Does Israel’s democracy even matter anymore?


Traditionally, Israel has argued that Western countries should support it because it is “the only true democracy in the Middle East.” That used to garner a lot of sympathy in Western countries, but it’s becoming less and less relevant for several reasons.

For starters, the concept of countries with a democratic form of government sticking together in a standoff against countries which were governed by totalitarianism doesn’t evoke the same positive emotional response it once did. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent end of the Cold War in the early 1990s marked the end of a system in which the world was neatly divided into opposing ideological camps. Since then, things have gotten hazy and confused, with developments including the actual calling into question by some scholars of the continued survival of the nation-state itself, much less alliances between similar but hardly identical nation-states.

The TV show “Game of Thrones” is a good metaphor for this new international system (and that’s the only positive comment I would ever make about that show) and Israel’s status as “the only true democracy in the Middle East” counts for much less in such a system than it used to.

Another development is that the very meaning of “democracy” is becoming very confused. The bedrock of democracy, that “the people” decide matters of public policy through elections and petitions to elected officials has taken a severe beating in recent years on many fronts. Courts have issued rulings which effectively voided the will of the voters while also often ignoring or abrogating constitutions and previous legal, political and social precedents. This phenomenon, often called “legislating from the bench” has become quite popular all over what was once known as “the free world” and has even become a growing issue here in Israel. Those who practice it often speak in lofty yet unapologetically paternalistic terms about “defending universal values” against the hapless unwashed masses who don’t know what’s in their own best interest.

The sad truth is, they have a bit of a point, as the voting public is often heart breakingly ill-equipped to make good decisions. This is because the education they receive in school about how their governments and societies work and what their responsibilities as citizens are, is pitifully inadequate. Political, social and religious leaders know this, and they unashamedly take advantage of it to manipulate voters into supporting things they probably wouldn’t support if they understood them better. The severe dysfunctionalism of traditional media outlets, the rise of social media and the parallel explosion of “fake news” and misinformation has drastically exacerbated these long-standing problems.

In such an environment, the efficacy of arguing that “the only true democracy in the Middle East” should be supported simply because it is in fact “the only true democracy in the Middle East” diminishes.

Finally, there are questions being raised over whether or not Israel really even IS “the only true democracy in the Middle East.” Israeli democracy is extremely messy, with aspects that many citizens of Western European countries would say are not “democratic” at all, including political factions that explicitly represent religious communities, distressingly high levels of public corruption, etc. That is not even to mention questions about equal rights and opportunities for different population groups within Israel, civil rights, etc. Last but certainly not least is the fact that Israel defines itself in explicitly ethno-nationalist and religious terms as “the Jewish State” which is something that most other democratic countries reject for themselves and frown deeply on in Israel’s case (although, oddly, not in the case of the Palestinians.)

So, if the democratic nations of the world can no longer be expected to support Israel simply because it is a fellow democracy struggling to survive in a sea of hostile, totalitarian regimes and failed states, what is to be done?

Israel’s leaders are aware of this problem and are increasingly coming to rely on what they call “faith based diplomacy” which is just a lofty way of saying they’re seeking partnerships with Christian communities around the world who will support Israel not necessarily because it’s a democracy but because the Bible says they should.

This idea, which has been around since the earliest days of the Protestant Reformation but which is still viewed as deeply unconventional by most Jews and quite a few Christians (while being viewed as yet another reason to view Christians and Israel with contempt and disgust by Israel’s casually anti-Christ and anti-Semitic enemies) is rapidly becoming the primary basis of support for Israel around the world, and not only in democratic countries. The recent Feast of Tabernacles (Succot) celebrations in Jerusalem featured large numbers of Christian supporters of Israel from many countries, including some governed by totalitarian dictatorships.

Although the governments of many of the countries represented in these meetings are at odds with each other, these Christian pilgrims worshipped, prayed, ate and fellowshipped together in Jerusalem because they considered it more important to support the agenda of their Father and King in Heaven than any agenda of their earthly political leaders.

It was a wonderful thing to see, but I hope it’s only the beginning.

If only the worldwide Body of Messiah could put our loyalty to God above our loyalty to our earthly governments on other issues. If only more of us could come together around more of the commandments and agenda items of our Heavenly Father and King regarding things like tithing, daily Bible study, prayer and fellowship, being part of a local congregation and actively seeking out the lost and hurting who live in our local communities in order to care for, comfort and minister to them.

Maybe support for Israel can be a baseline foundation on which these other things will be built. In the meantime, I urge anyone who is reading this to take an active interest in participating in what the Israeli government calls “faith based diplomacy.” The Jewish State is reaching out to Christian communities around the world, asking for their help and support. It’s an opportunity to be obedient to our King and it’s also an opportunity to gain the friendship of God’s Chosen People.

However, I also urge anyone reading this to remember the Brethren in Israel, the Believer congregations in this Land who need your support, prayers and assistance. It should, frankly, be at least as high a priority for you to support and pray for them as it is for you to support and pray for the secular government, the IDF, and all the rest.

May God give us all the wisdom, clarity and strength to stand in solidarity with God and His Chosen People and His Church as we move forward in this exciting yet difficult season of history.