Is Israel Still a Democracy?


Yes, Israel is still a democracy, and no, I'm not referring to Ehud Barak's departure from Labor in order to form another perishable party (more on that later, unless I find these recent events too dispiriting to write about, in which case, radio silence, or maybe something about Stuxnet).

What I'm referring to is something else, the after-effects of the Moshe Katsav trial -- you know, Moshe Katsav, the ex-president of Israel convicted of rape. (Remember when Ben-Gurion said Israel would be a normal state when it had Jewish garbagemen, prostitutes and cops? I don't think he had president-level rapists in mind.) A few weeks ago, as some of you know, I wrote a post asking whether Israel would forever remain a democracy. Of course, people who despise Israel decided I had written definitively that Israel's democracy had already disappeared, but what are you going to do? Very few people know how to read on the Internet.

Anyway, when the Katsav verdict came down, I didn't quite realize who had delivered it. Now I do, and it is sort of stunning. There are six aspects of the Katsav trial which prove that Israel is still a democracy, and a country very much unlike all of its neighbors.

1) An ex-president of the nation was brought to account for his alleged crimes. Doesn't happen too often in Israel's neighorhood.
2) The crimes in question were crimes against women. Happens only rarely in the non-democratic East.
3) Two of the three judges in the Katsav case were women -- doesn't happen.
4) Here's the stunner -- the head judge of the three-judge panel was an Arab Israeli named Geoge Karra.
5) Maybe this is the real stunner -- No one in Israel seemed to think it abnormal for an Arab citizen of the Jewish state to sit in judgment of a Jewish ex-president.
6) And, by the way, the president was convicted.

I'm not expecting the forces of progressivism in Israel to have a particularly easy time in the coming years, not with Avigdor Lieberman, the intemperate foreign minister, playing a central role in politics. But the Katsav trial, weirdly, has reinforced the idea with me that Israeli democracy is far from a lost cause.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, Goldberg also writes the magazine's advice column. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. Previously, he served as a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward, and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

His book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. Goldberg rthe recipient of the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism. He is also the recipient of 2005's Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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