The current undermining of Israel’s once-vibrant democracy is an ongoing cause of great concern to supporters of Israel everywhere. Under the present government, such harmful practices continue to multiply and accelerate.
Partners for Progressive Israel deplores and condemns recent manifestations of racism in the government coalition and accompanying legislative efforts, largely successful, to curtail fundamental norms of equality and democratic practice.
As every Israeli knows, the Prime Minister has never apologized for his fear-mongering comment during the election campaign that Israel’s Palestinian citizens were coming out to vote in “droves.” The marginalization of Israel’s Arab citizens continues and is a contagion that spreads from the Knesset to the soccer fields and real estate agencies of the nation, all of whom enjoy legal cover to exclude or refuse 20% of Israel’s population basic residency, contract, and participation rights.
The wife of the Interior Minister recently tweeted about “Obama coffee” which she characterized as so named because it is “black and weak.” The contemptuous and unashamedly racist insult of our President is standard fare among this Israeli government’s members.
Such comments reveal deep-seated prejudice, but they pale in comparison to the spate of laws and draft laws deliberately intended to curtail democratic practices. We note, for example:
The recently upheld “anti-boycott law,” which renders anyone, anywhere who advocates boycott of goods emanating from any “territory under Israeli control,” subject to lawsuits for purported damages suffered by entities or businesses targeted by boycotts. The goal is simply to squelch the free-speech rights of those who oppose continued Occupation of the Territories.
Legislation has established the Refugee Detention Center in the Negev desert at Holot, a virtual concentration camp for refugees who have sought asylum in Israel but are labeled illegal “infiltrators.” This government’s practice, as the High Court has twice noted, directly violates Israel’s international commitment to not return asylum seekers to a place where they are likely to be persecuted.
The Citizenship and Entry law now prohibits Palestinian/Arab citizens of Israel from bringing spouses from the occupied territories or children born to them in the territories into Israel. This law treats such immediate family of Israeli citizens as prima facie enemies and flaunts family unification commitments Israel has signed.
A Residential Community Admissions Committee law legalizes community, housing, or apartment building owner associations’ that refuse entry, rental, or purchase to persons deemed “socially unsuitable.” This term is a euphemism for persons of Arab ethnicity and legalizes discrimination of a sort that Jews have struggled against for many decades.
The infamous Nakba Law reduces or eliminates funding for any group that holds events commemorating the Palestinian Nakba of 1948. Advocating alternative historical narratives is now in practice illegal. This government feels that Zionism is only credible if enforced by threats.
The NGO Tax and Registration Law, which seems to be drawn directly from the armory of Russian President Putin, aims to shut down foreign NGOs and Israeli NGOs that cooperate with them if they criticize the Occupation or offer testimony critical of government policy. Its larger goal is to stigmatize critics as unpatriotic and treasonous in their complicity with hostile foreigners.
The politicization of the judiciary continues as this government proposes that the current system of expert recommendations be replaced by legislators appointed by the government, one of whom recently declared that “a judge who is unwilling to sing Hatikva cannot be a judge in the State of Israel, which is the nation state of the Jewish people.”
Having frightened the High court into approving the Anti-Boycott Law, the present government has introduced legislation that would restrict or eliminate the right of the High Court to rule on the constitutionality of legislation even when that legislation conflicts with rights guaranteed by the Basic Laws of the land.
Finally, we note with deep concern, a growing anti-democratic and violent current among Israeli citizenry. A Haredi man who stabbed four people at the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade had been released from prison for a similar incident ten years ago, allowing him to repeat his viciousness today. An innocent Palestinian family has lost its youngest child while parents and another child lie on the edge of death from burns inflicted by “price tag” attacks by Jewish arsonists. Jewish perpetrators of earlier attacks on innocent Palestinians have neither been arrested nor prosecuted. In the territories and East Jerusalem, however, the IDF and Border Police shoot and kill protesting Palestinians with impunity.
The guarantee of fundamental rights to all citizens is as necessary to democracy as majority rule and free and fair elections. But as we see in Hungary, Russia, and other similarly unfree countries, a government with transient electoral majorities can become committed to undermining the basic rights of all. Their first targets may be political opponents and ethnic minorities, but the real goal becomes to destroy democracy itself. The delicate balance of “Jewish and democratic” that has been fundamental to Israeli democracy is seriously imperiled by the current government. We call on American Jews to support Israeli and American organizations that are working to reverse this trend and return Israel to a democratic path.