By Richman, Sheldon L.
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs , Vol. IX, No. 9
The New York Times reports that in December, while visiting the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir received the Defender of Jerusalem Award "in recognition of his lifetime commitment to the defense of Jewish rights and to the safety and security of Israel." The prize, worth $100,000, used to be known as the Jabotinsky Award and is given by the Jabotinsky Foundation.
Vladimir Jabotinsky, who died in 1940, was the founder of the branch of Zionism known as Revisionism. He was an admirer of Benito Mussolini, breaking with him only when the Italian dictator allied with Hitler at the beginning of World War II. (Shamir's other mentor, Avraham Stern, unsuccessfully sought an alliance with Hitler.) Jabotinsky's strain of Zionism is called right-wing because of his fascist sympathy, in contrast to mainline Zionism, which, as a socialist movement, once was pro-Soviet. Since both communism and fascism entail state domination of the economic life of a nation, there is not much difference between the systems in practice. Rights, other than the rights of the state, are not especially conspicuous in either system.
"Jewish Rights" vs. Individual Rights
Thus it is interesting that an award named for Jabotinsky should be presented to Shamir for his defense of "Jewish rights." Americans are not accustomed to such things as Jewish rights, or any special group rights. Our traditions assign rights to the individual, and nowhere else. But Israel is not the United States.
How often is it said that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East? The word democracy is subject to interpretation, but presumably the people who say this do not mean unlimited majority rule. They mean majority rule limited by the individual rights of the minority. No one would praise a system in which the majority could enslave the minority. If that were a democracy, then the antebellum South was a democracy.
Ironically, Israel is a democracy only in the first, illegitimate sense. The Jewish majority in Israel can, as a collective voting body, do virtually what it wants, regardless of the wishes of the minority, the Palestinian Arabs. Israel is not a democracy by the second definition because minority rights are not respected.
Another irony: some violations of the rights of the minority also tend to violate the rights of members of the majority. Israel recently amended its Basic Law, which is as close to a constitution as Israel has. It is the Basic Law that establishes the framework of rights in Israel. Under this law, for example, Jews from anywhere in the world can come to Israel and become instant full citizens, while Arabs can never become full citizens, even if they are born in Israel and live there throughout their lives. Under this Basic Law, Israel is proclaimed the state of the Jewish People -- not just those living there, but the Jewish People worldwide. As a result, the state owns 92 percent of the land of Israel (on behalf of the Jewish people), and it is a crime to lease the land to Arabs. …