Democracy is messy

The old religious – secular bugaboo has reared its head once more and as usual harsh and unnecessary invective is being employed by all sides of this debate.<br/><br/>

Rabbi Berel Wein,

Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein
pr

Even though our wonderful little state is still facing major diplomatic and terrorist persecution and problems, the Israeli public has become so accustomed to them that we hardly take real notice or have undue concern. Currently there really are few major issues that are presented to the public as being overly threatening or very serious.

Because of this we here in Israel have reverted to our favorite sport, which is political infighting. The government coalition is alternately viewed as being solid or fragile depending on which point of view you wish to adopt. The old religious – secular bugaboo has reared its head once more and as usual harsh and unnecessary invective is being employed by all sides of this debate.

Democracy here in Israel is very noisy, quite messy and often borders on the vicious and personal. Winston Churchill reportedly was the author of the phrase that democracy is a terrible system of government but is the best one that mankind has been able to create until now. So there certainly is something to be said for all of the noise and heat that Democratic debate and different ideas and ideals always generate.

Israel is in a constant state of electioneering and no government in our seventy-ear history has ever completed its full term in office. There is just too much joy in running for office while there is little happiness actually being in office. So in spite of the stability and relative quiet and security that we are currently enjoying, the political parties in Israel here in Israel are chomping at the bit to have elections. These elections are expensive, abrasive and usually inconclusive because coalition governments ultimately have to be formed and no party ever achieves a sufficient plurality, let alone the majority to rule.

There are benefits I feel to the way the country is governed, through coalition governments. Many points of view are forced to be heard and compromise is the ruler of the political landscape here. The country on one hand cannot be simply religiously observant and force its way of life on the private individual. On the other hand the country can never be completely secular out of deference to its religious heritage and traditions and in respect to a very large section of its population.

This makes for an uneasy balance. On the fringes of both groups there is constant bickering. It becomes a pawn in the larger chess game of Israeli politics. I feel that it is truly a shame that religious observance and a  Torah way of life should be treated as a subject for political sloganeering and posturing. But I imagine that this also is part of the price that we pay for democracy…. and probably no one would want to have it any other way.

We not only agree to disagree but we revel in disagreeing. Yet on the whole, ours is a very peaceful society, full of great and good people and acts of kindness and generosity abounds. And this is true in all sectors of society and crosses over all social boundaries and political differences.


There is nothing as enticing as the smell of government money because people foolishly believe that that money is free. But as every citizen of Israel is aware or should be aware, none of it is actually free.
Political horse-trading is inevitable in any democratic society. It is part of human nature and will always be with us no matter who rules or which party is strongest. The greatest controversies, greater even than religious and secular, left or right, occur with the distribution of funds as outlined in the budget of the government and as approved by the Israeli parliament. There never is enough money to meet all the demands from all of the groups that make up our society.

So how the pie is sliced always becomes a matter of great controversy. And since there are pet projects that competing parties and legislators demand to be financed, the process of setting the budget is a laborious and complicated one. Nevertheless, it is probably the best example of democracy at work, for good or for better. There is nothing as enticing as the smell of government money because people foolishly believe that that money is free. But as every citizen of Israel is aware or should be aware, none of it is actually free.

The basic rule of all governmental economics is that there is no free lunch. Our economic system and governmental policy allows us to make this unpleasant truth palatable and it becomes part of the landscape of living in a democratic society. It is messy, expensive but really we would not have any other way.



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