Saturday, July 24

Eroding Democracy in Israel

A far right wing coalition headed by P.M .Benjamin Netanyahu has been ruling Israel for close on two years now. During this period of time especially in the aftermath of the Gaza War and the blockades on Gaza, flotillas etc, has given rise to a number of bills waiting to be enacted into law that poses a threat to the future of democracy in Israel.

A rather disturbing phenomenon or trend is developing in Israel under this weird bunch of far right wing bedfellows that includes Israel Beteinu, an extreme right wing anti-Arab party under the leadership of Israel's controversial foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, the spineless and much weakened Labor Party under Defense Minister Ehud Barak's leadership, and a plethora of right wing religious parties including the ultra Orthodox Shas and Torah Judaism Parties.

Even the left wing opposition has almost been obliterated. The Kadima Party, a moderate centre right party, is the most dominant party in the opposition. Meretz, the left wing Zionist party, whose agenda in the past has been human rights, social issues and peace has become so weak that its voice is no longer heard. It is now more involved in homosexual rights, environmental issues but hardly a word on human rights issues which are being eroded in many ways.

According to a Haaretz 23rd July 2010, Editorial: A bad Knesset for Israel,the marathon vote on 60 bills in the Knesset the very day before its summer recess reflects clearly the 18th Knesset's character - populist, declamatory, irresponsible and saturated with racism. The blatant flouting of basic laws and civil rights is a common theme running through every recent bill: the loyalty bill sponsored by Yisrael Beiteinu's David Rotem, intended to deny citizenship to those who are not "loyal to the state;" the bill to deny the Islamic Movement's legal status, sponsored by Likud's Ofir Akunis; legislation seeking to deny support to "unpatriotic" filmmakers, sponsored by Michael Ben Ari (National Union ) and Ronit Tirosh (Kadima ); the conversion bill, the Nakba bill and many others like them mock the principles of equality and freedom in Israel's Declaration of Independence”.

Lately we have been witnesses to proposed legislation in the Knesset on the declaration of loyalty to Israel as" a Jewish and democratic state”. This declaration is directed toward non-Jews especially Palestinians who are married to Israelis. Is it not sufficient to declare loyalty to the State of Israel? Can you imagine the outcry if potential immigrants to the US or Britain had to declare loyalty to the" US or Britain as a Christian and democratic state"? The term “Jewish and democratic” is not compatible somehow. There is nothing democratic about Jewish Orthodoxy as one can see when it comes to conversions as well as requirements by the rabbinical establishment to prove one’s Jewishness prior to marriage which has become a grave issue these days.

The passing of these bills in Israel are causes for concern. This also has a great bearing on Israel's future as a democracy of which Israel pundits take great pride. The well worn cliché,” Israel is the only democratic state in the Middle East" is questionable and relative. This “democracy” is being eroded.

There are more similarities between Israel and its Arab neighbors than one would like to imagine or perhaps admit. The strengthening of religious fanaticism in Judaism does have an uncanny similarity to extremist Islamic beliefs in its world view.

As the right wing Netanyahu coalition entrenches itself in power, we shall witness more and more encroachment on personal freedom including freedom of choice. Many bills were passed in the name of “state security” interests, but on closer examination, these bills are discriminatory towards Arab citizens.

Many Israeli academics believe in boycotting Israeli products manufactured in the occupied territories. This also goes hand in glove with supporting boycotts of Israeli Universities as well as sanctions and divestment from Israel.

Those who support BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) of Israel will be liable for prosecution. This does not necessarily mean that Israelis who support BDS are anti-Israel. This is merely a tactic against the Israeli occupation and the building of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

The attitude of the right wing Israeli Government towards those who oppose the occupation is beginning to resemble the attitude of the white government of apartheid South Africa prior to its demise. The left wing in Israel is weak and ineffectual. Also the opposition in the Knesset is not tackling the issues of social and human rights which are being eroded by the Netanyahu - Lieberman - Barak Axis.

Those who oppose the right wing policies of the government are considered anti-Israel and potential fifth column.

Perhaps the time has come to evaluate a new order in Israel. An order that is non discriminatory and represents the interests of all Israel’s citizens irrespective of race, colour or creed. Zionism has become discriminatory towards Israel’s non Jewish minorities and does not reflect their interests. Avaham Burg, who was a speaker in the Knesset some years ago when the Labour Party still had some backbone, has written an interesting and thoughtful article on this.