Saturday, November 19

Democratic Erosion in Israel

As the winter rains approach with the weatherman's forecast of snow on Mt Hermon, the winter cold has not cooled many right wing Knesset members who are doing their fair share to destroy Israel's already jaded democracy with a plethora of anti-democratic bills.

The Netanyahu right wing government coalition of many racist extremists are making their voices heard in their desire to change Israel's democratic face into a face more grotesque and intolerant towards those who are left wing in thought and deed as well as the non-Jewish minority who are citizens of Israel.

We are witnessing a steady downhill trend towards abysmal darkness as Israel's democracy is chipped away by the right wing.  The left wing that is weak and ineffective which will weaken further as they wallow in the murky darkness of the extreme right.

The various racist laws and restriction of personal freedom when it comes to matters of religion are becoming more common place. The Israel Rabbinate has the monopoly on marriage ceremonies. The Rabbinate is run by an ultra-Orthodox hegemony of rabbinical bigots who make a lot of money marrying couples. Civil marriage is not available in Israel for people who are not recognized as Jews according to their intolerant interpretation of Halacha (Religious Jewish Law).

Israel is contravening Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that "men and women of marriageable age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family."

Countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iran do not have civil marriage either. This places Israel in league with these undemocratic regimes in Jewish religious marriages. The reason is the iron clad grip of the narrow ultra-Orthodox hegemony in the Rabbinate. Money also plays a great part. Imagine their loss in income from marriage services if Reform and Conservative Jews were allowed to marry in non-Orthodox marriage ceremonies as well as the availability of civil marriage services.

If one asks questions about the non-availability of civil marriage in Israel the answer is always the same: Israel is a Jewish country and there is only one Halacha - the Orthodox. Any movement away from that is a danger to the survival of the Jewish People in the Jewish State." The real reason is the desire of the Rabbinate to have the monopoly of a very lucrative marriage business.

Even in the Israeli Army, religious extremism is becoming more common place. Some extremist rabbis who are heads of the various hesder yeshivot (institutions of learning Judaism and doing compulsory military service) are telling their students that it is forbidden to listen to women singing. Presently we are surprised by a new and more intolerant interpretation of Halacha, which is becoming more common place. New rules of Halakhic modesty are rising from God knows where.

Now I am tempted to make some comparison with Halacha as interpreted by right wing Zionist rabbis and the apartheid policy of White South Africa.

In Israel, one's birth certificate states one's religion. If a child is born in a union between a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother the child is stuck with the mark of Cain which is "without religious affiliation." In order to give the child a name, the father must undergo a DNA test to prove that he is the father of the child. This is done at the father's expense. Surely this is macabre! In apartheid South Africa this is reminiscent of the Immorality Act which forbade marriage between whites and blacks. DNA testing was practiced there to prove paternity and the punishment was a prison sentence.

A person officially labeled "without religious affiliation." cannot marry a Jew in Israel where he/she was born. They are not treated as equal citizens.

The Knesset passed a law in 2010 known as the Spousal Covenant for Persons Lacking Religious Affiliation as a solution. It solved nothing! This is a disgrace to any country claiming to be democratic. This law allows couples with no religious affiliation to marry but they must avoid marrying Jews. Here we can see latent racism in order to preserve "Jewish purity" thus avoiding assimilation. This attitude contributes to the mantra of Israel moving forward (or backward) depending on whether one is religious or not to an apartheid-style society.

Many new bills are being discussed in the Knesset that is a threat to human rights. Details of these bills can be found in the above link. It makes for very worrisome reading:

With the conclusion of the summer 2011 Knesset session, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) believes it must warn against disturbing trends prevalent in the current Knesset and the promotion of legislation with severe repercussions for human rights. During this just-completed Knesset session, we have witnessed a slew of bills which, if passed, would infringe on the entire range of human rights and, with them, the very foundations of Israeli democracy.

These bills will harm (amongst other basic rights) freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of dissent of Israeli citizens and residents, especially those whose opinions are currently viewed unfavorably by the political majority. Additionally, the current Knesset session saw numerous attempts to harm civil society organizations, primarily human rights groups, which are an integral layer in the social fabric of any democracy. See, for example: the Anti-Boycott Law, the proposed committees of inquiry to investigate certain NGOs, a variety of bills limiting donations to and the activity of these organizations, new anti-libel legislation, and so on.” 

