not truly explain their surrender of land for which Jews have so long yearned for, fought for, and bled for, in terms of “American pressure.” No, the suffering and humiliation of Israel today is the inevitable result of the monstrous injustice prescribed in the very Proclamation of the Establishment of the State, that all inhabitants of this State—Jews and Arabs alike—would receive equal political rights. This is not justice but the negation of justice and even of common sense.
This negation has made children of Israel’s rulers. It has made fools of Israel’s intellectuals. It has driven this country to suicidal madness—the prey of Arabs armed by mindless Israelis posing as men. All this is described in Isaiah 3:4; 5:20; 28:7, 15-18; 29:9, 14; 44:25. It was injustice compounded by stupidity that led to the Oslo “peace process.”
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Until this issue is faced—until Jews pursue Justice—NEITHER POLITICS NOR POLITICAL ANALYSIS WILL SAVE ISRAEL FROM RECURRING DISASTERS.
© 2009 Paul Eidelberg - All Rights Reserved
Internationally known political scientist, author and lecturer, Eidelberg is the founder and president of The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy with offices in Jerusalem.
Prof. Eidelberg served in the United States Air Force where he held the rank of first lieutenant. He received his doctoral degree at the University of Chicago. He designed the electronic equipment for the first brain scanner at the Argonne Cancer Research Hospital.
Before immigrating to Israel in 1976, Prof. Eidelberg wrote a trilogy on America’s founding fathers: The Philosophy of the American Constitution, On the Silence of the Declaration of Independence, and a Discourse on Statesmanship.
In 1976 he joined the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He has written several books on the Arab-Israel conflict and on Judaism. Demophrenia: Israel and the Malaise of Democracy analyses the mentality of Israel’s ruling elites. Jewish Statesmanship: Lest Israel Fall, which has been translated into Hebrew and Russian, reveals the flaws inherent in Israel’s system of governance and how they may be remedied. A Jewish Philosophy of History investigates the world-historical events leading to the rebirth of Israel in 1948.
His latest publication, The Myth of Israeli Democracy, provides an abbreviated version of a Constitution which shows how to make Israel a genuine democracy based on a Jewish conception of freedom and equality.
is on the Advisory Council of the Ariel Center for Policy Research,
which has published many of his policy papers. In addition to writing
more than 1,000 articles for newspapers and scholarly journals in the
U.S. and Israel, he has a weekly program on Israel
Prof. Eidelberg has been lecturing throughout Israel and the United States. He conducts seminars on constitutions, diverse parliamentary electoral systems, Jewish law, and related topics at the Jerusalem center of the Foundation for Constitutional Democracy.
Web site: Foundation for Constitutional Democracy