Webinar Transcript- Crooked Timber: Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin’s New Book on Israeli Democracy

Ori Nir  00:12

Hello everyone welcome to this Americans for Peace Now webinar. I'm Ori Nir, and with me is Hadar. Susskind APN'S President and CEO, and our guest today is our friend Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin. Before we say hello to Dahlia and introduce her and start a conversation with her, I'd like to make three today comments-- The first, most of you are pretty familiar with a this webinar is recorded. The video will be on our YouTube channel sometime tomorrow, probably, and the audio on our podcast PeaceCast sometime later today. The second one is that you are welcome to ask questions, you can start doing that. As of now, please use the q&a button that's on the bottom of your screen. And please keep your questions short because we read them as we go along. The third comment is that we will have a discount code for you if you would like to purchase Dahlia's book, which we will discuss in today's webinar. And what we'll do is we will post the code in the post webinar post on our website.  And so it'll appear there after the webinar and you can go there and get the the discount code which will give you a 30% discount on the book.  So Dr. Scheindlin is a, friend, a scholar and writer. She's an international political strategist and a consultant. She's advised and conducted research on nine national campaigns in Israel over the past 20 years. And she's also provided research and advising for elections, referendums, and civil society campaigns around the world, in different than in many different countries. In her her work, Dahlia takes the democracy pulse of various countries. And in this new book, she examines Israel's democracy. It's a complex analysis and we invited Dahlia to discuss these complexities on our webinar today. That is book is titled crooked timber of democracy in Israel promise unfulfilled, you can already learn quite a lot from the title. It alludes to a famous Immanuel Kant, quote, out of a crooked timber of humanity, no straight things no straight thing was ever made. And Kant's theory is that humans are fundamentally broken. But that our life's purpose is to confront the brokenness and build a better, stronger character, which is a hopeful attitude. It implies that repair is possible. And indeed, in the book, Dahlia proposes principles for repairing the repairing the broken timber. That is where the democracy is. We will discuss the ailments and the remedies that Dahlia proposes for Israeli democracy, and talk about what is unique about this was democracy and what is not so unique. So with that, hi, Dahlia. Thanks for joining us, and I'm going to hand it to her dar to continue the conversation.

Hadar Susskind  03:33

Excellent. Thank you very much, Ori. And again, hello, Dahlia. Nice to see you. You know, as orders reading through your impressive list of credentials, all I could think about is that I hope you are advising on another Israeli political campaign in the very near future.

Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin  03:49

Why would you wish that upon someone you love?

Hadar Susskind  03:52

Well, because you know, we need to campaign soon. And obviously, people are going to need your advice. But with that, I am really excited to have you with us today. And to talk about this, this piece of work that I know just encapsulates so much of what you have done for years now and your your deep expertise on Israeli democracy in particular. But really drawing from your broader expertise engaging in this work in so many different countries and people did not come here today to hear me talk about your work, they came to hear you talk about your work. So I'm gonna stop and hand it to you and say thank you. Welcome. Take it away.

Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin  04:36

Thank you. Well, first of all, thank you for inviting me. Thank you to everybody who's attending, it's always nice to be in conversation with old friends. In terms of what to talk about, just to present the book a little bit. I think that there are, you know, I don't want to I don't want to give a whole summary of the book because that would be boring, but I do want to talk about one of the main questions that I get, which is how did you know to write this book, you know how to Do you have such foresight to write a book that would come out now when Israel is in such a devastating crisis over its democracy? And the answer is that I had no foresight, I am not a patient person. I'm not a fortune teller. I was reporting. I mean, I was trying to put together lots of analysis that had been gathering in my mind, and in my research, and in my writing for about a decade, I would say, and that's because I have been concerned about the fate of Israeli democracy or democracy and Israel, as I came to call the book for a number of years. And, you know, I would say there was there were always concerns for me about Israeli about, you know, about democracy, about the fate of democracy in Israel, in general, I had been working on you know, issues of peace and conflict in the occupation. Really, since I moved to Israel, I might as well mentioned that I moved here, where I am now in Tel Aviv-- I moved here in 1997. So it's been 26 years now, I would say there was never a time when the issue of democracy wasn't of concern to me, but it was particularly in the late 2000s. And even more so in the early 2010s, that I began becoming very disturbed by what I saw as a trend of attacks on Israeli institutions, and specifically attacks on the judiciary, or judicial figures or the Supreme Court. Now, I began following those with increasing alarm over the course of the decade, and it took various forms. And I was writing about it. And finally, I thought, I've got to put all of the pieces together and write a report. And I did, I wrote a long report, specifically on the attacks of the judiciary, in 2021, building on ideas and observations and other, you know, smaller articles that I had written for the, let's say, the last couple of years before that. And the reason why this is important is because I published that article about it seems to me just a week, a few weeks, or maybe a month or two, after a new government was established, we called it the change government. It was the first time that then Yahoo had not been in power in since 2009. And the big question on my mind, which wasn't a major feature in the political campaigns, but a lot of people were talking about it was the attack on the Judiciary. And I thought, what is this going to? Is this government going to do something different? Is this government going to move away from that, you know, it did contain parties, that were breakaway parties from Likud, from Netanyahu, who's Likud. And in fact, the leader of that party at the time, Gideon Saar, became justice minister. And I thought, well, I'm writing this big report on the attacks on the Judiciary. But maybe this is all kind of a historic record, maybe the issue isn't going to be that relevant anymore, because this attack on the Judiciary will now stop, but I wasn't sure because who knew what the change government would do? It was an amazing year of the change government in which they were simply for a long time, not the whole year. But for a long time, there just weren't big headlines in general, about political scandals about corruption, and the what sounded like a cacophony of attacks on the Israeli judiciary, these themes that we've been hearing for years about how the judiciary is to sum it up an enemy of the people, that the justices are against the people against Judaism, trampling the will of the people, an unelected elite who can't win at the ballot box, all of that suddenly went quiet. I mean, we didn't see raging op eds in Israeli right wing papers, or Israel, how young, the free daily paper originally found, founded and funded by Sheldon Adelson, which is essentially considered a prototype on Yahoo paper, all, you know, there were op eds, there were political commentators and political leaders who were making these kinds of statements all the time. And suddenly, it just seemed like it went quiet. And I thought, well, good. I got the report out, I summarized the last, you know, decade or so of what I saw as a dangerous attack. But maybe now it's over. Well, of course, it wasn't over, it came roaring back with the new government. But I had already gotten the idea to write a book putting all of this together. And the reason for that, the reason why I decided to go beyond a single, you know, research policy report was because when I was doing that research, trying to go deeper into the sources of these attacks, and what I saw as vulnerabilities of Israel's democratic institutions, and it does have democratic institutions, I kept having to go further back in time. You know, at first I thought it started with Netanyahu coming back to power in 2009, and a kind of populist wave and illiberal populist wave that began, we began seeing in other countries, which is something that you mentioned already that there are some things that are not unique about this. But then I realized that the reason why there was such receptiveness to these messages was because of the deep uncertainty around a change that had taken place in Israel's constitutional order, in a way in the 1990s, in which Israel took a more liberal turn in certain ways, and partly because the Supreme Court became more activist in ruling on the basis of human rights and democratic principles and equality, and it did so based on Israel's basic laws that were passed in 1992 and amended again in 1994. And that became a bit of a sea change and I thought, well, there's a big art given about that, and I have to write about that to explain why we are here now, but then I realized the sources of that go back to the fact that Israel didn't have any constitutional level law or any laws grounding, what we consider to be basic, a basic Bill of Rights. Why don't we well, not for lack of trying, but I had to go back to the fact that there's no constitution, I had to go back to efforts to write a bill of rights over the years and pass one which always failed. I had to go back to the interest groups that either torpedoed these attempts or sir other interest groups who were pushing for such things. And you know, these took me back not only to ultimately when I got the idea to write the book, I thought, okay, there is a story here of such complexity that it's frankly, a good story. There have been ups, there's been downs, there's been struggles, there have been political dramas, all kind of characterizing how we got to where we are with Israeli democracy, it goes back to the start of statehood. So I got the idea to write a whole book about it. But then I thought, you can't really write a whole book about this without going back to the pre statehood years. And so I had to go even further back, and I decided to go all the way back to early Zionism and the ideologies that led to the establishment of the state and how they thought about democracy. I guess the final word I'll say about the book is that, in some ways, it is a history, right? It's a history of Israel through the lens of democracy. But I've tried to write it in a way that I'm telling, you know, every every history is a selection, you know, we can't tell every historical detail about the world. I've tried to shape and select and present the historical development. Some of them are well known, some of them are a little less known. Some of them I didn't know until I was working on this in ways that I think make the case about where democracy in Israel was at that time. And I tried to explain along the way in the different sections and the different chapters, what we should understand from these historical events, in terms of what they mean for democratic the trajectory of democracy, which aspects were getting better, which aspects were getting worse, which aspects remained unresolved. And these are, you know, all these different threads. And of course, democracy has many indicators. What do we mean, when we talk about democracy? So I had to look at all of those as best I could, although it's not a democracy index. I'm not quantifying this, you know, I refer to democracy indices, I thought I could try to bring this all together as a story. I, you know, it's a complicated story. And I know sometimes people prefer simple stories, to quote, a famous Israeli author, but I don't think it can be a simple story. And that's why I thought it was interesting. But then, but then, you know, as I was finishing the book, this new government was established. And all of the processes I had in mind, well, let me just put it this way. I thought, well, maybe I really will need to revise, you know, themes of the book. But the more I saw what was going on, I could only see them as a coming to fruition as a natural extension, and a very extreme extension of the things that I had been, you know, observing over the last decade. And so I had to frantically try to keep updated with events without getting stuck in the trap. of fixating on things that look big today, but aren't big tomorrow. Of course, that's always a dilemma. But I actually and I hope this is not me just being you know, self congratulatory, I did not think I needed to revise the analysis of the book, because the history didn't change. And I think that the perspective that I took away, at least helped me for understanding where we are now. And so I certainly hope it helps readers who I hope will read it.

Hadar Susskind  13:32

Thank you. You know, I just was sort of smiling when you were talking about going back a little further and then feeling the need to go back a little further and to the establishment of the state and to pre state. I mean, obviously, anyone who engages in the sort of ongoing discourse around Israel and Palestine, I think, find--

Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin  13:52

Sorry, I lost sound. Oh,

Hadar Susskind  13:56

it's not me. Is it? Alright.

Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin  13:57

Give me one second.

Hadar Susskind  13:59

Okay. Small technical issue. No problem. Just saying, you know, it's fascinating to to hear you talk about going back and going back is anyone who engages in the ongoing discourse around Israel, Israeli Palestinian conflict, Israeli Arab knows that, you know, on any topic in any conversation, you can say, well, this thing and then somebody else is gonna say, Ah, but if you go back to' 73, you have that, yes. But in '48, there was this, but in 222 BC, you know, so I felt you could take this back to the beginning of time, frankly, but, you know, to catch us up to to from 222 BC to today. I think it is, it must have been fascinating for you to watch this year happen as you were trying to finish this book, and like you were saying it's the coming to fruition of many of these events, but this year has been different in some ways. And, and you know, we've seen hundreds of thousands of Israelis coming out in the street fighting against the judicial coup. And for many of them, it seems like the messaging is like, Okay, if we can just stop this thing, then we can go back to what was our wonderful democracy. And everything was everything was great in that. I think the question I have there is, you know, how, without being an index without rating, I mean, how much do you feel like Israel really was a democracy before January 4, before the beginning of the judicial coup?

Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin  15:35

Yeah. Well, this is the, you know, the sort of $64 million question I think after... even after writing a whole book, and thinking very, very deeply about it, I haven't come up with one good adjective to modify the word democracy in terms of you know, whether it's a healthy democracy, a flawed democracy, or this kind or that kind, but I did collect a lot of other people's adjectives. And there's an interesting list to be had. I don't think that's the way to put it. Because all of those concepts convey that Israel essentially is a democracy with an adjective, and I don't really see it that way. Let me try to explain how I came to see it, I came to see it as a country that has or at least had, but still has, for the most part, robust, democratic institutions. I think that's an empirical reality. And no Israeli or even Palestinian would dispute that it has robust democratic institutions, it has particularly a thriving electoral tradition, often on overdrive, it has fairly representative governance of those who vote. And we, you know, those who were able to vote, it has, you know, mostly with some limitations, free press, and free speech and civil society. The thing is that those aspects apply to only some of the people that Israel controls. And we have to admit, at this point that Israel controls them permanently. If anybody can foresee a situation in which Israel doesn't effectively control Palestinians, I'd be, you know, open to hearing it, but I don't see it. And it has been 56 years. And so, you know, the question of when we describe Israel as a democracy are not always, you know, kind of founders on the issue of borders and citizens and non citizens. And that is certainly an underlying theme and quite explicit theme of the book that we have to include everybody, even though I don't think that was necessarily the case in 1967. But we have to include everybody at this point. So, you know, as really as, as Israeli citizens, no, I think the or not well, Israeli citizens are now learning that even if you could certainly argue that there are robust, liberal democratic institutions for the citizens of Israel. One thing Israeli citizens are now realizing is that the foundation of those institutions and those protections and those rights that citizens enjoy to have representative government and you know, civil rights and freedoms, was very flimsy, okay. And that even the rights of citizens in this some kind of democracy or again, I'd rather not use the term adjective plus democracy, that even the rights of citizens are not so well protected. And that's, I think that a lot of people are expressing shock, that they're what they consider to be the Democratic fabric of Israel could be undermined in their impression overnight, because Israel has normalized situations that are not democratic practices that are not Democratic, over the course of its entire history, and it did not start in 1967. That's another thing I think that is really needs to be said. And I do make this case in the book, that, you know, even before the occupation, for the first 20 years, roughly, of Israeli independence, Israel was committing even more on democratic practice, because of the fact it enacted a military regime, military, government, holding civilians under colonial laws that were simply carried over from the colonial era of its own citizens. And so, you know, the evolution of the military government took different forms as well. But the fact is, those citizens had nothing like democracy, except for the nominal aspect, that they were given universal suffrage, everybody was allowed to vote. But again, when you're voting in a situation where you don't have the kinds of civil rights needed to make your person your free choice meaningful, then I would say, you know, this concept of electoral democracy to me is unfair to the word democracy. And I don't think it counts. It's not that I would say it doesn't matter at all, because there were Arab political parties, and Palestinian citizens were able to vote, which is something, but it's not the same as saying they lived in a democratic society and no, and no, in no other way. Did they have the kinds of democratic you know, again, rights and protections and representation. So what I'm saying is not just, you know, say that's bad, it is bad, but that's not my point. My point is that Israelis came to understand our society is democratic is really see their own society is democratic, in a way that incorporates this very undemocratic practice and institutions. And of course, that continued after 67 It never really stopped because the military government formally ended in December 1966. But the colonial emergency laws were still applied to those citizens phasing out only through 1968, by which time Israel Corps had already begun another martial law military administration, which is actually a hodgepodge of layers of law. Many of them carried over again, from Colonial Era on the Palestinians. And so Israelis have normalized that as well. citizens participate in the army, as is the people's army. And all of that is considered part of what it means for Israelis, to say we are a democratic country, which is why in my opinion, they haven't really understood what democracy is, and why there were the threats were ongoing for so long, leading us to this point. And that's why Israelis are shocked by what's happening. I think

Hadar Susskind  20:45

it is, it's one of the most interesting pieces I think we've seen this year is Jewish Israeli citizens sort of this eye opening to first of all paying attention to the occupation. But even as you're saying, beyond the occupation, looking at the, the thin nature of their democracy, and you're right, people fall back on Oh, look, you know, we just had four elections, of course, we're a democracy, and the electoral piece is essential, but it's not sufficient.

Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin  21:10

I would say it's not nearly as meaningful when you don't have full and equal, you know, rights, civil rights, human rights, individual rights, and the institutions that protect them. Declaring rights is one thing, you have to be able to implement them in society, protect them through the institutions where people can argue their conflicts and then demand their rights. So yeah, I mean, I know that this is, you know, a very complicated issue. And one thing I do try to do in the book, we'll see how successfully is I try my best to situate Israel's history in the understandings of democracy at the time. In other words, I am fully aware that in the early 20th century, when policymakers and statesmen talked about democracy, and I can say, statesman men at that time, they were talking about majority rule, or they were talking about elections. And that's it. But though, but those concepts changed over time. And they change, you know, early enough for Israel, to know what liberal democracy was even without using the term. How do we know that because it's written right there in UN resolution 181. UN resolution 181 isn't only the Partition Plan, it also calls for the two states to be established, according to an elected elected authorities to establish constitutions and the Constitution and they spell out the kinds of rights that were supposed to be in those constitutions. And it is nothing other than what we would call today liberal democracy. So you know, from that time on, even as I wouldn't, you know, I wouldn't go so far as to say every other democracy was a perfect liberal democracy, not at all Switzerland didn't even have full suffrage until 1971. But for for anyway, so I think that we have to understand, of course, not to not even speak of America. You know, people often say to me, but if you're so critical of the Israeli, you know, democratic history, what about other countries? Absolutely, I would be equally critical of other countries, I try to, you know, I do, again, try to situate this in the global context. But it's not a straightforward comparison of Israel to the US or Israel to any other country. But I think these critiques absolutely can be applied elsewhere.

Ori Nir  23:03

In the in the books conclusion, you write that you'd been thinking of appropriate metaphors for democracy. I liked that passage, because it's a little more playful than the overall academic tone of the of the book. One of those metaphors is that democracy is like a pet that the children love in the household. But the adults keep on a leash to prevent it from entering important rooms in the house that they don't want the pet to go into. So in the case of Israeli democracy, which rooms except the occupation, which you've already mentioned, are no go areas for democracy. In other words, which, what are the elements that hinder Israeli democracy?

Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin  23:48

Yeah, yeah. First of all, I really appreciate that you picked up on that. And I take umbrage at the fact that you said it's an academic tone, even though I'm just kidding. It is very, there's lots of footnotes. And, you know, in any case, but I do, I did use the conclusion to try to be a little more conversational. And you know, it's tricky, because, you know, for the entire time of working on this, I thought, how to convey, you know, the image of democracy. And yes, the idea of that it's a pet that people love and cherish. I will talk about that afterwards. But yes, I had this image of, you know, the children love this pet, and they nurture and the whole family kind of loves the pet. And they, they, you know, feed it and nurture it and let it wander all over the house, and they're very friendly to it. But there, there are certain moments when the pet comes up to a room and the door is just slammed shut in their face. So for example, in the early years, of course, Democracy had nothing to do with the Arab community, the Arab, you know, you couldn't talk about the idea other than elections. The Arabs had, you know, the right to equality, even as citizens was just irrelevant, almost. The kinds of let me be clear about what I mean by this living under, you know, military regime under colonial legislation means they had no civil rights or protections. They had courts, but they were military. records, there was no appeal in the military courts. They this was all justified by security, right? Because they were, you know, we can all understand that this was immediately after the War of Independence. But even political leaders at the time had long since thought that it was not really for security purposes at the same kind of security could be had through civilian authority. Most of them thought the most many political leaders. Certainly opposition to my pie began to see it as a sort of political machinery for keeping control. It was largely about ensuring that the Jewish population established its dominance. It was largely about effecting land and property appropriation, which was also done through regular legislation, okay, in ways that allowed the government to simply take their land and property and of course, they had no civil rights by which to to challenge these things. And so it's like the grownups say, it's our responsibility to make sure this is a Jewish and Jewish dominated state and the sentimentalist can worry about democracy. But again, there's there's one party that was not sentimentalist about it at all. And that was a route who was against the military government. Okay. Jabotinsky is the, you know, the party that expressed the revisionist movement established by Jabotinsky that we can afford runner of Likud. They were absolutely opposed to the military government at a certain point within a few years, because they saw it as a matter of political machinery established by the government in order to be, you know, keep funneling people into government support and establish satellite parties that would help keep a pie elected. So there was that, but that's not the Democratic position either wasn't exactly for supportive, democratic principles. So for our Palestinian citizens in the early part of the state, democracy was not allowed in security issues almost always trumped democracy or democratic values or human rights or transparent things like transparency. And I'm thinking about the fact that in the early years, you know, one example I given the book is that the internal security agency was not even its existence was not admitted or known until until after the Kassner affair in 1956. So in the earliest years, they denied its existence, there was no law governing the Internal Security Agency until 2002. And therefore, all sorts of abuses were made, including political use of the internal security agencies to do surveillance on political opponents, of course, on the entire Arab community, which, you know, controlling them through the military regime largely relied on surveillance, you know, through through the internal security agencies. And so and then I give the example, again, I go through one very well known episode of the bus number 300 affair, when, you know, some of the stuff really came to light and the Shabaab practices were exposed. And this led to a whole reckoning. But these are the kinds of things that make us realize just how lawless and unruly is governed. The practices of the security establishment was, you know, the security apparatus is was in Israel. And I think that even to this day, we are mostly willing to sacrifice democratic principles for things like security. And of course, democracy is not allowed to touch the issues, democracy and the set again, in the sense of protections for individuals equality, gender equality, etc. It was not allowed anywhere near the topic of religion and state. Okay, the relations with the religious parties are one of the reasons Israel doesn't have a constitution, not the only reason I should say, but certainly part of it. And you know, things like this, the fact that the state obliges certain citizens and not others to, you know, perform military service give the state its do give years of their lives, and sometimes their lives is an unequal, you know, a completely unequal practice, because of people's personal beliefs, religion are not religious or religious or not religious, that's a violation of equality. You know, we've seen it many times over, the Supreme Court has ruled on that. But we didn't have a constitution to guarantee that we don't have any laws guaranteeing the equality of all citizens. And the reason why we don't have equality in our basic laws today, is largely because the religious parties have not have opposed it at every step. So democracy, as I understand it, in the richer sense was not allowed into the room of religion and state, of course, we talked about occupation. And again, I think that the metaphor came to me or the image came to me because the country sees itself as cherishing this idea that we are democratic, and really, quite genuinely wants to nurture that. But if you get too supportive of democratic values, if you take them with democracy into those rooms where it doesn't belong, in the past, we got called sentimentalist bleeding hearts, the offend nephesh. Nowadays, people like that are considered hypocritical anti Israel traitors. Or if you listen to the Prime Minister this week, they are considered PLO and Iran collaborators.

Hadar Susskind  29:41

Which was a very, very strange set of things to accuse Israeli protesters of but you know, it's not the last time I'm sure. Thank you for that. I just want to note or you just put in the chat, but for those of you who perhaps aren't following that, I remind you that you can use the q&a function at the bottom to ask questions, and I am in fact going to build off of one of those questions that's been submitted to you to ask you that. The next thing that is, I think, for, you know, for many people, certainly in the American Jewish and American political conversation, when we talk about Israel, the the phrase that is used constantly is Jewish and democratic. That is a framework of, you know, from what you hear people chatting about in synagogues, or wherever else up to the President of the United States. And it's also, you know, been a litmus test for sort of legitimacy in Israel for political parties. You were getting to this, you were talking about those rooms, and you were talking about issues of religion. You know, there are now I think, more and more people who are saying that that very framework that for so long has been embraced by many people saying, yes, Israel is going to be Jewish and democratic, in and of itself is not democratic. Because it is it is favoring, it is favoring the Jewish. Tell me, you know, how do you feel about that? What do you think? Do you see that tent? How do you see that tension playing out? And what's happening now?

Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin  31:12

Yeah, well, one thing for one thing, it's, you know, we should clarify, it's not a litmus test. It's actually written into Israel's basic laws. It was written into Israel's basic laws in 1985, and the famous clause seven A of the basic law of the Knesset, which is part of our electoral law, in order to be able to, you know, that said that says that a party cannot stand for elections, if it undermines or violates the Jewish and democratic nature of Israel that's been amended slightly over time, in a certain way. But that's a little bit too detailed for now. But the point is that was passed in order to be able to ban essentially, the cop party, America has Jewish supremacist cop party. And, you know, so there is, it's not just an ethos or a spirit, it is actually there in our laws. In truth, I think that there's a whole wide range of policies and laws that may not explicitly say Jewish or democratic or Jewish or Arab, but that have affected, you know, again, the privileged position of Jews over the years long before 1985. Like I mentioned before, the policies and laws that were used to, you know, for the state to appropriate, for example, many, many properties of Arabs and, you know, distinctions between who can immigrate to Israel, etc. But let's just go back to this. I mean, the the electoral law basically means that a party that would, that can, that one could argue, negates or violates, or threatens to tear at the Jewish and democratic character of Israel can't stand for election. So, you know, the Central Election Committee is often often bans parties that they claim, violate them. And now, the Supreme Court usually overturns those, but there is a de facto chilling effect. Okay. So even in our most democratic institution, the electoral institution, this is a very real concept. You can't be a party that supports a bi national state, you can you know, it's even dicey. Whether you can say you're a party that supports a state for all its citizens. Something that, you know, amazingly, when you go to other countries who really aren't obsessed with Israel, they don't even understand the dispute over the question of a state of all its citizens in a democracy, it sounds it's confusing to them. But those kinds of many parties won't say that because they know they could be challenged. Okay, so that's just an example of how I think this really permeates way beyond the matter of a litmus test. By the way, this is the great thing about kind of doing historical, you know, excavations, one of an early reader who was giving me comments on the book said, you know, was reading about my treatment of this issue and said, When was the first time the Jewish and democratic phrasing was used? And I had a hard time answering it, because, of course, it's not in the Declaration of Independence, Declaration of Independence talks, a great deal about how Israel is the fulfillment of the self determination for the Jewish people. There's a lot of history of the Jewish people. In fact, I would think from one from one article that I read, I think it's about two thirds. And it seems right, if you actually read the Declaration of Independence, much more of it is about Jewish history than about the nature of the new state. And the word democracy that's not does not appear, democracy does not appear in it. And there's a reason for that. Now, you know, scholars will point out and political scientists that it contains all the features, establishing democratic institutions. You know, in Israel, it calls for elections, it calls for elections, where constituent assembly that is supposed to write a constitution, it has the famous paragraph establishing the equality of all citizens, regardless of race, creed, or sex, etc. So we have the principles of democracy. But the reason why it's important that the word democracy isn't there is because it was taken out. It was consciously taken out of the various drafts that were going around in the very hectic few weeks, in which the declaration was written during the very hectic decision made, you know, in kind of accelerated fashion, that this is the moment to declare statehood. So I think that is the important point. There was like some sort of, we want to establish that this is a democracy or maybe we want to fulfill the expectations of the international community. We want to fulfill the obligations of UN resolution 181 That It will give us our international little mission legitimacy. There were leaders who thought that Israel must have that in order to be accepted into the UN. But we won't say the word. Why, if it's if all the practice and institutions are laid out to my mind, there's no reason why except for the preference to avoid an explicit commitment to that. That's the Democratic side of it as for the Jewish side of it, and by the way, the answer to the question that the only one that I could come up with where you find Jewish, Jewish and democratic, as a formula, certainly in Israeli, you know, official documents is the 1985 Basic Law. Maybe the term was used before then, informally. But whether or not I think Israel can be Jewish and democratic, I really think that the answer is very obvious. It's only a matter of how you define Jewish what does it mean to have a Jewish state, the way it's been defined up until now is the way it is in a way that institutionally and legally privileges Jews above all others, especially if this was subject to debate before it is no longer subject to debate after the the passage passing the nation state law, which establishes that Israel is the is the place of the exclusive right of self determination for the Jewish people, which means that 25% of the population who is not Jewish does not have the right to self determination, and so and lowering the status of the Arabic language, etc. But, again, I think that we can at least I think that it's empirically, you know, indisputable that there were plenty of practices and laws that effectively did already privileged Jews above all else, before the nation state law. So if it's going to be defined in that way, and not not even mentioned, the imposition of Jewish religious, you know, dictates in some ways, certain practices and religious restrictions on public life and private life. Because, of course, religious authorities are, have the authority over family law in Israel. In that sense, no, it really can't be Jewish and fully democratic, democratic. But I also don't think it necessarily that that's the only interpretation of what it means to be Jewish in a political context, you can have a much more minimalist and symbolic definition of Jewish you could have Jewish in ways that reflect the culture but also are not exclusive of other cultures. And you would eventually have to rethink legislate all legislation that in practice discriminates against non Jews, and that's where it gets very thorny, because the main legislation, I think, the most important and, you know, long standing, one is the Law of Return, you know, should Jews who have never had any, you know, connection by birth to this region have, you know, advantages and preference for immigration over people who can claim, you know, direct family lineage to this region, that is a significant aspect of the kinds of Jewish state contradicting certain elements of democracy, it's a little bit, you know, probably opens up big legal issues and policies of states, but these are the kinds of things you really have to rethink. But I, you know, ultimately, in the end, I make what even I consider to be a controversial analysis for myself, I'm still conflicted about it, which is that I think that, you know, the right the argument of the right wing when Israel was passing the nation state law is, why are we being held to a different standard? You know, Germany's constitution says that it's the country of the German people in many constitutions say that, you know, Spain is the country of the Spanish people, etc. Well, the fact is that in some countries, citizenship completely overlaps with nations. So if you become a German citizen, you are included, as an equal in the family of citizens. And in Spain there, you know, there are elements of their constitution that significantly recognize their national minorities, give them you know, lots of national recognition and talk about affirmative policies to try to make ensure the equality of these national groups. Of course, it didn't necessarily help, they have a separate problem. But there are ways to do this that convey, we acknowledge, you know, the Jewish national identity, but we are committed to the equality of all citizens, including recognizing that there are national minorities here, who are nations and have equal rights, you know, in the body politic. And in that sense, I don't think it's impossible. And I think it's even legitimate because the Jewish people are a nation, I don't expect them to give up on their national identity. Just the way I don't expect any other people to give up on their national identity.