Thank goodness we still have ACRI (The Association for Civil Rights in Israel).  The government has been going for NGO’s and trying to limit their activities. We have every right to feel concerned as to the anti-democratic trends that are in the fabric of Israel’s human rights record. Somehow whether one likes to admit it or not, the similarity to South African apartheid cannot be whitewashed anymore.

The greatest human rights violations are found in the occupied territories where the illegal settlers cause great damage to Palestinian property and are not even punished. The destruction of Palestinian olive trees and agricultural lands are notorious examples of damage of Palestinian property. While there is no solution to the conflict and the occupation continues, the loutish behaviour of the settlers in the occupied West Bank will be a great threat to democracy.
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Saturday, November 5

The Whisperers

The well worn cliché: "Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East" is showing signs of erosion. More and more evidence of NGOs involved in human rights abuse investigations are becoming known.

What is Israel's response to these accusations? The predictable automatic response that "anti-Semitism and attempts made to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist which plays into the hands of Israel's enemies".

However, instead of investigating these accusations, a blanket excuse is always given - "security reasons" - and a swift denial. Some cases are even dismissed as "not in the public interest".

These cover-ups are not only confined to security issues or torture of Palestinians who are in captivity by the security services to extract information, but also in various government departments concerned with the running of the country's services for its citizens. The latter has nothing to do with "security reasons" but the formation of cartels protecting the interests of those in the various ministry hierarchies.

The insensitivity displayed towards the abuse and exploitation of foreign workers as well as contract laborers with no chance of salary increments above the minimum wage. A form of slavery is becoming common place in the hands of heartless contractors who are responsible for maintaining cleaning services in hospitals, public buildings, and shopping malls. This extends to the security guards who stand at entrances to public places looking after public security. The democracy Israel-style ignores the employees who are not even considered human beings but cogs in contract labour cartels. They have no decent terms of employment. The list in the contract labour cartels is endless. These workers have no employment benefits at all. In this democracy it is legal as these employees are numbers and are barely considered human with feelings and desires.

If there are complaints against the civil service hierarchy, depending on the senior position of civil servant, the availability of a body to redress complaints of inefficiency, defamation of character and slander accusations is very difficult if not impossible even though there is a law making provision for this. The demi-god in the position of responsibility in the hierarchy is never available - always at some meeting and the complainant is left high and dry. There is no address for slander accusations in the work place as the "impartial courts" only deal with this if important public figures are involved. In some cases the judge can even decide against the complainant for "wasting his time" even if there is a case morally, but legally, it is a different matter.

Many Israel pundits will say "that it is not only Israel, but all democracies have a problem with slander cases against the common citizen”. Appeal to a court of law is an expensive business - a gamble, depending on the moods of the legal clique of judges in the cartel where the disease of nepotism is dominant.

Sometimes there are whispers of truth that leaks out much to the shock of the establishment and if the stink is too great then promises of investigations are released to the press and that is where the matter remains unless a well known public figure with loads of money is involved. Money buys justice and excellent lawyers. Those unfortunate people who are not wealthy and are treated unjustly have very little recourse to justice. This is not only applicable to Palestinians but to Israelis as well. There are a few exceptions but these are rare and when they occur they are reported.

There are work places in Israel where it is forbidden to organize a workers committee in order to look after the interests of workers and where they can redress their complaints against their employers. In some institutions the clause against holding a strike is in the personal contract. In many cases the management ignores legitimate complaints about working conditions or an unreasonable superior who slanders his or her team of workers.

The conditions of foreign workers and contract laborers are almost akin to slavery. The cover-ups are alive and kicking in Israel. Exploitation is a common practice which is overlooked. It is not going to improve until the whisperers turn into screamers making their voices heard rather than adopting the attitude of "I'm all right Jack and I close my eyes to the rest".

The indifference of Israeli society to the occupation, the injustices to foreign workers and contracted laborers is a disease that needs to be cured.

In many cases pay is poor as we have witnessed in the doctors strike, where young doctors who are specializing, work long hours with hardly any break. There is still no progress to find a solution.

The establishment is becoming insensitive to its citizens as the obstacles before the average citizen in seeking justice is almost insurmountable. The cartels are prospering and the wealthy remain powerful.

You may ask - What has this to do with the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict? Plenty - if there is no desire to solve the conflict as Israel remains a colonial power, the exploitation of Israel's foreign workers and contract workers will never be solved. A colonialist power thrives on cartels and insensitivity to its citizens. This is the root of the problem.
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