Monday, May 14, 2007

Should Democracy Be Afraid Of The Internet

To state the obvious – the internet has been a paramount contribution to democracy. By allowing anybody with the ability of clicking a platform to express their views, regardless of status, education or political inclination, the internet is the essence of popular democracy. Accessing the tapestry of opinions by examining reader comments on online media sources enables us to monitor the pulse of the public. Reader comments to news topics in a small country like Israel offer viable microcosms of the national mood. Ironically, this mechanism of democracy has illuminated the grave threat that democratic institutions are always facing.



News agencies recently released this footage of a reserve IDF solider assaulting a left wing activist, after the latter attempted to remove a military barrier. Although it is not pleasant to witness Israeli soldiers manhandle Israeli citizens, it hardly qualifies as a scandal. Israel is too embroiled in a deeper ethical quagmire following 40 years of systematic occupation to grow incensed over violence towards protesters in a military zone. But the outpouring of solidarity with the soldier in the reader response unabashedly crossed the line between display of approval to a dangerous cry of undemocratic vengeance. Responses from the readership included truly revolting opinions of hate towards the leftist protesters: "It's a shame the soldiers didn't open fire on those terrorists" – "IDF did not beat those punks enough" -- "Send all the left wingers to Gaza" etc. etc.

Unfortunately, violence is the tool that a soldier is trained to utilize. I do not know if the measure of violence used against the protesters was legitimate in light of their violations. Violence was exercised against protesters violating military orders during settlement evacuations and I will give the benefit of the doubt that a certain degree of violence was necessary to restrain the protesters. But the online responses which categorized the left wing as traitors deserving a beating and encouraging IDF to inflict further pain on the "terrorists" is disconcerting and frankly, it reeks of fascism. The majority of the public has already decreed all Palestinians are deserving of their misery and the military wrath. If this reaction is an indication of public opinion, then the increasingly marginalized left might be next to sow its own destruction by actively opposing occupation policy. Is Israeli democracy strong enough to fight such loathsome hatred of those unwilling to reconcile with the consensus?

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