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December 5 2011 2 05 /12 /December /2011 13:27

Mrs Clinton has apparently bemoaned the declining state of Israel’s democracy. One should be very reluctant to take issue with someone who even acknowledges that Israel IS a democracy in the first place.  Israel is beleaguered by all manner of accusations that deny it is a democracy. Words like ‘fascist’, ‘Nazi’, ‘imperialist’ and ‘apartheid’ are commonly used by Israel’s enemies. Mrs Clinton’s criticism, coming from an apparent friend and supporter, is, frankly, misplaced and ridiculous. She is reported, and this is by the BBC, so one may have to be sceptical, as referring to attempts to institute separate bussing in parts of Jerusalem as (sic) ‘reminiscent of Rosa Parks.’

I suppose that what Mrs Clinton views as truly democratic, is that which facilitates the most choice. The greater the choice the more democratic is the system or situation or society or culture. The more that options are restricted, and the grounds on which options are restricted, can make a system less democratic.

No one will seriously argue that Israel, or anywhere else, is more or less democratic, if its busses are restricted to use by those who pay for the service or are exempt for such payment. The exclusion of free-riders would not bring back images of the back of an Alabama bus in the sixties. (Some Israel-bashers, might of course say this is merely a symptom of the Israeli oppression of those who have not paid for the bus ride, but let us not be diverted.)

What Mrs Clinton fails to recognise, or even consider, is the position of a significant portion of Jerusalem’s population.  Those who would like separate busses for men and women are the orthodox Jewish population. You, as well as Ms Rodham Clinton, may consider the Jewish religion as undemocratic. In Orthodox Judaism men and women pray separately. They dance separately, even out of view of one another at weddings. They attend separate educational institutions, and have done so throughout the existence of the democratic State of Israel, without anyone invoking Brown vs the Board of Education. There are those who misconstrue this separatism as sexist, undemocratic or even outmoded. Some of the more recently developed offshoots of Judaism do away with gender separation.

What critics of this separatism fail, and often refuse, to recognise is the true basis of this seemingly undemocratic practise. Not wishing to get into the whole ‘God thing’ and the divine origin, or otherwise, of Judaism, we might say simply, ‘Well, this is God’s will, and He is no democrat.’ Yet we need to examine the basis for gender separation in Judaism. It seems to be and arguably is undemocratic. It restricts the right of a worshipper to choose next to whom, or opposite whom they sit or stand in synagogue. It restricts what beach or public swimming pool you may attend. You are also severely limited in the choice of members of the opposite gender with whom you may be secluded.

These may all be undemocratic in their nature. To say that the extension of this separation to certain Israeli bus routes will undermine Israeli democracy is ridiculous.

The separation of gender in Orthodox Judaism has one simple aim: to minimise inappropriate behaviour. When attending a religious prayer service one’s mind should be focused on God or spirituality and not on sufficiently attractive members of the opposite sex. Are you orthodox really so depraved that you cannot control yourselves by looking in your prayer books? Do you live up to the Nazi  style stereotype of the depraved sexual predator feeding off blond Aryans that by travelling on busses together you will be aroused to uncontrollable heights? Have you no dignity or self control? If you see a woman in her swimming clothes or on the beach what dire consequences will follow? Really it is all too farfetched and is clearly undemocratic. The truth is you simply wish to subjugate women, and undermine democracy in favour of theocracy.

The answer to such thinking is very simple. In a variety of public situations we notice and ogle one another. We all do, those of us with normal human constitutions and makeup. No, we are not uncontrollable beasts who need to be chained, lest we rape and seduce our way through life. Infidelity and inappropriate relationships develop through overly democratic and open opportunity. Increase the opportunity and eradicate the barriers and it becomes easier to land oneself in trouble.  All normal human beings are vulnerable to sexual misconduct. In Orthodox Judaism we have ground rules and social norms that are aimed minimising the prospects of infidelity or other forbidden sexual contact. Maybe it is less democratic. The choices are more restricted. All infidelity starts from informal opportunity.

But Mrs Clinton, let me ask you this: When your husband has strayed from the marital propriety was he simply exercising a free democratic choice as leader of the free World? If you lived within a system where sensitivity to one’s own vulnerabilities was checked by a more restricted set of social rules might your marriage not have avoided many problems? Perhaps you are a true devotee of democracy and choice.

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