The late sociologist Daniel Bell
Gil Troy has an appalling piece up at Open Zion attacking Mahmoud Abbas for his UN speech last week: Abbas “plunged Palestinians and Israelis into round after round of the delegitimization derby.”
There is no question that many critics of Israel have sought to delegitimize it. And the US has pledged again and again to fight that delegitimization.
But why does Troy assume and assert that delegitimization is wrong? What if the delegitimization discourse is actually a reflection of a society’s loss of legitimacy? Maybe honest intellectuals should delegitimize Israel.
I defer to the late and renowned sociologist Daniel Bell, whose book The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism was a meditation on the domestic upheavals in the U.S. during the 1970s– and the ability of the American society to withstand these crises. Bell said that the U.S. was “unstable” because the combination of the Vietnam war and lousy conditions for blacks had “led to rising domestic violence, the alienation of youth, and the growing challenge to the legitimacy of the system among the intelligentsia and the leadership cadres of the young.”
This loss of legitimacy could “precipitate… revolution.”
Bell offers an explicit guide to delegitimization in his book; and I think Israel clearly fails his legitimacy test. So let me quote and interpolate some Israel/Palestine analogies.
“The key question for any political system… is the legitimacy of the system. As S.M. Lipset has written, ‘Legitimacy involves the capacity of the system to engender and maintain the belief that the existing political institutions are the most appropriate ones for the society….[L]egitimacy is evaluative. Groups regard a political system as legitimate or illegitimate according to the way in which its values fit with theirs.’”
Does anyone think that a political hierarchy that only includes Jews but that governs the lives of more than 4 million Palestinians is appropriate in this day and age? Can you blame Palestinians and young American lib-lefters for seeing no legitimacy in such an arrangement? Back to Bell:
“If one looks at Western political society in the twentieth century, one can identify at least seven factors which, in varying combinations, have resulted in the social instability of the society and the consequent loss of legitimacy for the political system
(1) The existence of an ‘insoluble problem’
The first thing you hear when you get to Israel is about the “matsav,” the neverending conflict. It’s insoluble.
(2) The existence of a parliamentary impasse
This could well apply to the all-Jewish coalition that Israeli leaders govern with, and which the ultrareligious have such power in. And meantime, Palestinian voting rates– those who can vote, anyway– drop below 50 percent.
(3) The growth of private violence. In Germany, and in other countries, the creation of private ‘armies’ and the growth of open street violence, uncontrolled by the government, led to the breakdown of authority.
The settler militias, to start with. And I guess Palestinian armed factions too.
(4) The disjunction of sectors. Rapid industrialization in some areas and a larg-scale agricultural lag in others have led to continuing instability.
Drive from the West Bank into Israel and you see two completely different economies. And Gaza is flat on its tailbone, and almost entirely agricultural.
(5) Multi-racial or multi-tribal conflicts.
Do I really need to interpolate?
(6) The alienation of the intelligentsia. The cultural elites carry the integrative symbols of the society, and the disenchantment of these groups has been a feature of almost every revolutionary situation…
Gideon Levy and Noam Sheizaf aren’t buying their own government’s lies, and they’re the best Israeli society has to offer. Many privileged people are getting passports. The leadership cadres and the intelligentsia– hundreds of thousands of educated Israelis are working in the US and Europe.
(7) Humiliation in war.
Well I don’t think that applies here…. But the point stands. Israel has deep structural problems involving the fact that half the people it governs don’t consent to their government. Young Israelis and the intelligentsia are aware of that. To survive, Israel can’t demand legitimacy from Gil Troy and Barack Obama; it must obtain legitimacy in the eyes of a bright young leader like Abir Kopty, the Nazareth politician who is now a coordinator of the popular struggle committee. Kopty isn’t buying. Just look at the adage at the top of her site: “You will never be free until you respect the freedom of others.” No one can shut out that message. Israel really must look to her (and not Zionists in the U.S.) to preserve its future.
P.S. Troy’s piece is being roundly mocked by Scott Roth, deservedly.