Israel bucks pro-democracy trend and promotes repression
(Redress) -- by Neve Gordon --
"Bad laws," Edmund Burke once said, "are the worst sort of tyranny."
The millions of people who have been protesting – from Tunis, Egypt and Libya, to Bahrain, Yemen and Syria – appear to have recognized this truism and are demanding the end of emergency law and the drafting of new constitutions that will guarantee the separation of powers, free, fair and regular elections, and basic political, social and economic rights for all citizens.
To put it succinctly, they are fighting to end tyranny.
Within this dramatic context it is also fruitful to look at Israel, which is considered by many as the only democracy in the Middle East and which has, in many ways, been an outlier in the region. One might ask whether or not Israel stands as a beacon of light for those fighting tyranny.
On the one hand, the book of laws under which Israel's citizenry live is – with the exception of a handful of significant laws that privilege Jews over non-Jews – currently very similar to those used in most liberal democracies, where the executive, legislative and judicial powers are separated, there are free, fair and regular elections, and the citizens enjoy basic rights – including freedom of expression and association.
Israel's double standard
However, on the other hand, the Israeli military law used to manage the Palestinians are similar to those deployed in most Arab countries, where there is no real separation of powers and people are in many respects without rights. Even though there has been a Palestinian Authority since the mid-1990s, there is no doubt that sovereignty still lies in Israeli hands.
One accordingly notices that in this so-called free and democratic country, there are in fact two books of laws, one liberal for its own citizenry and the other for Palestinians under its occupation. Hence, Israel looks awful, like apartheid or colonialism...
New wave of repressive laws
Here are just a few examples of approximately 20 bills that have either been approved or are currently under consideration.
•The Knesset approved a new law stating that organizations and institutions that commemorate Nakba Day and "deny the Jewish and democratic character of the state" shall not receive public funds. Thus, even in the Arab schools within Israel, the Nakba must be erased. So much for democratic contestation and multiculturalism
•Another new law states that "acceptance committees" of villages and communities may turn down a candidate if he or she "fails to meet the fundamental views of the community". According to ACRI, this bill intends to deny ethnic minorities access to Jewish communities set up on predominantly public lands. So, unless the new Arab pro-democracy movements want to base their countries on apartheid-like segregation, this is also not a law to emulate.
•The Knesset has approved a bill that pardons most of the protestors who demonstrated against Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. Although legislation easing punitive measures against persons who exercise their right to political protest is, in principle, positive, this particular bill blatantly favours activists with a certain political ideology. This does not bode well for the basic notion of equality before the law.
•An amendment to the existing Penalty Code stipulates that people who publish a call that denies the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state shall be imprisoned. This extension of the existing law criminalizes political views that the ruling political group does not accept. It is supported by the government and has passed a preliminary reading. Burgeoning democracies should definitely shy away from such legislation.
•There is currently a proposed bill to punish persons who initiate, promote or publish material that might serve as grounds for imposing a boycott. The bill insists that these people are committing an offence and may be ordered to compensate parties economically affected by that boycott, including fixed reparations of 30,000 New Israeli Shekels (8,700 US dollars), without an obligation on the plaintiffs to prove damages. This bill has already passed the first reading.
•Finally, a bill presented to the Knesset in October would require members of local and city councils, as well as some other civil servants, to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Democracy for a few
There is a clear logic underlying this spate of new laws; namely, the Israeli government's decision to criminalize alternate political ideologies, such as the idea that Israel should be a democracy for all its citizens.
Hence, one witnesses an inverse trend: as the Arab citizens in the region struggle for more openness and indeed democracy, toppling dictators and pressuring governments to make significant liberal reforms, the Israeli book of laws is being rewritten so as to undercut democratic values...MORE...LINK
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