Jeff Barak 58.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Not only does last week’s Boycott Law not provide Israeli democracy with an
effective tool with which to cope with the boycott problem, but it also
threatens to catapult us into an era in which gagging people becomes accepted
Now, before you start reaching for your keyboard to send
a talkback questioning my loyalty to the Jewish people, or attacking my
distorted left-wing view of the world, do a quick Google search for that first
You’ll discover that the author was Knesset Speaker Reuven
Rivlin, in an article published in a weekend paper under the headline “The
parliamentary fists of the majority.”
Rivlin, a veteran Likud Knesset
member and one of the staunchest proponents of Israel’s right to settle the West
Bank, goes on to call the law a double-edged sword that threatens to harm
Israel’s standing in the international arena, and to play into the hands of all
who mock the quality of democracy in the Jewish state.
prime minister lacks Rivlin’s instinctive understanding of the role of democracy
in preserving every individual’s freedom of speech, particularly that of the
minority, and the premier even sought to take credit for the law’s passing when
taking part in a Knesset debate last week.
THE GOOD news is that the
summer session of the wretched 18th Knesset is coming to a close, so time is
running out for it to legislate further right-wing legislation seeking to punish
those with whom it disagrees or wishes to exclude. Examples of such shameful
legislation include the Admissions Committees Law which, in practice, helps
discriminate against Israeli-Arabs looking to move into small village
communities, or the Nakba Law, that prohibits state-funded institutions from
holding events commemorating the Palestinian narrative concerning Israel’s
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is eager to set up
McCarthyite committees of inquiry into the funding of non-government
organizations that have the temerity to criticize official Israeli policy, or
the actions of the IDF, but even Binyamin Netanyahu realizes this is a Bolshevik
step too far, and has vowed to oppose a bill proposing the establishment of such
committees should it come up for a Knesset vote.
There is, however, a
worrying xenophobic/ nationalistic atmosphere sweeping the country, which has
Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu MKs competing with one another to see who can
legislate the most anti-democratic, antiminority legislation.
not just happening inside the Knesset.
Education Minister Gide’on Sa’ar
wants all non-haredi Jewish kindergarten-age children to know the words to
Hatikva, the national anthem, by heart before Independence Day next year, and
the Education Ministry has already issued a chilling directive on how to foster
our children’s “national identity.”
This kind of forced patriotism
recalls unhappy memories of certain European political movements in Germany and
Italy in the past century, and has no place in a modern kindergarten.
the Education Ministry was really serious about strengthening young people’s
pride in this country, it would invest more in improving literacy and basic math
abilities, rather than the ability to memorize a not-particularly impressive
piece of 19th century verse.
JUST AS the Boycott Law forces me to give up
some of my favorite Israeli wines (as to protest the law’s passing I will now
actively seek not to buy produce that originates in the West Bank or Golan
Heights), the Education Ministry directive is also turning the national anthem
into a political issue.
As a national anthem, Hatikva is certainly
questionable. As Knesset Speaker Rivlin noted when he made his first official
visit to the Arab town of Umm el-Rahm at the beginning of his term, it pushes
the bounds of credibility to expect Israeli-Arabs – almost 20 percent of the
country’s population – to join in when Hatikva is sung. Not one to mince his
words, the fiercely and sentimentally patriotic Rivlin candidly pointed out: “I
can’t force a non-Jew to sing ‘As long as in the heart, within, a Jewish soul
still yearns.’” Israel’s long-term future as a Jewish and democratic state will
not be secured by force, chauvinistic legislation or mindless memorization of
the anthem. The way to safeguard our future is first and foremost to seek an
agreement with our Palestinian neighbors that will enable the two peoples to
live side-by-side in two states, each secure within internationally recognized
The second step – no less difficult – is to realize that rule by
parliamentary majority does not mean that the majority can force its entire
worldview on the rest of the country’s population, but requires the building of
a society that rests on certain shared principles, providing room for each
community and individual within the wider society to express and practice their
beliefs, so long as these do not harm or discriminate against others.The
writer is a former editor-in-chief of
The Jerusalem Post.