Arutz - February 27, 2005


by Yehuda Poch

Professor Arik Carmon is the president of the Israel Democracy Institute, ostensibly a non-partisan think-tank tasked with research into democracy and the democratic practices of Israel. This week, he co-signed an Open Letter to the Judea, Samaria and Gaza Council, in which he called on them not to "disengage" themselves from the democratic process.

The tone and content of this letter, as discussed on Israel Radio yesterday evening (February 26), closely mirrors one of the lead arguments of the supporters of Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan, which is that opponents of the plan are acting against a decision reached in a democratic fashion.

This argument is an exercise in political poison. Its sole aim is to delegitimize the Israeli Right as anti-democratic - something the Left has been trying to do, in one form or another, for many years, and something that could not be further from the truth. So, it's time for a reality check.

In January 2003, Israelis re-elected Ariel Sharon in the largest electoral landslide ever seen in Israeli history. The Likud, under his leadership, received twice as many votes as its nearest rival, the Labor party under Amram Mitzna. Mitzna had run a campaign based almost exclusively on his idea that Israel should unilaterally withdraw from the entire Gaza Strip. Sharon ran his campaign opposing that idea.

The 2003 election was not an election of personalities. Voters did not choose Mitzna or Sharon. They chose Labor or Likud. They voted for party platforms and legislative programs. There was no direct election of the prime minister, as there had been in 1996, 1999 and 2001. This was a single-ballot election for a party, and the leader of the largest party would become prime minister. Labor's platform, under Mitzna's leadership, championed disengagement. Likud's platform, under Sharon's leadership, opposed it. When Sharon won his landslide, he formed a cabinet based upon the principles of the Likud platform, including opposition to a unilateral withdrawal.

Yet, 10 short months after the election, Sharon had announced his intention to follow Labor's electoral platform, and to unilaterally withdraw Israeli presence from the Gaza strip and four communities in northern Samaria. In May 2004, in a referendum of Likud party members, the Likud reaffirmed its platform of the 2003 election, by rejecting the "Disengagement Plan" and demanding that its ministers and members of Knesset vote against it.

In June 2004, Ariel Sharon had to fire two cabinet ministers who were opposed to the Disengagement Plan in order to enable it to pass the cabinet vote. The vote was 14-7 in the end, but had Avigdor Liberman and Benny Elon remained in the cabinet for the vote, at least three Likud ministers would have changed their yes votes to no, defeating the plan. One Likud minister was later fired for continuing to oppose the plan, but he was acting in line with the Likud party membership decision of May.

Since the original cabinet vote, opponents of the plan - and even a third of its supporters - have been demanding a national referendum on the issue, whose results all have pledged to honor. This demand has been raised because the current government cannot implement the plan and continue to claim democratic legitimacy. If the electorate had wanted this plan to be implemented, they would have voted for Labor in 2003.

The supporters of the plan claim that a majority of the country's voters support the plan, and this may be true. But without a referendum, the only vote that matters is the most recent election, in which a minority of voters supported parties that were in favor of the plan.

There is nothing democratic about the Disengagement Plan. It is being implemented by a government that was elected to oppose it, in full contravention of the will of the electorate as expressed in the last election. The issue has succeeded in dividing the nation along a very dangerous fault line, and the dangers that it has exposed can only be defeated in two ways: through the full suspension of democracy, including the use of military force against large groups of the population and the assumption by the current government of dictatorial powers, or through a democratic confirmation of this government's mandate to execute its stated policy.

The letter co-signed by Professor Carmon is hypocritical, and destroys any assumption that the Israel Democracy Institute is in any way non-partisan, or that it actually understands what democracy is all about. It is solely the target of that letter, the Israeli right-wing, that has shown any interest in preserving democracy, by calling for a national referendum to enable the democratic confirmation of the government's mandate.

There has been no official determination that the electorate has changed its mind on this issue, and until there is, there is no democratic justification for the Disengagement Plan. If the Israel Democracy Institute were really interested in the preservation and development of democracy in Israel, it would be front and center championing a national referendum. By calling on the Israeli Right to abandon the idea of a referendum, the IDI is instead increasing the possibility that democracy will be short-circuited in the interests of power. And that is the definition of tyranny.

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