Jewish Journal


Spreading the myth of “Israel’s theocracy”

by Shmuel Rosner

December 14, 2011 | 3:52 am

Is this how Tel Aviv will look in a few years? Not as fast as Eric Alterman would have you believe.

Eric Alterman isn’t Israel’s biggest fan. For some good reasons, but mostly bad ones, he thinks that Israel is “Turning into a Theocracy”, a catchy headline that is far from being true. But I do understand why the Altermans of the world, from a safe distance, would find it easy to believe in such nonsense.

Alterman wrote an article for The Jewish Forward – an article that I made an effort to read from start to end. And as I was reading, I was counting the baseless “factual” statements, the misleading insinuations and the intentional omissions. There were a lot to count. I’ll just list six of them:


“It is becoming increasingly obvious that a break between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, particularly its American variety, is fast approaching”.

Does Alterman have any data to support such a pompous claim? I’m quite familiar with all available data on this matter and I don’t think he does. It might be “obvious”, or then again, simply not true.


“The reason for this is that Israel is slowly but inexorably turning into a conservative theocracy while the Diaspora is largely dedicated to liberal democracy”.

Here’s the thing: even those studies that were pointing to the possibility of a growing “distance” between US Jewry and Israel didn’t find any evidence that politics has anything to do with it. If you want more evidence, read Mirsky: “although younger non-Orthodox Jews are indeed less attached to Israel than are their elders, Israeli policies are not the reason why”.


“Israel is no democracy, and it never has been with regard to the 4 million Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza”.

Israel is a democracy, and in the West Bank (but not in Gaza, as the first version of this post stated) it is an occupying power. Israel can not be a “democracy” in areas that aren’t “Israel”.


“The Israeli body politic is increasingly dominated by Haredi Jews on the one hand, and secular nationalists, many of whose families emigrated from Russia, on the other”.

It is very common to make such an argument, but here’s the truth: The Israeli Knesset has 120 members. 11 of them can be described as MK’s belonging to “families emigrated from Russia”. 16 are “Haredi Jews”. That’s 27 members out of 120. If one wants to argue that Haredi Jews and Russian immigrants “dominate” Israel’s “body politic” one has to make a more convincing case.


“Some of these proposed laws may not come to pass”.

Alterman counts a number of what he describes as “anti-democratic legislation and regulation”. He then says that “some” may “not come to pass”. Wrong again: most of these laws would not pass – at least not in the way described by Alterman (and just to be clear: I oppose most of these laws, but this doesn’t justify erroneous claims).


“But they are clearly a minority”.

“Jews who would prefer to live in a secular democracy” are a “minority? The “Democracy Index” (by the liberal Democracy Institute) found that there’s “broad support for the assertion that Israel must remain a democratic state”. Only 27% of Jewish respondents say (page 666, Hebrew) that Israel is “too democratic” while 37% say it is “about right” and 36% think it isn’t “democratic enough” (namely, want it to be even more democratic). I think that’s clearly a majority of Jews wanting to live in a “democracy”.

Bottom line:

Alterman can think whatever he wants about Israel, and the unease he feels toward some Israeli actions and policies can be easily justified. But his article isn’t about explaining Israel to the uninformed and isn’t about trying to make Israel better – Alterman isn’t trying to mend or to prevent a possible rift from occurring, he is trying to widen the rift with this mix of half truths.

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