An Excess of Democracy

The State of Israel is more endangered today than at any time since 1948, including 1973. She is tied down in Gaza while her enemies wait their turn in Lebanon, Syria, the PA, Yemen, Iraq, and Iran – which may already have nuclear weapons. An unprecedented campaign of antisemitic incitement is destroying popular support for her throughout the world, and government after government is punishing her by recognizing the “State of Palestine” on her territory. The more genocidal her enemies, the more she is falsely accused of genocide. Her decision to position herself as a satellite of the US has borne bitter fruit, as that country’s policies are increasingly decided by elements that want to see Israel disappear; at the same time, the enemies of the US treat her as an outpost of US power that must be eliminated.

Israel’s political, intelligence, and military elites have shown themselves incompetent. They failed to foresee, prevent, or even effectively react to the invasion of 7 October. They have turned the military successes of the war into what appears to be a surrender to all of Hamas’ demands.

Over the years they have projected an image of Israel as a punching bag rather than the proud and powerful nation that she is. Despite our nuclear-armed military, they have allowed Iran to encircle us with terrorist proxies and even to establish a deterrent force in Lebanon that we fear to challenge. They have allowed Iran itself to obtain nuclear weapons.

On 13 April 2024, Iran launched an attack against Israel that included hundreds of drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles, the largest such attack in military history. All but a few were intercepted by Israel with some help from the US and others; the cost of this defensive operation to Israel was estimated at more than $1 billion. Had the attack succeeded, there would have been great damage to military and infrastructure targets, as well as loss of life. Israel retaliated a few days later by destroying some radar installations in Iran. The weakness of Israel’s response was a result of US pressure and the deterrent effect of Iran’s Hezbollah proxy.

At home, our leaders have allowed the PA to systematically gobble up parts of Area C in Judea/Samaria that are supposed to be under full Israeli control by international treaty. They have allowed, and then legitimized, illegal Bedouin settlement in the Negev. They have allowed the flourishing of Arab crime syndicates in the Negev and Galilee, and in the Arab towns and mixed Arab-Jewish cities.

Tens of thousands of Israeli citizens have fled from their homes: in the south from fear of resurgent Hamas terrorism, and in the north from daily bombardment by Hezbollah with rockets and anti-tank weapons, which have laid waste to cities and towns in the area. As I write this, large fires started by Hezbollah rockets are burning in northern cities.

Our governments are ineffectual, paralyzed by arguments over issues like the judicial reform and the Haredi draft, beset by powerful lobbies and popular groups that are manipulated by political actors. The two largest minority populations, Israeli Arabs and Haredim, maintain autonomous “states” within our state, where the laws and informal understandings that govern the rest of the population don’t necessarily apply.

Many Israeli Arabs, with the notable exception of the Druze and a small number of Bedouins, do not accept the principle that Israel is a Jewish state, do not serve in the military, and in many cases avoid taxation and other responsibilities. Haredim refuse to serve in the military and maintain an educational system in which “secular” subjects like mathematics and modern Hebrew language are not taught.

Because of the war, reserve soldiers are now to serve 90 days a year, which is destructive to family life, jobs, and especially independent businesses. At the same time, tens of thousands of yeshiva students have been exempted from the draft. Attempts to change this have been met by demonstrations which block major roads, and threats by Haredi politicians to bring down the government. Israeli governments have been trying to find a successful compromise to enable the sharing of the security burden for decades without success.


What can be done? What must be done to preserve the Jewish state, prevent another Jewish dispersion, and restore Israel’s role as the protector of the Jewish communities of the diaspora? As always, there are short-term and long-term answers. Today our most critical concern must be the war in Gaza. As long as Hamas continues to be in control of the strip, we effectively lose a large chunk of our country that will remain uninhabitable, and the IDF will be tied down and unable to respond to other threats. Even more importantly, if Israel is defeated by the terror tactics of Hamas – and make no mistake, an agreement along the lines of the one announced last week by the US president will be understood by the entire world as a crushing defeat – our enemies on all fronts will bring us more 7 Octobers.

Hamas’ victory strategy depends on two major Israeli weaknesses: the public concern for the hostages (and the manipulation of that concern by political actors that oppose the government), and Israel’s susceptibility to American pressure.

The cruelty of Hamas and the situation of the hostages is tearing at the hearts of all Israelis. But barring a miracle, there is no solution that will bring them home at a price the nation can afford. We must say to their families: we cannot trade the Jewish state for your people. We must do everything that we can to save them, but we cannot surrender to our murderous enemy in order to do so. It’s delusional to think that we can accept a 6-week ceasefire (not to mention the other concessions demanded), given the pressure from America and the other fronts of the war, and then return to finish off Hamas. It will not happen.

