While I have a deep disdain for the latest right-wing legislation efforts of
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s special troops in the Knesset – MKs Yariv
Levin, Ze’ev Elkin, Haim Katz, David Rotem, etc. – in relation to the
composition and authority of the Supreme Court, and their McCarthy-like campaign
against left-leaning NGOs – I must admit that I respect their energy and the
efforts they are willing to invest to promote their distorted view of the
Tragically, these are met with a hesitant passivity by the
political Left, the so-called Israeli opposition. I believe that Israel’s
democracy has seldom in our history been under such danger as it is today, for
reasons related to our policy positions; the right wing’s drive to populistic,
sometimes even racist, legislation; and the apathy, even fear, of the
Israel’s democracy is our most important asset, a vibrant society
that has made the Zionist vision come true.
Today this democracy is in
danger, due to the following elements: • Israel is still in control of much of
the West Bank. We interfere constantly in the daily lives of the Palestinians,
and are running a nondemocratic system there which resonates into our own
• The lack of a political solution to the Palestinian issue
based on a two-state solution makes the demographic reality into a time bomb in
our democratic system.
• West of the Jordan river live 6 million Jews and
4 million Arabs, without equal rights, undeniably in the case of the
Palestinians but also of Israeli Arabs, who are second-class citizens in their
own country, in education, employment opportunities and other fields. If this
reality continues, or demographically even further deteriorates as it certainly
will, then Israel as a Jewish, democratic state will be no more than a
• Political violence in the country, which came to a climax with
the assassination of a prime minister, continues with a new form of Jewish
terrorism, “price tag,” the terrorizing of Arab communities and Jewish
individuals as a means of intimidation and revenge.
This phenomenon, most
often “Made in Settlements,” has not brought about any significant
• Messianic preachings of yeshiva rabbis such as those in
Yitzhar call for a state based on biblical law and on killing “goyim.”
Racist legislation led by Israel Beiteinu on issues such as the “Loyalty Bill”
or legislation attempting to rule out Arabs from the legitimate Israeli
political process, are in direct and dangerous opposition of our Declaration of
• The new wave of McCarthy-like legislation, as mentioned,
attempting to damage the necessary balance between the executive, legislative
and judicial branches. Most recently the government efforts to curtail free
media as expressed in the push to close Channel 10 and Kol Hashalom radio; the
apparent political control of the public broadcaster and the spread of Bibi’s
freesheet, Israel HaYom.
• A weak and populist government and prime
minister, in which only a small minority of conscientious politicians such as
Ministers Dan Meridor and Bennie Begin are attempting to halt this dangerous
• A weak, almost nonexistent opposition, that at such
moments of crises does not orchestrate a vibrant, popular outcry and responds in
a hesitant, stuttering manner, from Kadima head Tzipi Livni through Labor
chairman Shelly Yacimovich to National Student Association President Itzik
As I believe that historically, it was not right-wing assaults on
democracies which brought them down, but rather the weakness of the Left which
allowed it to happen, I will focus on this nonexistent opposition.
Kadima Party is weakened, split and all-absorbed in the leadership struggle
between Livni and MK Shaul Mofaz, rather than standing as a strong dam halting
the anti-democratic tidal wave.
Kadima was unable to join the outburst of
the Israeli young generation demanding social justice, sometimes even warning of
socialism rather than attempting to represent the middle class.
situation seems no better in the Labor Party, under the new leadership of
Yacimovich. Yacimovich did, unlike Livni, succeed in riding the wave of social
justice, as she always represented a coherent social-democratic
Yet, it seems that this “New Labor” has become a single-issue
party. Its leader evades, almost in principle, espousing a peace-policy agenda;
thus, a successor to Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres she is not. Furthermore, in
today’s battle for democracy you would expect the head of the Labor movement to
lead an uncompromising struggle for the rescue of Israel’s democracy, in the
country’s public squares.
Those who almost succeeded were the protest
movement activists, who brought 400,000 Israelis to the streets chanting for
social justice. They committed, however, a major strategic error by expressing a
one-track consensual position in order to enlist the Right’s support. They
should have made clear, once they finally had the nation’s ear, that there can
be no social justice without peace and democracy. That would have left them with
somewhat smaller numbers, but greater staying power.
With the government
evading social justice, fearful of making courageous decisions on peace and
giving a green light to a legislative onslaught on democracy, along with the
almost nonexistent opposition not fighting for our most fundamental interests
and values, Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state is in danger.
This is a historical process, related to the growing gap between our society and
our political leadership.
Israel as a society has had tremendous
achievements in education, culture, becoming a hi-tech superpower, showing
compassion for new immigrants and the needy, and in motivating the young. This
expresses itself very prominently in our civil society – all that isn’t touched
by government – as there are thousands of nongovernmental organizations
dedicated to social good and to peace.
We are at a critical crossroads;
balances are being shaken – between the legislative, judicial and executive
branches; between the coalition and the opposition; and finally between the
government and the people.
If we wish to rescue our basic fundamental
values, and Israel as a Jewish democratic state, we have to save the existing
balances and create new ones – between the government and those represented by
Such a national dialogue about our fundamental values and
interests, between government, opposition and civil society, must begin before
it is too late. This is primarily the prime minister’s responsibility at this
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and
served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
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