Elections will be held in Israel on 10 February 2009, and the Central Elections Committee has voted to ban two Palestinian (Arab) political parties from participating. In this post we hear the reaction from bloggers within Israel and outside.
The Palestinian citizens of Israel (also known as Israeli Arabs) make up nearly 20 per cent of Israel's population. Of 120 seats in the Knesset (parliament), there are currently 12 Arab members (MKs), and seven of them belong to the parties that were voted to be banned: the United Arab List-Ta'al (UAL-Ta'al) and Balad. The Central Elections Committee, made up of representatives from major political parties, voted on a proposal put forward by two-ultranationalist parties based on an accusation that UAL-Ta'al and Balad were guilty of incitement, supported terrorist groups, and did not recognise Israel's right to exist. This follows harsh criticism by the parties of the attacks on Gaza, and the arrest of hundreds of Palestinian demonstrators in the last few weeks.
However, the parties intend to challenge the decision in the Supreme Court, and there is little chance the ban will be upheld. This has not stopped some bloggers expressing their anger.
Yudit Ilany is an Israeli who lives in Jaffa, and she writes at OCCUPIED:
Once upon a time, Israel intended to be a democratic state. And more or less met the common western criteria for being recognized as such. […] No longer so.
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. […] There has been extensive and shameless talk in Israel about “the demographic danger”. What they mean by that is “what if 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 anti-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 not willing to do so. […] 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 Knesset. Yet never has it been more clear: there is a contradiction between a sole ethnic based state and democracy.
Nasrawi is based in Nazareth:
The Arab parties have been vocal, as always, against the targeting of civilians and the belligerent forces of war, especially during this current war on Gaza, and in response have held a number of demonstrations. Furthermore, they have been calling for a number of years now for a state of all its citizens – that is, not a state based on ethno-cultural or racist particularities, but a democratic state where every citizen enjoys equal rights and protections, currently which Israel is not as it constitutionally accords the state to Jews to the exclusion of 18% of its citizenry, Arab Palestinians. The [Central Elections] Committee has concluded that such demonstrations and such calls for a state of all its citizens either challenge Israel's right to exist, support terror groups or equal incitement! […] Hassan Jabareen, head of the legal NGO Adalah noted that at no time in the 20th century was any political party banned from running under the platform ‘a state for all its citizens’ except for the ANC in apartheid South Africa in the 1960s. […] I think now the mask truly has come off. The ‘only democratic’ state in the Middle East is showing the world its true colours. Dissent is absolutely forbidden. Political dissent will not even be allowed the platform to run in elections! Come one, come all – come see the facade that has fallen apart!
American blogger Richard Silverstein writes at Tikun Olam:
You’ll have to pardon me for asking whether a decision by the Knesset’s election committee to bar two of three Arab political parties from running in next month’s elections isn’t more reminiscent of Iran than of western democracies. The ayatollahs control who runs for the parliament and reject candidates practically because they wear the wrong color shoes and other such idiocies. Israel isn’t far behind Iran I’m afraid. […] First, the two Jewish parties who brought the complaint themselves don’t believe in Israeli democracy. Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of one of them often says publicly that Arab leaders should be strung up on lamp posts and that Israeli human rights lawyers are kapos. Delightful stuff. Further, the LABOR PARTY’s representative to this committee voted in favor of banning the Arab parties! If this doesn’t indicate how absolutely bankrupt that party has become, I don’t know what does. Finally, the Arabs are accused of not recognizing the state of Israel yet they are duly chosen members of Knesset. You’d think if they didn’t recognize Israel their first decision would be to boycott Knesset. […] And make no mistake, the flag-waving patriotism of most Israelis in the face of its savagery in Gaza is what motivates this Israeli racism against its Arab citizens. Israeli Jewish politicians see no downside in attacking the rights of the non-Jewish minority. After all, it’s open season on anyone within Israel even remotely associated with Hamas. If you love Israeli democracy this should be damn scary stuff even if the Supreme Court undoes this travesty.
Another American blogger, Dennis Fox, writes:
One of the most common refrains of those who see through an Israel-centered lens is that Israel is “the only democracy in the Middle East.” […] The theoretical and practical incompatibility between being a Jewish state and a democratic state was a prime focus of the course I taught at Israel’s Ben Gurion University in 2006. If modern democracy means something beyond pure majority rule – if, as we like to think in the US, there are individual rights that even majorities cannot stamp out – then detailed comparisons between Israeli democracy and the theory and practice of other democratic states exposes Israel’s version as deeply flawed.
Today, Israel’s Central Elections Committee voted overwhelmingly to disqualify both of Israel’s small Arab political parties from running candidates in February’s election. As the Jerusalem Post explains it, quoting Section 7A of Israel’s Basic Law,
‘a candidates’ list shall not participate in elections to the Knesset if its objectives or actions, expressly or by implication, include one of the following: (1) negation of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; (2) incitement to racism; (3) support of an armed struggle against Israel by supporting an enemy state or a terrorist organization.
With many of Israel’s Palestinian citizens protesting the assault on Gaza, rifts in Israeli society are more exposed than usual. Israeli Arab leaders are indeed working as best they can to alter Israeli policy, which I gather is being termed a violation of the third clause of the quoted paragraph. But over the past couple of years it’s been the first clause that’s seemed to me most relevant. That clause bars any political party calling for full equality between Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians in a state that prefers neither. Insisting that Israel become “a state of all its citizens” rather than “a state of the Jewish people” violates the demand that all parties accept Israel as a state in which Jewish concerns count most.