Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Democracy in Israel is in real danger

The death of Israeli democracy - Features - Al Jazeera English
What little democracy there is in Israel is in further danger of erosion.

Excerpts from the article (link above):
"A country that must force people to call it democratic, on pain of imprisonment, is not a democracy."

the Knesset is debating one of a slew of anti-democratic bills. Some of
the legislation targets Palestinian citizens of Israel - people like
this man and his wife, who is quick to offer me coffee and her opinions.

the Admissions Committee law passes, for example, this young couple and
their three children could find themselves barred from living in
certain communities and villages, even those built on public land. If
the Nakba Bill is approved, organisations that commemorate the 1948
expulsion of Palestinians will be ineligible for public funds. This is a
"watered down" version of the bill. The original version sought to
imprison anyone who publicly marked the Nakba Day. Other legislation
aims to silence individuals and groups that criticise the government.

Israeli Democracy Institute (IDI) says that such bills pose "serious
threats" to the country. Explaining that the death of democracy is "a
gradual process," the IDI, a non-partisan think-tank based in Jerusalem,
warns: "People who are concerned but are waiting for the 'moment of
real danger' to abandon their routines and take steps to defend
democracy are making a mistake. The moment of real danger is now."

Some critics might say that Israel was never a democracy in the true
sense of the word. Arab citizens of the state were under martial law
from 1949 to 1966. A year later, the decidedly undemocratic occupation
of Palestinian territories began.

Knesset member Dov Khenin, of
the Jewish-Arab party Hadash, puts it like this: "In Israel there is a
specific democratic space. It's not big, and in connection to the topic
of Arabs, it's even smaller. But the space is important to us because
it's the space we're standing in."

He gestures to the room in
Jaffa, where he is giving a talk under the banner of "The Danger of
Fascism". There are about 20 people present - a sad number considering
what is at stake.

"What has happened in recent years - and it's a
process that's very dangerous - is that the space is being attacked and
clamped down upon," Khenin continues.

"One of the attacks is coming in the form of racism," he says.

He explains that while Arab Knesset members have always been regarded with suspicion - the vicious verbal assault Haneen Zoabi faced in the Knesset
after she participated in the flotilla comes to my mind - the
government is "now attacking not just the Arab Knesset members but all
the Arab population".

"The process is spreading," Khenin adds.
"And if we look at the past two years, it's not just the Arab
population, [the government is] also attacking Jews who think

The Anti-Incitement Bill criminalises those who publish anything that
denies Israel's Jewish and democratic character. Because I have authored
articles calling for a bi-national democracy, this one could land me in
jail. (And, if I'm already headed for the clinker, I might as well
state the obvious: A country that must force people to call it
democratic, on pain of imprisonment, is not a democracy).

And the
Knesset is considering the creation of committees that will investigate
the funding of left-wing civil and human rights organisations - most of
which are critical of the Israeli occupation. Critics have likened the
move to a political witch-hunt as right-wing groups will not be
investigated. They also point out that such an investigation, which is
the responsibility of the legal branch, would exceed the Knesset's

So the question remains: Will Israel become out-right fascist?

'Sliding towards fascism?'

At an October protest
against legislation commonly referred to as the loyalty oath - a bill
that would require non-Jews seeking Israeli citizenship to pledge
allegiance to a "Jewish and democratic" state - Gavriel Solomon, a
prominent academic and peace activist, likened Israel to Nazi Germany,
circa 1935.

That was the year that the Nuremberg Laws - racist
legislation that led to the systematic and deadly persecution of Jews -
were created.

"There were no [concentration] camps yet but there were racist laws," he said. "And we are heading towards these kinds of laws."

to Al Jazeera by telephone, Solomon softened his message, remarking
that: "The question was really if we are not sliding towards fascism."

though we very clearly have people like [Avigdor] Lieberman [the
foreign minister] who are not sensitive to the issue ... there [are]
enough people on the right not to allow such Lieberman laws to go
through," he says, pointing to members of Likud like Dan Meridor.

But Haaretz
recently revealed that right-wing activists are working in Jewish
settlements to recruit Likud voters who would push Meridor out of the

And rightists are taking other moves to silence dissent. Haaretz reports that they have successfully shut down the Facebook pages of several left-wing groups.

on how these right-wingers spin their projects - are they trying to
silence dissent or are they taking necessary measures for Israel's image
and security - the Israeli public may be willing to march lockstep with

A recent poll, conducted by the Geocartography Knowledge
Group, found that more than half of Jewish Israelis are willing to limit
press freedom if the media poses a threat to the state's image. And
nearly two-thirds would clamp down on freedom of speech for the sake of

"We need to understand that fascism isn't an expression of power, it's an expression of weakness."

points out that not long before Netanyahu became prime minister he
called Palestinian citizens of Israel a demographic threat. "And now
he's head of the government," he adds.

And because the death of
democracy is tied up with the occupation, "a people who oppresses
another people cannot be free," Khenin says, paraphrasing Friedrich

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