The Legal Advisor to the government has asked the Central Elections Committee to bar the Balad list and MK Azmi Bashara from standing in the forthcoming elections, on the grounds that the party denies Israel’s right to exist as a democratic Jewish state. The “Haaretz” leader article (The limits to the right to be elected, 22/12/02) argues that it may indeed be necessary to deny Bashara the right to be elected to the Knesset, because Israeli democracy needs to defend itself.
Reading these lines, one might be misled into thinking that Israel has a vibrant democracy, to which only Bashara and his party pose a serious threat. I wonder, however, what is really the major threat to Israeli democracy? Is it the Balad party — whether or not we agree or disagree with their platform — which is really threatening israeli democracy and which needs to be barred?
Do not parties which support a policy of destroying the houses of innocent people, whose only crime is that someone in their household was involved in terror activities, threaten Israeli democracy? Do not parties whose policy, for years, has been the systematic discrimination against the Israeli Arab population threaten democracy?
Are not the parties, whose policy of road blocks has caused pregnant women who are prevented from reaching the hospital to miscarry and lose their children, the real threat to democracy? Are not parties which have led governments whose policies have established an Apartheid regime in the Occupied Territories, anti democratic? In short, are not parties who wish to continue ruling over millions of disenfranchised Palestinians destroying democracy in Israel?
The discussion about defending Israel’s democracy is distorted by its being presented as we have a normal democracy which can legitimately outlaw parties such as Bashara’s who are seen as threatening it. This presentation ignores the fact that the normal situation is not one of a democratic government based on civil equality, but one of long-term discrimination against the Arabs ! in Israel, and of an occupation which has long since become Apartheid in the Territories.
The Territories are no longer territory occupied in war and held temporarily. The settlements and the continued occupation and made Israel control of the Territories illegitimate, and destroy any claim that israel is defending its democracy.
Israel is not defending its democracy, but an ethnic-supremacist regime which it has established. Under these circumstances, is the threat to democracy from those who want to continue this regime, or from those who want to change it and guarantee a State which treats all its citizens equally?
Has the policy towards the Palestinians — in Israel and in the Territories — as practiced by the parties which have been in power for many years, advanced Israeli democracy? It seems we have forgotten that Israel rules over millions of people under atrocious conditions of xx blockade and curfew. This policy is the direct responsibility of! political leaders such as Sharon, Ben-Eliezer, Eitam, Liberman and others, who have led these anti-democratic acts.
The Legal Advisor, however, is not seeking to bar them, on grounds that they threaten Israeli democracy. In his eyes, they and their policies are part of a normal State with a text-book model of democracy. Only Balad and MK Bashara — with who we may disagree in part, but who have called for Israel to be a democratic state “of all its citizens” — are presented as the real threat to israeli democracy.
Indeed, how wonderful it is to live in the “only democracy in the Middle East.” Especially if you are Jewish.
Dr. Aeyal Gross is a lecturer in Constitutional and International Law at Tel Aviv University.
This article was first published in Ha’aretz newspaper on 24 December 2002.