Robbins: Under siege from autocrats and crooks, fighters for democracy hang tough
The fight to preserve democracy around the world has come to resemble Whac-A-Mole, with autocrats wielding power or chasing it emerging on the global scene only to be faced down, then to emerge again. The biggest battle of them all is playing out in Ukraine, where a conscience-less war criminal unrepentant about committing mass murder has sought to lay waste to civilians indiscriminately, and where a historically brave population is showing the world, quite simply, what it means to fight and die for freedom.
In Iran, tens of thousands of citizens protesting in the wake of the killing of Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian-Kurdish woman who died in the custody of that regime’s “morality police,” have been detained. According to Human Rights Activists in Iran, an organization that tracks the government’s repression of dissidents, at least 530 demonstrators have been killed by the mullahs’ goons. That is likely an underestimation and does not include those summarily executed by the government — show executions that swiftly followed show trials.
Iran is the U.S. State Department’s No. 1 state sponsor of terror and is currently illustrating why by providing drones to help Vladimir Putin annihilate Ukrainian civilians, using cash handed to it by the Obama administration to do so. Its rulers have been ruthless and efficient in suppressing dissent, but it hasn’t been able to still dissent entirely. The day when Iranians will give the boot to the tyrants who rule them, just as they booted out the Shah, is on its way.
Here at home, we are trying to put democracy’s near-death experience with a would-be Mussolini in our rear-view mirror, but he will not fade from view. It doesn’t seem that our national flirtation with autocracy is over. The likelihood is that the Mussolini wannabe in question will be the 2024 Republican presidential nominee, and polls show a country evenly split between a narcissistic Caesar and a temperate, humane leader who has tried to get us to choose the rule of law over mob rule.
Among the most dramatic scenes of pro-democracy forces battling antidemocratic ones are those in Israel, pitting Israelis of every stripe and variety against an unseemly junta. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has permanently stained his legacy and the good name of his country by a gambit aimed at shielding himself from being held accountable for corruption charges, placing his own interests over the character, security and even survival of his country. He presides over a coalition government composed of crooks, sleazebags and fanatics that he has summoned in order to retake power. It is a government that each day alienates not only his countrymen but Israel’s friends around the world, handing Israel’s enemies a gift that was beyond their imagination just months ago.
The positive news amidst the dreadful is the massive demonstration of democratic fervor spawned by the Israeli government’s attempt to squelch democracy. It comes as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about Israel, but it is impressive nonetheless. This weekend some 500,000 Israelis took to the streets to protest their government’s bid to subjugate Israel’s judiciary. That’s over 5% of Israel’s population, or the proportional equivalent of about 17 million Americans.
All across Israeli society, Israelis are publicly condemning their leaders and demanding they change course. Diplomats are resigning from the Foreign Ministry; military reservists, the backbone of Israel’s defense, are announcing that they will not serve a government that has lost its way. The die-hards who defend the current Israeli government angrily insist that what that government does is none of our business. They are very wrong. Assaults on democracy are everybody’s business, thanks very much, and those who have been outspoken about the torpedoing of American democracy or democracy anywhere do not intend to be silent when the torpedoing occurs in Jerusalem.
In Ukraine, in Iran, in America and in Israel, the world watches to see who will lose and who will win. The good news is that the good guys aren’t going down without a fight.
Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.