Thursday, August 11, 2011

Israel Values Democracy Over Stability

In an interesting development, both Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) and Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) have spoken regarding the ongoing protests in Israel. Both have emphasized the idea that Israel remains a stable country despite the protests in which over 300,000 people participated last Saturday night. However, Yishai threatened to withdraw from the coalition if no solution is found, whereas Foreign Minister Lieberman has sided squarely with the government and attacked the media for being "one-sided" with regards to its coverage of the protests.

The comments indicate that the protests are having a real effect on coalition politics in Israel. While Lieberman and Yishai fall in different places with regards to the government's response, both have made statements which directly impact the stability of the current Israeli coalition. Yishai's comments deftly place Shas on the side of the protesters by exerting pressure on the coalition while simultaneously expressing confidence a solution will be found. Lieberman's comments indicate that, at least for the moment, he does not intend to dissolve the coalition over the protests.

However, both ministers miss a more fundamental point: Stability is not the issue. As a liberal democracy, Israel's institutions and political system are designed for protests. These protests are not the first, and surely not the last, protests over social issues in Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu, understanding the strength of Israel's institutions, has moved forward in setting up committees and offering policies to alleviate the source of grievances. Yet some in his coalition seem to have significantly less faith in the democratic process.

Democracy may be messy, but it is designed as such. That some in the Prime Minister's cabinet see protests and are concerned more with stability than the legitimate grievances of the Israeli people is indicative of where their priorities lie. That they should see a need for stability-related Hasbara in this case is ironic. The protests have done more to create international support for Israelis and Israeli democracy than any policy enacted by the current coalition.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has a tough month ahead. Between the UN Palestinian statehood vote and the protests, there is no shortage of issues which could collapse his coalition. However, the Prime Minister would be well-advised to listen to those who elected him rather than those who seem to lack faith in the very democratic government they represent.



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