Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Civic Engagement

Larry Sabato raises the issue of civic engagement in the United States compared to Israel where he recently visited. I think this is an issue of importance -- as I have said before, I believe while Americans love democracy, they hate politics. And, of course, what is democracy if not politics. He appreciates the civic engagement of the Israelis in their own society. I fully agree with him that there “is every reason for Americans to debate and care about politics just as much as Israelis do.” Unfortunately, democracy suffers in our country. It is very limited.

Sabato lays out three examples of how Israeli society differs from our and thus may account for the more fully engaged civic society he sees there as opposed to our own. His examples deal with universal service, immigration policy, and political reorganization.

Universal Service: I like and dislike, at the same time, the idea of universal service. On the one hand universal service (with few or no exceptions) is the great equalizer. It is important that people from all classes and cultures rub shoulders in real life as opposed to staged "multi-cultural" events. I believe this can create the glue that holds us together as a society. On the other hand, I have this civil libertarian gut reaction against the compulsion of service of citizens into whatever activities that are not an emergency.

Immigration: Israel has a policy that is determined by the purpose of the state and that is to provide a homeland for Jews. That’s very easy. However, I don’t know how that applies to a multi-cultural society as we claim to be. Granted, not everyone agrees we are or should be a multi-cultural society but that’s the rhetoric for now.

Centrist Party: Granted our current political parties are out of date but how many decades old is that assessment? Given the grip the two current political parties have on the system, how realistic is it to even speculate another party even has a chance of taking power? For now, you either line up behind the Democrats or you don’t and if not, that means you support the Republicans.

The bottom line here is Israel is a small country with a parliamentary system. We are the opposite. This is the right conversation to engage in. These may or may not be the right issues to raise in this conversation.

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