Fulfilling the social contract

Rousseau explained the social contract that gives legitimacy to the concept of governmental authority: the true sovereign, the people, agrees to give up some of its freedoms and take on some obligations in return for benefits provided by the government.

Some of the minimal benefits that a population expects from its government include enforcement of the laws (which must be chosen by the people), provision of services that don’t lend themselves to private enterprise, and protection from attacks from outside the community. In return, the population usually agrees to give up the option of using force or taking the law into its own hands, and agrees to support the government by paying taxes.

A government can break the social contract in several ways. It can interfere with the process by which the people choose the laws by which they are governed. It can violate those laws itself. It can exploit the people by extracting wealth from them in excess of its needs and enriching insiders. It can fail to protect its population.

Every government is to some extent parasitic. The best parasites don’t kill their hosts, and the best governments can help their people live safe, ordered lives.

The worst governments – and there are probably more bad ones than good ones – are dictatorships, in which laws and policy decisions are made without input from the people, or their input is ignored. Often the government terrorizes the population with impunity, violating laws that are intended to protect the citizens. It fails to provide the services that it has contracted to perform. And often it pauperizes the great mass of people while leaders squirrel away funds in secret foreign bank accounts.

Such governments break the social contract, and Rousseau suggests that the people – from whom the government derives its legitimacy – should abolish it and form a new one. This is much easier said than done, since the government usually has a monopoly on the use of force and is much better organized to deploy it than the people.

The government of the US is among the better governments in the world. Nevertheless the parasitical nature of government is evident there as well. It’s interesting, for example, that the metropolitan area with the highest per capita income in the US is Washington, DC and its suburbs. What do they produce there, one wonders. New York, the financial capital, comes in 19th out of 280, and my home town of Fresno, California, where much of the food eaten in the rest of the country is grown, is a miserable 267th.

Here in Israel there is a problem of endemic corruption of municipal officials and others in positions of trust, who are always in the news for taking bribes and similar crimes. The Prime Minister is a special case; while he is accused of corruption and continually being investigated, my personal belief is that most of the charges are politically motivated and not substantial. But former PM Ehud Olmert received a well-deserved (if too short) jail sentence for being as crooked as a barrel of fishhooks.

Leaving aside the waste and corruption that’s found even in good governments, in what other ways can they violate the social contract? Consider for example the actions of Barack Obama in connection with the JCPOA, the so-called “Iran deal.” He committed the US to an agreement with an avowed enemy of the nation (how else can you understand “death to America?”), and did it against the wishes of the majority of Congress, which expresses the will of the people. Then he violated federal laws to provide bales of untraceable cash as ransom for hostages held by the Iranians, cash which was used to finance terrorism around the world, including support for proxies fighting against Americans. The deal itself protected the Iranian nuclear weapons program instead of dismantling it, arguably making Americans less safe. All through the process, the administration misled the American people about what it was doing, via the famous “echo chamber.” Thus, the Obama Administration violated every one of its obligations under the social contract.

Here in Israel the administration is not quite as incompetent (or treasonous) as Obama’s, but is still failing to hold up its side of the social contract. In particular, segments of Israel’s population are being exposed to carefully calibrated terrorism short of war, and the government and the army that it commands are not taking actions adequate to protect them.

The communities located near the border with the Gaza Strip are being attacked with dozens of incendiary and explosive devices attached to balloons launched every day from Gaza. These devices have already burned hundreds of acres of land which is used by farmers or which is part of nature reserves – that is, the property of the people of Israel – and have endangered the communities, many of which are only a few hundred meters from the border. The residents are being sickened by the smoke from tires burned continuously by the Gazans. Incendiary or explosive balloons from Gaza have been found as far north as Givat Brenner, not far from Rehovot. In a worrisome development, there are now almost nightly incursions of armed Palestinian guerrillas through the border fence. So far the army has stopped them, but they would not have to get very far for the consequences to be tragic.

The Gazans have put teenagers and even younger children in their teams that launch the balloons, and the IDF will not shoot at them (IAF helicopters or drones have fired missiles nearby to scare them, but since they understand that they are not actually targeted, it just increases the fun).

The situation in Judea and Samaria is different. Here there are not usually mass riots including thousands of Arabs (although there are some regular demonstrations against the security barrier in specific places), but there is always murderous terrorism. Jews waiting for buses or rides along the roads near Jewish communities or at the main junctions are exposed to car-ramming attacks, and perhaps once a week there is an incursion into a community by a terrorist or a stabbing/shooting attack at a shopping center, which can result in one or more fatalities.

In the case of Gaza, the IDF seems to have decided that stronger responses would result in unwanted escalation. Meanwhile the Gazans, encouraged by Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad, have been multiplying and perfecting their attacks.

The type of terrorism that is more common in Judea/Samaria involves individual terrorists, and is hard to prevent. It is incited by propaganda in Palestinian Authority media and social media; afterwards, the PA pays generous salaries to imprisoned terrorists or their families. However, many Israelis believe that a stronger reaction would help deter the attacks. For example, the homes of terrorists are sometimes demolished – but often not, sometimes as a result of the intervention of Israel’s Supreme Court. Some think that banishing the families of the terrorists to Gaza or Jordan would serve as a deterrent. Also, various ways of punishing the PA for paying the families of terrorists have been considered. But the practice has not been stopped.

There are lots of reasons – that is, excuses – for why the government and the army is unable or unwilling to put an end to the terrorism that is hurting its people. But the job of finding solutions is not the job of the people; it belongs to government officials and military officers, and the people have a right to expect that the political/military establishment that it is paying so generously do its job and eliminate the threat. That is, after all, in the social contract.

And it is the most important clause of all in the contract between the State of Israel and the Jewish people. One of the major motivations, perhaps the most important, for the Zionist project was that there was no place in the world where we could be safe from anti-Jewish violence. The experiences of millennia taught us that only a sovereign state defended by a Jewish army could guarantee the survival of the Jewish people. Yet, even in the Jewish state in its 70th year, with the strongest army in the region, Jews are endangered.

This is not acceptable. The Jewish people has a right to demand that its state discharge its duties. Otherwise it ought to be abolished and replaced with one that will.

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2 Responses to Fulfilling the social contract

  1. MrCohen says:

    “Israelis like generals, but most of them
    have lost all patience with those parties
    — no matter who leads them — that push for
    trading more land for peace when they know the
    transaction will turn out to be land for terror.”

    “The next election would be a good time
    for Americans who think they know better
    about what’s right for the Jewish state
    to spend more time listening to Israeli
    voters than lecturing them.”

    What a Political General Teaches Us
    ABOUT the Israel-Diaspora Disconnect

    by Jonathan S. Tobin, 2018 October 12

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    It is difficult to understand why more extreme measures have not been taken against the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Is it because they are so well protected that we cannot get to them? Or is it something more sinister?
    It is also difficult to understand why all kinds of other ‘creative tactics’ have not been used to halt the attacks on southern Israel.

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