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Renewing Our Democracy (May 2018)

Rabbi Mike

By nature I’m not usually a joiner or a signer. As I’m sure is true for most of you, I am constantly solicited to join an organization or sign a petition. But for purposes of time, money and sanity, I filter out most of these requests, even while realizing that some of them are worthy.

However, this morning (May 1) I immediately responded to an invitation of “We hope you’ll consider joining us” after reading an opinion piece in today’s Boston Globe. The piece is entitled “Fighting the Assault on Liberal Democracy,” and I truly believe that liberal democracy is sadly and alarmingly under assault at home and abroad in our troubling times. It was written by Richard North Patterson, a frequent contributor to the Globe’s opinion page and a writer whose fiction and non-fiction I have read, learned from, and enjoyed. Patterson’s column describes the “Renew Democracy Initiative,” a new group whose “purpose is to unite the center-left and center-right in opposition to the forces of autocracy, hatred, tribalism, and unreason that threaten liberal democracy worldwide.” Its founders and supporters include acclaimed writer Mario Vargas Llosa, world chess champion Gary Kasparov, Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Tribe, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, human rights activist Natan Sharansky, African-American studies scholar Henry Louis Gates, historian Jon Meacham, and Washington Post columnists Max Boot and Ann Applebaum, as well as Patterson himself.

Patterson cites a recent report from Freedom House, which warns, “Democracy is under assault and in retreat around the globe, a crisis that has intensified as America’s democratic standards erode at an accelerating pace.” Freedom House is an organization that “supports human rights and democracy advocates in their efforts to promote open government, defend human rights, strengthen civil society and facilitate the free flow of information and ideas” (from their website). Among other things, Freedom House monitors the levels of freedom and freedom of expression in regions and countries around the world. It is funded by democratic nations throughout the world (including the U.S., through what is left of our State Department) as well as foundation support.

[This is an aside, but worth mentioning. Freedom House rates countries as “free,” “partially free,” or “not free.” In the Middle East and North Africa region, every country is rated as either “not free” (the majority) or “partially free.” Every country, that is, except for Israel, which is “free.” In fact, Israel has consistently achieved high ratings from Freedom House as a democracy in the categories of political rights (with the highest score of 1) and civil liberties (a 3—there’s still work to do in this area) with a “Freedom Rating” of two, on a scale of 1-7, with “1” being the best. The U.S., by the way, is a 1.5, and the next highest rating for any country in the Middle East/North Africa region is a 5, with the exception of Tunisia.]

Democracy is indeed under siege around the globe. The rise, or continued rule, of despots and autocrats in countries like Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Hungary and Venezuela (and a wannabe despot here at home), and the rise in hate crimes and hate speech in many European countries and the U.S. are indicators of the threat to democracy that is one of the most critical crises that we face today. I am heartened by the creation of this new alliance whose mission is to combat these trends and enhance democracy here and around the world, and I jumped at the opportunity to sign my name to their manifesto. I encourage you to consider doing so as well.

Fri, August 17 2018 6 Elul 5778