Tuesday, May 23

Right - Wing Threats to Democracy in Israel

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in Knesset, June 27, 2016. Olivier Fitouss
District Six Memory Plaque at the Moravian Chu...
District Six Memory Plaque at the Moravian Church in District Six, Cape Town, South Africa. It commemorates the victims of apartheid-era forced removals through the racially divisive Group Areas Act. Picture by Henry Trotter, 2000. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It is rare for me to write something about my personal experience in the 1960s and early 70s in South Africa where I was born, brought up and educated. It was in the era of apartheid when people, who opposed the evil white apartheid government, were placed under detention for 90 days, 180 days, and house arrests with no recourse to a lawyer. The criteria for everything were skin colour. Separate and inferior facilities for those who were not white - separate entrances in public buildings, buses and trains and separate beaches for blacks and whites.

The Group Areas Act, Immorality Act, and much other heinous legislation were the order of the day Those were chilling days, our phones were tapped by security police as my family opposed apartheid. The definition of a “communist” under the Suppression of the Communist Act of 1950 was very wide to include those opposing apartheid. Democracy in apartheid South Africa was thoroughly compromised. The Black people were disenfranchised. The list went on and on.

Demonstrators protesting in solidarity with ‘Breaking the Silence’ and other left-wing NGOs, after the Israeli government proposed a new law governing the financial disclosure of NGOs, in Tel Aviv, Israel, 19 December 2015. Photo activesills/Flickr
I had made up my mind in 1974 that I had to leave South Africa as the noose was tightening against those who opposed racism and apartheid in all its evil forms. I chose Israel as my country where I could start a family eventually. Israel is the only democratic country that I felt I could live and be free from the restraints of racism and hate for people of colour.

If we are to discuss the right wing threat to democracy in Israel, it is unavoidable not to use the apartheid South Africa comparison.

Today over forty years later, and after much water had flowed under the bridge, we are reaching a stage where the similarities between the present Israeli Government Coalition and the apartheid government of the old South Africa are becoming evident when it comes to enacting legislation weakening the law courts in as far as a citizen’s right to address a legal problem is concerned if it is not in line with the ruling government agenda. This is the case when the justification of theft of Palestinian land is concerned.

Countless articles have been written on the evils of the occupation since the June 1967 Six Day War on my blog as well as the history of the conflict.

There is a growing trend in the Coalition Government to try and pass laws that emphasize Israel as the Jewish State as if we are not aware of it. Perhaps there are Israelis who need reminding by having a law enacted to leave them with no doubt! Is this really necessary? Even the ultra-Orthodox coalition partner, Yahadut Hatorah, opposes this bill for their own partisan, political reasons. The innuendo of this bill is to ensure that non-Jewish citizens of Israel will remain inferior. The status of Arabic as one of Israel’s official languages will also drop. Why?

A very good friend of mine said that we, the secular, progressive citizens of Israel, who happen to oppose the present right wing Government Coalition of Israel, are caught up in a trap that is a two-edged sword. We are ostracized by BDS (that is anti-Semitic as well as being anti-Israeli) and Palestinian terrorist organizations such as Hamas that fail to recognize Israel’s right to exist on the one side, and we are viewed as traitors to Israel by the right wing supporters of the Israeli Government Coalition. We are caught in between and get the flack from both sides. The latter is another symptom of the erosion of democracy in Israel, where having a left of centre viewpoint is synonymous to treachery. This gives a feeling of déjà vu for many of us, who grew up under apartheid in South Africa and now live in Israel.

There are accusations that any singling out of Israel is anti-Semitic: so, for example, calling for boycott, divestment, and sanctions in Israel's case but not in others is prima facie evidence of anti-Semitism, as is using the word apartheid to characterize any aspect of Israeli society 1.

South African parliamentarian, Kenneth Meshoe, who suffered under the apartheid regime, said the comparison of Israel to apartheid South Africa “betrays the memory of those who suffered through a real apartheid” and those who draw such comparisons “are minimizing the suffering that black South Africans endured.2

I have written articles on how wrong and inaccurate it is to compare Israel to South African apartheid. While this may still be true in many respects, today under the present right-wing Likud Coalition Government, the similarities, unfortunately, are becoming more poignant.

Adam and Moodley argue that notwithstanding universal suffrage within Israel proper if the occupied Palestinian territories and settler presence are considered part of the entity under analysis, the comparison between a disenfranchised African population in apartheid South Africa and the Palestinians under Israeli occupation gains more validity.3

In recent years we have witnessed a disturbing trend toward the erosion of democratic values in Israel and the promotion of anti-democratic initiatives. There is a move to silence those NGO watchdogs on human rights. Some examples are Breaking the Silence, B’tzelem and even Peace Now. Another example is the hegemony of the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate on freedom of choice of which religious Jewish stream a Jewish person wishes to adhere. Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Judaism have no religious rights at all to marry couples and are not recognized. There is no civil marriage or divorce. There Is no separation of Synagogue and State in Israel.

Donations to Israel from naive Reform and Conservative Jews to the Orthodox establishment are always accepted. Of course to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, donations are always Kosher no matter from where it comes! Non-Orthodox observant Jews are viewed as “goyim” by the Orthodox Rabbinical Establishment. It will only get worse:

The security problem adds to the similarity. The lack of progress on both sides makes a solution to the conflict more complicated and impossible. Israel wishes to increase settler occupation in Palestinian lands beyond the Green Line. Naftali Bennett, Leader of Bayit Hayehudi and Coalition partner, has made this one of his mantras for remaining in the Netanyahu Coalition. He opposes the Two-State Solution. The only other solution is the One-State Apartheid Solution which is gaining more support as the Israeli Electorate moves further towards the right and at the same time viewing the left wing in Israel as traitors. In a recent poll, the young people are moving increasingly towards the right and becoming more religious.

So Israel — in the words of its most loyal benefactor — is moving inexorably “towards cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation” that is anti-democratic: i.e., the equivalent of apartheid.4

The upsurge of religious observance in Judaism and right wing Zionist religious ideology with its increased power over law court decisions on issues of increased Israeli settlement on disputed Palestinian lands is a threat to Israel’s reputation as being a democratic state. The trend to delegitimize NGOs such as Breaking the Silence, B’tzelem and Peace Now is threatening democracy in Israel.

  1. . 2 May. 2017, https://www.opendemocracy.net/richard-kuper/apartheid-references-in-israel. Accessed 21 May. 2017.
  2. 17 Mar. 2017, https://www.algemeiner.com/2017/03/17/the-lie-of-israeli-apartheid-2/. Accessed 23 May. 2017.
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_and_the_apartheid_analogy. Accessed 21 May. 2017
  4. 6 Oct. 2016, https://theintercept.com/2016/10/06/u-s-admits-israel-is-building-permanent-apartheid-regime-weeks-after-giving-it-38-billion/. Accessed 23 May. 2017.

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