Tuesday, January 13

Once upon a time

Once upon a time, Israel intended to be a democratic state. And more or less met the commonly accepted western criteria for being recognized as such.

Free elections and the right to be a candidate and to vote for all adults, free press/media, the freedom to organize and to demonstrate, an independent judicial system, although the religious courts (Rabbinical, Shariya and church run) who influence a fairly large part of our personal lives, never were democratic nor pretended to be so and one of course needs to question the laws against family unification for Israelis marrying spouses form the occupied territories and the problematic behaviour of quite a few employees of the ministry of the interior. Israel more or less met most demands for being called a democracy. No longer so.

And yes, democracies have their limits. After all, history has shown an ultra extremist party can be democratically elected and then cancel all democratic rights. As such, it makes sense for a democracy to have certain limits in order to protect its very core value: democracy, freedom if you like. And i like freedom very much.

Israel has tried, in the past, to be a democracy of sorts. And i do not say this lightly. However, the basic criteria for a democratic state are no longer met.

The "election council" (Vaadat habhirot, ועדת הבחירות) yesterday decided to prevent to 2 parties from participating in the coming elections: Balad and Ra'am Tal. The decision was made with a large majority vote, which incluided support from such parties as the labour party and Kadima.
It should be mentioned that some of the top functionaries in the labour party apparently did not agree with labour chair person Eitan Kabel's decision to vote in favour of the cancellation.
But a very ugly truth is out, clearly and openly. Israel is not a democracy. Palestinian and Jewish Israelis are prevented from making progress towards true democracy by means of parties that believe in the concept of " a state for all its citizens מדינת כל אזרחיה ". These parties are not allowed to participate in the upcoming elections which are supposed to take place on february the 10th, about 4 weeks from now.

There is an inherent contradiction in the concept of a "democratic Jewish State". To put it simply: in a democratic state all are equal. It does not matter whether one is Jewish, Muslim or Christian or of no religion or belongs to whatever ethnic group. And if one ethnic group becomes larger than another, it does not matter. Ethnicity does not play a role. All are equal, and if people from "other" ethnic groups wish to migrate to the country and if they meet the regular criteria an other country has in regards to providing visas (no criminal record, the ability to provide for oneself, not suffering from very serious and dangerous diseases which might harm public health or by marriage etc) they can do so.
There has been extensive and shameless talk in Israel about "the demographic danger". What they mean by that is "what of there will be inside Israel more Arabs than Jews?". Quite obviously in such a situation, there no longer would be a Jewish majority state. And this is what scares many people in Israel. And i can understand the feeling of fear, it is based on a long history of violent antii-semitism. Yet i cannot justify the consequences of this fear.
IF Israel wants to be a democracy, it needs to consider its ethnic multi-cultural character as well as its history of colonialism. It needs to ask questions about zionism and the naqba. It needs to wonder about immigration rights and the civil status of minority groups. Questions need to be asked about inter-religious marriage. Solutions need to be found.

Yesterday's vote indicates quite clearly that Israel is no willing to do so. Israel is not willing to be a true democracy and to face the serious questions and demands posed by a growing Palestinian minority that has become politicised and acutely aware of its rights and the continuing discrimination it faces.

I expect yesterday's shameless decision to be undone by the Israeli supreme court, and both parties will probably participate in the elections and have their representatives in the next kneset. Yet never has it been more clear: there is a contradiction between a sole ethnic based state and democracy.
And if we are unwilling to face that contradiction, we will -quickly- become a non-democratic state. Yesterday a big step was made into that direction.

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