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Israel’s Embattled Democracy (NY) TIMES EDITORIAL) 07/22/12) Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/22/opinion/sunday/israels-embattled-democracy.html?gwh=6A66B612B92FD85E0579D663C4318C78
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Six decades after Israel’s founding, its citizens remain deeply at odds over the future of their democracy. The latest illustration is the disintegration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new governing coalition after only 10 weeks.
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Mr. Netanyahu and his hard-line Likud Party, supported by smaller right-wing parties, has had a majority in Parliament since 2009. But when Shaul Mofaz and his centrist Kadima Party joined the government in May, the merger created a much broader coalition. It seemed to give Mr. Netanyahu — a disappointing, risk-averse leader — unprecedented authority to get things done.
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Mr. Mofaz became deputy prime minister and outlined an encouraging agenda. The first priority would be integrating minority populations of ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs into the military and civilian service. The coalition would also revive peace negotiations with the Palestinians, pass a national budget and enact electoral reforms. But the coalition quickly collapsed over the issue of military service, which has exacerbated tensions between secular and religious Jews and with Arabs. Secular Israelis are increasingly resentful of the tendency of the ultra-Orthodox to refuse to serve and to separate themselves from the country’s mainstream.
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The issue came to a head after the Supreme Court invalidated a law that granted draft exemptions to thousands of religious students and mandated that it be rewritten by Aug. 1. To share the burden more equitably, Mr. Mofaz proposed enlisting 80 percent of the ultra- Orthodox within four years, with stiff penalties for draft dodgers. Mr. Netanyahu sided with his right-wing allies and insisted on something more incremental. There was also talk of doubling army enlistment for Arabs. Israeli Palestinians are not required to join the army, and most do not. Many feel like second-class citizens and are deeply conflicted about their place in Israeli society.
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Demographic changes are making political compromise harder. Experts say an influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union and a high birthrate in the ultra-Orthodox community mean that many Israelis have a cultural mistrust of the democratic values on which the state was founded. The Palestinian population is also expanding, hastening a day when Jews could be a minority.
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Mr. Netanyahu’s past dependence on hard-line parties has manifested itself in aggressive settlement building and resistance to serious peace talks with the Palestinians — who themselves have not shown enough commitment to a solution. Without Kadima’s moderating force, these trends will continue.
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There are other worrisome developments. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has expressed concern over “intensifying infringements on democratic freedoms.” In the past two years, activists say, more than 25 bills have been proposed or passed by the Parliament to limit freedom of speech and of the press; penalize, defund or investigate nongovernmental groups; restrict judicial independence; and trample minority rights.
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One of Israel’s greatest strengths is its origins as a democratic state committed to liberal values and human rights. Those basic truths are in danger of being lost. (Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company 07/22/12)
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