Hadar Susskind  39:14

Yeah, I think what you said about it being a question, you being able to be Jewish and democratic being a question about how you define Jewish I feel like in so many ways, up until now in Israeli history, people have looked at and said as well, depends how you define democratic, right, that they they lead.

Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin  39:32

I don't have any problem with how to define democratic.

Hadar Susskind  39:34

 Yeah, well, I know, but I'm not talking about you. Lead with the Jewish and they said, Well, as you were saying, you know, Israel, Israeli citizens believe deeply in their heart of hearts that Israel is a democracy and yet, and it is in certain senses, and yet that's been narrowed by definition and many different examples in many different places.

Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin  39:57

I was just gonna clarify that democracy is you know, trickle system. It's a system of organizing modern states in the postwar world, a religion or even nation is not a political organizational system. And so by definition, it has a lot more flexibility. There's no rules for how to do it. There's no agreement for how to implement your national identity. So that has to be subordinate to the political system governing the state. And if you want that system to be a democracy, you have to subordinate the national and certainly the religious identity to democracy doesn't mean you have to erase it altogether.

Ori Nir  40:28

Yeah, there's a great line by Knesset member Rama Devi, who's known for his Sharpton, who says, Yes, Israel is Jewish and democratic. It's democratic toward the Jews and Jewish toward the Arabs, which I think is a kind of smarter way of putting it. I wanted to go back to the Occupy economy respond to that. respond to it. Sure. Go ahead. Yeah, it was

Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin  40:52

not sufficiently democratic for Jews. And it was particularly not sufficiently democratic for Jews in its least democratic era, which was between 1948 and, you know, let's say, sometime in the 1960s, and 70s. But we can, you know, give that marker as, for example, the change of transition power 1977. But without a constitution. And, you know, without a commitment to democratic values, it's never going to be sufficiently democratic for Jews either. So I love that meant to these line, I use it, we all use it for a long time. But I think now we're, we should probably amend it.

Ori Nir  41:26

Okay, going back to the occupation, and the reason is that we've got quite a few questions that relate to in several ways. And you point out in the book, that the occupation is a major hindrance, if not the major hindrance to democracy in Israel. But I'm going to ask you this question in a kind of a challenging way. Look, the territories under occupation are not Israel. And people could say, the nature of military occupation is that it's not democratic. That's what it is. Israel holds the occupied territories pending a political settlement with the Palestinians. Why can't there be a democracy in Israel? And why can't there be a debate on the nature of democracy in Israel, inside the green line, regardless of what's happening across the green line?

Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin  42:16

Okay, so I think the first part of this answer is that there Israel doesn't stop at the green line. In other words, the green line is completely irrelevant. It has become irrelevant. There are half a million Israelis living in the West Bank alone, not to mention, we're talking about the green line, we have to include 250,000 Israelis living in East Jerusalem. So we're talking, you know, over probably 650 to 680,000 Israelis living across the green line. But as much as the green line has been raised, and there is it is impossible to draw geographic border around what counts as Israel. Now, I would argue, I try to argue in the book, and I do hope this comes through, that there is no institutional border between the State of Israel, the civilian state of Israel and the occupation, which is supposed to be a military regime. And there has been a kind of ongoing fiction that we're talking about two separate regimes, the occupation is an institutional appendage of some sort, that if we need to one day, we can amputate because it's not healthy for Israeli democracy, and the body would be basically healthy as a democracy if it weren't for this bad appendage. I think that the you know, the close look at the occupation from the beginning, exposes that as completely wrong. And the reason why I say that is from the earliest years of the occupation, actually, within months of the occupation, beginning, you had the Israeli Knesset, the legislature, civilian legislature, passing legislation to place Israelis who were in the West Bank under an occupied territory in Gaza as well. And the other parts that were occupied at the time under Israeli criminal law, Israeli criminal law, not military law, even though everybody under occupied territory is supposed to be subject to military rule. So already from the very beginning, the Israeli legislature is involved. Very quickly, the Supreme Court begins hearing cases involving residents of the West Bank, Palestinians, sometimes Palestinians charging, you know, in disputes with the army. And those cases are immediately heard in the Israeli judiciary and the Supreme Court. And then, as we know, the Supreme Court has a long history of involvement. Not Not to mention, of course, the involvement of ministries. Now, of course, the Defense Ministry is involved because the army is doing this but every other ministry was quickly involved right away, in when when Israel conquered those territories. It established inter ministerial committees, and the inter ministerial committees were responsible for developing all aspects of civilian life which Israel did control all aspects of Palestinian civilian life, we have to remember up until the Oslo Accords, basically it established various bodies for doing that, of course, much of it was managed through the army, but it was the ministries that made the decisions about them mostly governed from the very top of course, but other ministries had to be involved. How do you build roads without the transportation minutes Three, etc. How do you manage the economy without Israel's economic, you know, finance ministry being involved? How do you finance the whole project without Israel's finance ministry being involved. And of course, the obvious that again, as I said before, Israel is a People's Army. So every person could theoretically be involved. Not everybody serves me occupied territories. But every civilian part of the executive branch, the Israeli governing ministries have been involved since the beginning. And the Israeli judiciary, that's and the legislature that's every branch of government. Now, nevermind that the laws that govern parts of the West, but the government Palestinians and Israeli Jews are complex and layer, but for the most part, everybody under occupied territory should be under military law. But Israel has in practice developed a completely separate system of laws for Israeli Jews, that goes through either the legislature or military orders that essentially copy Israeli civilian law to make sure there's two different kinds of law. So there's this kind of meshing of Israeli civilian authorities with the Army authorities. And I kept talking about it like lace, like you couldn't pull apart the strands of the civilian military interaction. But when I sent it to readers, they said, What do you mean, I understand it's very, it's so complicated that I think that this was the hardest chapter to write. It's so complicated to explain, because you really can't pick apart Israel and the occupation institutionally, it's not only a geographic border that has been erased. And so I think that we also have to keep the other side of this in mind, the other side of this is that the people, the actual personnel, Israel's public service, of course, the army, the people enacting undemocratic practice are undemocratic. In other words, they may enjoy the benefits and protections of democracy as citizens, but they are practicing on democratic practices and implementing these policies which are institutionally unequal. And so how can they be a democratic people or democratic society, them democracy isn't just about enjoying the fruits, you have to try to behave and implement policies that are democratic as well. And if you're, if the country's policies are not Democratic, then the institutions and the you know, bureaucracies and the people in them are implementing undemocratic policies. And I, you know, came to conclude that that makes them again, unaware or, or kind of normalizing on democratic practice that the country does, as if that is what it means to live in a democratic country that just has a few flaws. Okay, but that's why we're all surprised now. Because we have wrongful understandings of what democracy is.

