(By Greer Fay Cashman)

Israel has been proudly announcing for decades that it is the only democracy in the Middle East. That claim which is often echoed by some of Israel''s best friends, should be amended to the most pro-democratic country in the Middle East – but not yet a democracy.

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How can a democracy deprive someone of his birthright? It is a given in most parts of the world that one''s nationality is first and foremost defined by one''s place of birth.

For instance that was how countless Mexicans were able to remain in the United States because pregnant women somehow found a way to cross the border, and give birth in America.

That rule does not apply in Israel, which is why hundreds of children born to foreign workers are in danger of being deported, and that is why Palestinian bookseller Munther Fahmi is a candidate for deportation.

I am one of the people who signed his petition, even though I do not frequent his bookstore, although I have visited it on a couple of occasions.

I signed it because he was born in Jerusalem, where I have lived for half of my lifetime, since making aliya from Australia.

I don''t go home at regular intervals, but I have not been deprived of my citizenship. Australia used to have very strict citizenship laws under which an Australian citizen who applied for citizenship of another country or served in the army of another country was stripped of Australian citizenship. Several Australian expatriates living in Israel lost their Australian citizenship which was restored only after the law was changed. Before that, several native born Australians living in Israel, found themselves in a predicament similar to that of Munther Fahmi when they went to visit their families. They had to enter Australia on tourist visas. There was one ridiculous case that was reported in The Jerusalem Post in which an Australian had married an Israeli, who had applied for Australian citizenship which she had been granted. When they came to live in Israel and he served in the army, he lost his Australian citizenship, but she retained hers. When he wanted to return to Australia, she was his sponsor for immigration.

Australia, which is an even more multi-cultural country than Israel, has since become much more democratic.

I have never been able to understand why I, the Australian born offspring of Polish parents have more rights in Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular than an Arab whose family has been living here for generations. I understand the fears based on demography, but I cringe every time I hear of discrimination against an Arab for no reason other than the fact that he is an Arab. That''s not democracy and that''s what''s happening to Munther Fahmi and countless others who have not committed any crime other than perhaps an illegal extension of their home after every application made to build legally has been denied.

Although I was not born in Poland, under the present law, I am entitled to Polish citizenship, because my parents were Polish.

Because Poland is a member of the European Union, Polish citizenship would also entitle me to a number of perks in other EU countries.

While I feel a strong affinity to Poland, I have not taken out Polish citizenship. Dual nationality is quite sufficient, and an Australian passport is a good one to have anywhere in the world. But at least I have an additional option, even though Poland is not the place of my birth.

Jerusalem is where Munther Fahmi was born. It is criminal and anti-democratic to deny him the right to live here.

Instead of worrying about the Arab birth rate, Israel should do everything possible to encourage larger families in the Jewish sector.

The haredi and national religious communities are certainly doing their part to boost Jewish demographic statistics, and there are some secular families in which there are six or more children, but on the whole secular families are smaller.

Perhaps it''s time to reintroduce polygamy, because the number of female births continues to outweigh the number of male births, leaving an ever larger number of women in the position of being unmarried.

Although there is no longer a stigma to being an unmarried mother, the economic hardships involved in being an unmarried mother have a restrictive effect on the birthrate. If polygamy was permitted, the birthrate would undoubtedly be much higher. An example can be seen in the Beduin community where some men have as many as four wives and have fathered more than twenty children Policy vis-à-vis the Beduin is another example of lack of democracy. Why, 62 years after the establishment of the state, are there still Beduin villages that Israel refuses to recognize even though three generations – even four – of Beduins have lived there during that period not to mention the period prior to the establishment of the State.

When is a democracy not a democracy? When people who believe themselves to be democratic turn a blind eye to injustices of this kind. There is no way that we can make peace with the Palestinian National Authority until we learn to deal more justly and humanely with their brethren in our midst.


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