Sunday, December 19

Is Democracy in Israel at the Cross Roads?

Since the right wing coalition government in Israel was elected in 2009 with its macabre collection of partners on the right, there are disturbing signs of erosion of democracy in Israel.

One does not have to be a political scientist to see that democracy in Israel is reaching the crossroads.

In recent weeks we have witnessed some trends in the government orchestrated by Israel Beiteinu, the extreme right wing racist party under the leadership of Avigdor Lieberman, the Foreign Minister. This racist party has been at the forefront of the Pledge of Allegiance Bill aimed at non-Jews who wish to become citizens of Israel.

Are we moving towards an apartheid-like society? Where are the checks and balances that should prevent racist legislation being enacted? The Labor Party, which used to be the left of centre party associated with the left wing in Israel has lost its identity and is part of the Netanyahu Government. It is compromising on its socialist ideology for the sake of being in a ruling coalition irrespective of whether it is right or left wing.

When the terrible fire was raging in the Carmel forests, resulting in the tragic loss of 44 lives, Israel appealed for help from overseas. The plea was answered by many countries, including Turkey and the Palestinian Authority, with whom Israel has problematic relationships.

Israel's appeal for help was answered and it was quick in coming. The Palestinian Authority sent a contingent of 21 fire fighters despite the fact that their fire fighting abilities are limited.

What was interesting is that Israel accepted help from wherever it came and even the Palestinian firemen were not subject to massive security checks prior to their entry. However when the community of Usfiya organized a ceremony in their honour, it was business as usual and these fireman were not granted permits to attend the ceremony in their honour. The excuse given was a technical one and an apology was made by Israel for the misunderstanding. Some right wingers made cynical statements that Palestinians were responsible for the Carmel fire tragedy and that the fireman should not have been allowed in the first place.

The signatories to a document against renting homes to non-Jews signed by 39 senior rabbis on the payroll of many municipalities in Israel is also a dangerous signal which could cause problems for democracy in Israel. It also has wider ramifications than most of us wish to believe. What comes to mind is the weakening of the separation of synagogue and state which is the cornerstone of most western democracies.

The declaration of recognition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is in itself problematic. As I mentioned in a previous article, Israel has a Jewish majority and the non-Jewish minorities account for 20% of Israel's population. Bearing this in mind, is it necessary to emphasize this in a Pledge of Allegiance? What purpose does this serve and what benefits can the citizens of Israel accrue. Nobody will deny Israel's Jewish character as this is a demographic reality that does not need to be emphasized ad nauseam.

Today Israel is becoming more of a theocracy rather than a democracy. A theocracy can never be a true democracy. Most Arab states in the Middle East are theocracies. The predominant faith is Islam. There is no democracy in these states and the status of women is poor. If we take Iran as an example, we note that it is also known as the Islamic Republic of Iran. This country is not democratic. If Israel becomes the Jewish Republic of Israel with a coalition of religious parties, the situation in Israel would not be democratic. It is perhaps very different from the evil Iranian Ahmadinajad regime but the threat to a healthy democracy is still present.

Apart from the signatures of racist rabbis mentioned earlier in this article there are also trends that some towns are enacting bylaws to discourage non-Jews from living there.
A report in Haaretz by Jack Khoury on 16th November 2009 stated the following:
 “Less than six months after two northern communities proposed changing their bylaws to make "loyalty to the Zionist vision" a condition of acceptance into the community, a third has just followed suit.
All three locales are small communities where houses can legally be sold only to people approved by a vetting committee. All are also located in the Misgav Regional Council.
In June, after Haaretz's report on the proposed bylaw change in Manof and Yuvalim raised a storm, both communities decided to reconsider the move, and are still in the process of thinking it over. At the time, Arab Knesset members and Adalah, an Arab advocacy group, had charged that the new bylaws were an attempt to circumvent a High Court of Justice ruling barring such communities from refusing to sell houses to Arabs who meet all the other requirements for membership.
Last Thursday, however, another Misgav community, Mitzpeh Aviv, approved new bylaws stressing the town's Jewish and Zionist character - an issue that had gone unmentioned in the old bylaws. In a section titled "goals and powers," the new document lists the community's primary goals as "settlement; Zionism; the heritage of Israel; the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, in the spirit of the vision of the State of Israel's Declaration of Independence; tolerance; and human dignity."
Moreover, it said, "the community's Israeli Zionist essence is emphasized in daily life, by celebrating Israeli holidays communally, organizing activities for the youth in connection with their bar-mitzvah year and having members' children join Zionist youth movements, all while taking part in the Zionist enterprise."
Finally, the section on membership stated that new members must share "the basic worldview and goals of the association as presented in the 'goals and powers' section."
If the emphasis in the future is going to be on Israel’s Jewishness and turning Israel into a state based on Halacha (Jewish Law), democracy in Israel will be compromised and people’s freedom of choice where they may live will be severely compromised especially if they are not Jewish.

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