Monday, February 8

Is Democracy in Danger in Israel?

A despicable cartoon that portrays the sign of a witchhunt equating Naomi Hazan as a traitor to Israel. This is reminscent of anti-Semitic "Der Stuermer" Cartoons of the notorious Nazi rule in Germany. It is not surprising in view of much right wing thought in Israel these days.

Israel has a right wing coalition and this can be a potential danger to democracy. Israel has Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of the right wing Israel Beiteinu Party who speaks plainly. Every time he opens his mouth he saber rattles and creates controversies. Is it necessary to make war-like threats against Syria? What purpose does it serve? His deputy, Dan Ayalon, is not much better. He resorts to insulting the Turkish Ambassador when there is a problem between Turkey and Israel.

Now, more than ever before, the idea of checks and balances on the right wing government's activities is important to safeguard democracy. The left wing in the Israeli political spectrum is weak and almost non-existent. The Labour Party under Ehud Barak is destroying itself while Defense Minister Ehud Barak has sold out to the right wing and is becoming a Likud figurehead. Meretz has been virtually wiped out and what is left is weak, ineffective and not very vocal on human rights issues as it was in the past. It is more involved in fringe issues that are not political such as green issues that enjoy wide support across political lines.

A very serious result of the erosion of democracy in Israel is the limitations on the free press over the last couple of days due to the increased power of the right wing. An example of this is the attack on the New Israel Fund (NIF). A right wing group, Im Tirtzu, has attacked the NIF accusing it of being a subversive anti-Israel group. It is the largest financial supporter of human rights groups in Israel.

The NIF gives financial support to the watch dogs of human rights in Israel such as Adalah, Breaking the Silence, B'tzelem, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Public Committee against Torture in Israel, Yesh Din and the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights. These organizations are legitimate and work within the framework of the law and are not a threat to Israel's security.

This despicable right wing group, Im Tirtzu, made an attack on this organization because it supported the demand for an independent investigation into Operation Cast Lead as the Goldstone Report had requested. The fact that this organization did not join the mass national hysteria against the Goldstone Report had turned them into an undesirable anti-Israel and an anti-Zionist organization in the eyes of this right wing group.The result of this even overflowed into other areas of the right wing Israeli establishment.

One of the results of this self righteous right wing hysteria is the ousting of Naomi Chazan, the president of NIF, from writing columns for the Jerusalem Post. She had written regular columns in the Jerusalem Post for more than a decade. She was a member of the Knesset for Meretz from 1992 to 2003.

There were erroneous claims by Im Tirtzu according to a newspaper report that 92% of negative references to the Israel Defense Forces in the Goldstone report came from organizations sponsored by NIF.

There seems to be a paranoid trend in Israel these days concerning anybody who fails to slam the Goldstone Report or demands an independent investigation into Operation Cast Lead in order to ascertain the truth as to whether there were war crimes committed by Israel as the report claims. They are viewed as traitors, Hamas supporters and anti-Semites. Naomi Chazan was depicted as such by a right wing caricaturist as having a horn coming out of her head.

This could have serious consequences that could snowball into demonization of the left and a possible assassination Yigal Amir (PM Rabin's assassin) - style. There is also a similarity to McCarthyism prevalent in the US in the early 1950s.

It seems that the Jerusalem Post is now filtering out left wing views from its pages. Those columnists whose views are too critical of the right wing government and its views are on the firing line. The action of the Jerusalem Post surely endangers the freedom of speech and the Press.

As Israel’s standing in the world has reached a new low because of Operation Cast Lead, there are those Israeli pundits who view dissenting views within Israel as anathema and treacherous. It is as if there is an unofficial call to Israel’s citizens, (who are largely indifferent anyway) to support its leaders without question. This means that dissent can be dangerous to one’s health in Israel these days especially if it is critical of the government’s policies towards the occupation and its decisions regarding the Goldstone Report. This in no way reflects the infallibility of the Goldstone Report. The Goldstone Report is an important UN document rightly or wrongly that has gained legitimacy and a lot of international influence. It has to be regarded as such and demands that Israel conducts an independent inquiry into war crime accusations. This is not only the demand of the so-called “left wing traitors”, but also the demand of the previous attorney-general Menachem Mazuz and MK Dan Meridor of the centre right Likud Party.

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