Thursday, September 25, 2008

Extended Democracy: Iran and Israel

Driving home, I heard an interesting interview with someone familiar with Iranian policy and politics. By his account, the Iranian position on Israel is not that it should be destroyed, merely that it should be democratic. As they interpret that, democracy for Israel means a vote in which all Palestinians—including Israelis, but also including Palestinians living anywhere in the world—get to vote. Since the total population of the Palestinian diaspora is larger than the total Jewish population of Israel, the result would be a Muslim state.

It occurred to me to wonder how consistently the Iranians were willing to apply their principle. If the Palestinian diaspora gets to vote, how about the Jewish diaspora? If someone counts as a Palestinian even if he lives somewhere else, on the grounds that his parents, grandparents, or great grandparents were Palestinian, then do I count as a Palestinian on the grounds that my distant ancestors left Palestine about two thousand years ago?

A different point raised in the interview was that although President Ahmadinejad gets quite a lot of attention, he isn't actually in charge of the Iranian government. The Supreme Leader, currently Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is head of the armed forces, makes foreign policy, has the ultimate authority. The president is merely the executive head of government, implementing the will of the Supreme Leader.

The President is elected. The Supreme Leader is appointed by the Committee of experts, a body of clergymen elected from a government screened list. If the Iranian support for democracy is to be applied consistently to both Israel and Iran, there seem two possibilities:

1. Let the Supreme Leader be elected by majority vote of all Iranians, including Iranian expatriates and their adult descendants.


2. Put the supreme authority over the Israeli government in the hands of a leader selected from a suitably screened body of the Israeli rabbinate.

So far as I know, neither of these options has yet been proposed by President Ahmadinejad.


Anonymous said...

The "two state solution" that has been promoted since the 1940s hasn't proven to be much of a solution. I know the general libertarian rule is, the more states the better, but perhaps not in this case.

So I'm for giving a one-state solution a chance, but not necessarily following the Iranian plan.

Jonathan said...

Unfortunately, it seems over-optimistic to expect politicians in any country to be consistent, fair, and reasonable in their proposals.

If Iran were a normal democratic country, I suppose its leadership and policies would be very different (though not necessarily to our liking).

If Israel were a normal democratic country, I suppose it would have a Muslim majority sooner or later, because of the flow of immigrants from the surrounding countries, whose children at least would have full voting rights.

I can understand the desire of Jews to have a homeland; but, with hindsight, I think the attempt to establish it in Palestine was doomed (and has caused an awful lot of trouble). I'll be surprised if Israel still exists as a Jewish state a hundred years from now.

In the long term, it would be nice to think that people will be able to move freely between all countries, in which case I suppose there will eventually be no distinctively Jewish, Muslim, or Christian countries.

Jonathan said...

Of course, if I'm still around to observe the situation in 2108 AD, I'll be 154 years old, which will be rather surprising in itself.

David Friedman said...

I'm not sure that a world of democracy wouldn't end up with ethnic enclaves--places which people of a particular religion found more attractive to live in than other people did, in part because people who shared their beliefs were already there.

Jonathan said...

I agree about local concentrations or enclaves. Given freedom of travel and residence, I'd expect them to be geographically small. But, who knows, I suppose they could extend to country size in some cases. It's an experimental question. I wish I could live long enough to see the answers to such questions.

TheVidra said...

I take issue with the statement: " Since the total population of the Palestinian diaspora is larger than the total Jewish population of Israel, the result would be a Muslim state." A large number of Palestinians are not Muslim, but Christian. And of the Muslim Palestinians, I cannot guarantee that a majority of them would be against a secular state.