Lately, liberals have mourned that “Bibi Netanyahu’s Israel” is no longer their “grandfather’s Israel.” Overlooking such ridiculous reductionism defining 8.35 million free Jewish and Arab citizens by one leader who only earned 1 in 4 votes, let’s admit: nostalgia is a mind-numbing drug. Israel of the 1950s was a tougher, unhappier place, filled with refugees traumatized by the European Holocaust and the Arab expulsion of 800,000 Jews. Until 1966, Israelis Arabs lived under military rule without the democratic rights they exercise today; demonstrated in March when 63.5 percent of eligible Israeli Arabs voted. Unlike today, there was no Palestinian Authority, and, Israel’s consensus did not acknowledge the Palestinians as a people with legitimate rights.
Nevertheless, Israel then was the model developing democracy, epitomizing the best of the post-World War II Asian and African nations. In an age of national liberation, with each new country on its own peculiar nation-building path, the Jewish people’s resurgence through the State of Israel stood out. The story predated the Holocaust, reaching back millennia to the Bible, then jumpstarted in the 1800s when Zionism, meaning Jewish nationalism, was one of many national movements forming, churning, yearning for statehood.
Israel’s Proclamation of Independence rooted this old-new democracy in the Bible. Fusing European- and Muslim-style “ethnic nationalism” with American-style “civic nationalism,” the document affirmed “the self-evident right of the Jewish people to be a nation, as all other nations, in its own sovereign State.” Perhaps Israel’s model could show post-Arab Spring Arab countries how to preserve tradition while nurturing democracy.