The US administration has done and is continuing to do everything it can short of military intervention on the side of Hamas to prevent Israel from achieving a decisive victory. Israeli leaders must understand that we cannot win if we obey the directives from Washington. They must tell the Americans whatever they need to hear, but order the IDF to finish the job, to remove Hamas from power and destroy its military capability.


It is painful to write this, but I fear that our present government may be incapable of taking the actions required for the state to survive. Worse, the political structure of our state may be ill-adapted to survival in today’s Middle East.

I would sum up the problem by saying that Israel suffers from an excess of democracy. There are many things that are wonderful about a truly democratic state: in theory, it can behave justly toward individuals with diverse interests and needs. It is a way to align the policies of a country with the “general will” of the populace, in the words of Rousseau. Unfortunately there are some specific situations where democracy is sub-optimal.

One of them is a state of war. In wartime, decisions must be made that will favor victory but which will cause popular suffering, or suffering of influential groups. Such decisions often cannot be made democratically.1 An example is the question of whether Israel should accept a deal that will free some hostages, but also release many imprisoned terrorists and place restrictions on her conduct of the war.

Another problematic case is that of large permanent minorities who utilize democratic institutions like elections to pursue “identity politics” rather than issue-oriented ones. In Israel, in addition to the ethnic and religious divisions, we find entrenched ideological and personality-oriented subgroups. In 2019-21 they combined with our complicated electoral system to produce four parliamentary elections in a period of two years. The tension between the elected Knesset and the independent bureaucracy, which represents Israel’s former ruling elite, guarantees gridlock on important issues. In addition, the almost decade-long attempt to take down PM Netanyahu utilizing the judicial system, and supported by most of the media and the academic establishment, has been a distraction and strain on both sides.

Israel is both almost permanently at war, and blessed with large ethnic/religious minorities. Thus her aspiration to be a democratic state works against the possibility that she will have an effective government. And the challenges to being a tiny Jewish state in the Middle East absolutely require leadership that functions optimally.

Given the power relationships in our political society, it is unlikely that there is a smooth path – for example, a constitutional convention – to a new form of government. But the responsibility of the state to her citizens, and to the Jewish people as a whole, demands that she make this transition in any case, regardless of the disruption of normal life that it is likely to entail.

1But didn’t the democracies defeat the Nazis in WWII? Actually, both Roosevelt and Churchill acted as virtual dictators. And Stalin…

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5 Responses to An Excess of Democracy

  1. sabashimon says:

    You nailed it Vic. I have had a deep, deep heaviness in my heart for months, more due to the picture you paint here, echoing my own thoughts, than even 10/7 itself.
    Shades of the second Temple.

  2. NormanF says:

    The problem Israel’s leaders want an easy win without the sacrifices required with a true victory possible only on the battlefield.

    Any ceasefire deal with Hamas is a victory for the terror group. They’re systematically murdering the hostages.

    There is no acceptable price Israel could pay by which the remaining hostages could be safely returned to the country.

    If Israel doesn’t care to win and to survive as a Jewish State by abandoning its wartime goal, at least it should be honest with the people of the country about that path.

    Let’s be clear though: allowing Hamas to continue to rule Gaza means more October 7s in the future.

    A ceasefire means Israel holds its fire but Hamas is free to fire upon Israel whenever it wants. It won’t bring about peace.

    That’s the long and short of it here.

  3. nudnikJR says:

    I wanted to respond to your two previous articles, which were excellent, but always got a message that the error was at the receiver’s end. Hopefully, third time lucky.
    Unfortunately, I agree with every word in your dire assessment of the Israeli situation.
    The only extra comment that I have is de Maistre’s observation that “in a democracy people get the leaders they deserve”.
    Just as the Gazans deserve Hamas, so do the Israelis deserve their leaders.

    • sabashimon says:

      Not so in this case. Israelis for years have been voting to the right by significant margins, but in the end their votes are marginalized by party /coalition BS, and they either end up with a center left or completely paralyzed government. The problem is in the system.

  4. NormanF says:

    The rescue of the hostages last weekend proved Israel doesn’t have to surrender to Hamas to liberate the rest of them. A work that will be harder and take longer.

    That said, one thing is increasingly clear: eventually, Israel will have to go it alone, in view of the cresting tide of global antisemitism.

    Israel cannot agree in any form, to the so-called TSS. Such a state will be ruled by Hamas and it would be impossible for Israel to finish off a sovereign state.

    The other side wants to kill all the Jews. If that reality after October 7, hasn’t been grasped by Israel’s Jews, they need to be prepared to start swimming or to die.

    There is no political solution to a zero sum conflict. Where two sides have mutually exclusive demands, a solution to it is like trying to force a square into a round circle.

    Israel is up against an impossible, very bad situation. Jews have faced the worst before and always survived. The question is whether they have the will to do it again.

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