In a memorable essay on Israel, British writer Charles Moore once praised the Jewish state
as “robust in its legal and political institutions, free in its press and universities a noisy democracy.” The rough-and-tumble nature of Israeli politics is legendary, so much so that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu even referred to it in his May 2011 address to U.S. elected officials, to whom he said, “You think you’re tough on one another here in Congress? Come spend a day in the Knesset. Be my guest.”
The designation “noisy democracy” could apply to the U.S. as well. We see that especially now, during the lead up to the November 2012 elections, as pollsters furiously document presidential candidates’ every rise or fall in popularity, heated debate on a host of issues goes on in view of the public, and candidates’ records and beliefs are scrutinized exhaustively. This is democracy in action: at times deeply compelling, at times routine — but, certainly, often “noisy.”
Of course, political argument can become overly partisan and bitter, so much so that it draws attention away from the real issues it’s meant to address. But the rambunctious, “noisy” nature of political dialogue in democracies like the U.S. and Israel is a sign of strength, not weakness. It speaks volumes about the kind of societies we live in and how greatly they differ from countries run by authoritarian governments. Indeed, where else can such political debate flourish except in a democracy?
I know that people in both the U.S. and Israel
— and, in fact, in any democratically governed country can become disillusioned with their elected officials, and even with their entire system of government. Democracy is a work in progress, and government can always be changed to operate more efficiently and effectively. But we cannot forget how privileged we are to live under a system that is built upon the fundamental principles of liberty and equality for all. When we see what is happening today in totalitarian states, where people must struggle, fight, and even die in their quest for the very freedoms we take for granted, we should feel that privilege and give thanks for it in our hearts.
Our political system is as a testament to the ingenuity of our founding fathers, who structured it to ensure that government reinforced principles — such as the principle that all men are created equal that are godly, eternal. It is a tremendous gift, and participation in it a tremendous privilege. But we cannot forget the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8
). Like the things of nature, all human constructs have their limits, and politics is no exception. It is only in relying first on God — trusting in Him, turning to Him in faith to guide our decision-making — that we will find true freedom. Let this be our watchword during the “noisy” political season that is to come.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein