Reality Check: Thank God for the summer break

With MKs out for their seasonal recess, we’ll finally get a break from undemocratic legislation.

By
July 17, 2011 23:15
4 minute read.
Jeff Barak

Jeff Barak 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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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 legal practice.

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 paragraph.

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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.

Unfortunately, our 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 independence.

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.

And it’s 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.

If 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 borders.

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.

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