Hadar Susskind  47:38

So first of all, right, I mean, the slogan, you know, that comes to mind for me there is, you know, that we've seen many in the anti occupation block using that the occupation has occupied Israel, right, that these lack of democratic or these undemocratic processes have sort of come home to roost and Jewish Israeli citizens are now noticing, which I agree is, but I have a question for you. I mean, I agree wholeheartedly with that analysis in terms of how Jewish Israelis have been treated in the occupied territories versus Palestinians, and the the inter weaving or whatever language you wanted to use there, between the civilian and the military and bringing another layer of legitimacy to the occupation, which, of course, under international law, it's supposed to be only military, even if one considers it temporary. But the part that I want to follow up on is the question of what it would mean or not, is it possible to separate from that, because I understand it, again, agree with your point saying Israel's institutions are interwoven with the occupation. Yet still, if we, you know, would, could get to a point where there was an Israeli government that was willing and able to end the occupation? Would it not fit still bring an end to that would I mean, it would end that inter woven-ness along with the rest of the occupation now?

Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin  48:53

Yeah, I think the only way to look at that through a democratic lens. And by the way, that's also part of what I was trying to do is say, how do we look at the issue of the conflict and occupation? Not necessarily from the lens of peacemaking only? Because I got despaired. I mean, I've been involved in peacemaking thinking for so long. And I thought, what if we look at it through the prism of democracy? What kinds of conclusions do we come to? And so I would say, not terribly different conclusions, but we understand them maybe in a different way. If you look at this from the prism of democracy, there's only really two ways to think about it. One is that you, Israel exerts actual democratic rule only on over a limited number of citizens without controlling anybody that it does not wish to give democratic rights to. And that would mean separating the populations, finding a way to separate them, whether it's, you know, then you have to go through the territorial and boundary disputes, or Israel says whoever we control will be treated equally as they should be in a democratic society. So I mean, I think again, we reached similar conclusions. Of course, I, to my mind, the conclusion is more of a two states in a confederated approach, which I would love to have the opportunity to talk about why I think that flows from this book, but it's not really Part of the book. But I think that the basic principle is that if sorry, that's the next book. The next one, right. Actually, nevermind. Point is, I think that, you know, again, if you're looking at this through a democratic lens principle of citizenship is defining anybody who is a citizen, and I should include anybody who Israel permanently controls, right? needs to have equal rights and protections. And if you if you and that if you want to call yourself a democracy, decide who's in and who's out, you know, for the first four years of Israel's history, it did not have a citizenship law. Technically, nobody was a citizen. And there's a reason why it didn't have a citizenship law, many drafts were proposed, Ben Gurion didn't want them. And, you know, the understanding is that nobody wanted to really define a citizenship to include Arabs and to include equality of all citizens until they had passed the law of return, and could make sure there were enough Jews. So that once we define citizenship, it's very clear that still that the Jews are you know, firm majority, even though it by by the end of the Nakba, there were clearly a majority anyway. So that's another example of this, like, let's live in a murky zone with these weird technicalities, just to avoid making decisions that we would have to make as a democratic society, if we were to be a democratic society. And by the same logic, it's almost where we are now, right? Israel's controlling these populations without admitting that it's controlling them purpose permanently, without admitting that they are, you know, subjects, ultimately, of Israeli control with a few local and civil affairs, outsource to an auxiliary force of the Palestinian Authority. And yet does you know, wants to find technical reasons not to treat them as equals, well decide where the borders are, decide who's in and out of the body politic, or extend democratic practice to all.

Ori Nir  51:45

So I'm looking both at the clock and that the questions that we have from our attendees, and what I'm going to do is try to cobble together a couple of questions here. One is, has to do with the nature of Israeli society is a society that is post traumatic, or maybe still in the throes of a trauma, the fact that people are afraid, does that impact their attitude toward democracy and the prospects of trying to improve Israeli democracy? And then another question that we have here is, and I'll just read it out is if the prison government were to fall tomorrow in a relatively moderate government where to win an election? What are the first steps that you would see as critical to instilling fall for democracy in Israel? So this goes to your suggested remedies, if you will?

Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin  52:39

So the first question is, to what extent does fear define something about the Israeli political culture?

Ori Nir  52:46

Yes, or impact impact, serve as a as a hindrance, perhaps, to being able to improve democracy in Israel?

Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin  52:54

Yeah, I mean, I think it certainly is there. But I think that, you know, this is one of the ways I don't think Israel is unique. Well, let her know that this typically, it's a contradiction. Israel is unique in terms of democratic countries, because it's in an ongoing military conflict, and has been essentially in the middle of military conflicts through its entire history. Since 1967. It's been involved in an active military occupation. And I think you can't really compare a society that has this as part of the body. If you're considering a biological metaphor for democracy, you really can't compare that to societies that are either not at war or not, you know, committing these kinds of practices, because it warps as I've tried to argue it warps our understanding of what democracy is, and that's why Israel has, you know, more vulnerable democracy and has refused to make some of the decisions and lay down some of the institutions you would have in a democracy largely because of those reasons. Now, of course, at the psychological level, those kinds of conflicts also read fear, and fear can be leveraged. And I have argued myself many times based on polling, you know, what I really do for my day job is public opinion research for political campaigns, that attitudes towards the conflict. And Jewish Arab identity issues completely define the spectrum of left, right and center. It's not about economy. It's not about big government. It's not about it's a little bit about conservative and liberal social values. But that's mostly because there's also a deep religious divide, which of course, plays into the conflict related divide. So any society that is constantly at war of some sort, will have a strong fear factor. And not to mention that there are genuine security threats. I mean, I've lived through the Second Intifada, I've lived through the last year where there's, you know, waves of terrible terror attacks that have killed civilians in Israel, that Palestinians have perpetrated, these things are part of our reality. And so of course, you can, you know, fear is part of it, but I honestly think it goes way beyond fear because there's never much of a change in people's political attitudes based on whether there's, you know, in the US, okay, this gets into longer public opinion trends. But when there is when we are in a quieter phase, okay, when we're in a phase of less military escalation, you know, not very many terror attacks. Most Israelis basically conclude To that, if this is the case, we shouldn't change things, we shouldn't end the occupation for that reason, because things are quiet. So we're doing a good job, you know, because they see things only through a security lens, and an ideological lens. And then when, of course, when there's escalations and violence, then it's every reason not to, you know, not to release Israel's grip. And I think that, you know, really can't underestimate or ignore that there is a strong ideological factor. And all you need to do to know that is talk to right wingers, especially those who have a religious orientation. I'm not even judging it. Now, I'm just saying, to ignore their ideological commitment and their theological commitment to Israel, Israeli sovereignty, not just their presence, but Israeli sovereignty over all of the land from the river to the sea is to completely deny who they are. I mean, it's burying their head in the sand, it's actually diminishing to them, to pretend that this isn't an ideological thing, that it's only motivated by fear or security. Now, it's true, there's a slice of the right wing that is mostly motivated by security, not so ideological, and would make concessions if they had security reassurances. But you know, it's a smaller part of the right than the ideological part. And of course, there's not entirely a hard separation between them. So fear. And the other thing is that fear can be manipulated in any country, even if it's not, in an act of military conflict, fear of immigration, fear of, you know, LGBTQ rights. I mean, these things are fear factors everywhere, you know, this is why we see a rise in white nationalism in the US. So I think it's a little bit murky to pin it dependent on fear in terms of what this government what a new and moderate government would do. Well, you know, I can look at my personal understanding of the moderate government or I can look at the reality of the political parties today who consider themselves to be in the Democratic camp. And those include parties of the moderate right wing or what Israeli see as the moderate right wing. And I think the first thing they would do is staunch the bleeding because right now we're we're witnessing, you know, an all systems attack on the one institutional check and balance on the power of the state. I mean, we have let me just lay this out for anybody who doesn't really, you know, who hasn't thought about it like this. Israel is really the only country in the if you're comparing to Western democratic countries, that does not have any institutional checks and balances on the power of the executive executive basically controls the legislature. We don't have direct elections for the executive or, you know, the executive power. We don't have elections, for we don't have a bicameral neset. We don't have any regional representation. We don't have a constitution. We're not part of international courts, or anything that establishes a grounding for human rights. So the only check and balance we have on the power of the executive and Israel is the independent judiciary and elections. And so right now, those are all in danger, including elections. And if you're not sure why there's lots of reasons why say even elections are in danger, I wrote an article about it, maybe a month and a half ago or so. And that's, and there's very little question that this government, this government, if it gets its way, will pass policies and legislation that undermine even the, you know, integrity, not so much through fraud, but through changes in the legal system that make elections, less reflective of, you know, of the citizens. And so yes, first of all, any government would have to simply stop rollback with this government is doing cease the attack on the judiciary, I would say establish stronger roles for the judiciary, I would have them anchor judicial review in Israeli legislation, as the legislators wished to do in the 1980s, when they were developing the basic laws that became these piecemeal laws for human rights. And they hoped to establish judicial review in the future basic law of the legislature of legislation. So that's the kind of thing I would say needs to happen. But of course, you know, there's long they're more far reaching things, but I think ending on democratic practices, one by one would be, you know, the most fundamental start. The other thing I would say is that we need to think long term, democracies don't build, strengthen, you know, or revive or emerge overnight. You know, and I think that part of the problem here is that we again, have had a self education in democracy that was wrong. Okay. You don't have democracy that is implementing military government on citizens or non citizens for 56 years. I think we have to have a real re recommitment, rededication to the principles of democracy and not just through street protests, but through long term education. Through the education system. It's one of my sadnesses about the book that I didn't have room to kind of add a whole theme of how much Israel devoted education hours, to civics and democracy, more or less in what form I did touch on the principles of the aims of public education in Israel and how those evolved over time and were changed in the legislation over time. Very interesting. There's an amendment to the Israel's public education law in the year 2000 that looks like a perfect, almost the principles for a democratic constitution. It's an indicator of how Israel was taking advanced leaps, sort of incremental steps, but actually accelerated steps in the 1990s towards more liberal democratic principles. Those kinds of things have to be integral to society, you need a culture of buy-in for democracy and for the full understanding of democracy in order to have people who will commit themselves to it.

Hadar Susskind  1:00:15

Dahlia, we have reached our time limit. I want to thank you. Thank you for joining us today, and for this conversation. Thank you for writing this book. And thank you for all of the work. Again, we will share, both on our website and in an email with everyone who registered, the discount code to purchase the book for those of you who are interested. And also when we go on our trip to the region next spring, I'm quite hopeful that we will be meeting with Dahlia again, so you guys should come with us and meet with Dahlia in person. So thank you again. Thank you, Ori, and thank you to everyone who joined us today we will see you again soon!

Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin  1:00:54

Before I go, I have one request. I would love to see if there's a way to download the questions. I know I couldn't get to all of them. And I really appreciate people who send questions and I would love to read through them and at least understand them. And anybody who wants to reach out to me individually is welcome to my email.

Hadar Susskind  1:01:09

Absolutely, we will do so. So we will share the questions and if anybody wants to reach out to us to get connected to Dahlia, we are happy to do it. Great. Thanks, everyone. Bye.


Thank you. Yep,