Vandalized Rabin memorial in Tel Aviv 311.
(photo credit: Neri Zilber)
Many observers, mostly left-wing liberals but not only, are worried about the
state of Israeli democracy.
The danger, they say, is coming from several
First on the list are legislative initiatives allegedly
designed to discourage freedom of speech, human rights activities and a
settlement of the conflict with the Palestinians based on territorial
compromise, and to encourage a change in the make-up of the Supreme
Next is the fact that large sections of the Israeli public,
including a high percentage of young people, lack a commitment to basic
democratic values, or the basic rules of the democratic system, as revealed
again and again by public opinion polls.
Then there is the phenomenon of
“price tag” activities against Palestinians, left-wing activists and even
certain army officers and government attorneys considered unfriendly to the
settlers, to which the reaction of the authorities seems limp. Knesset Speaker
Reuven Rivlin spoke of the danger of this phenomenon during the commemoration
services for Yitzhak Rabin.
The growing extremism among various religious
circles with regard to the status of women in Israel, and the ongoing battle of
the religious establishment against any attempt to establish alternative options
for marriage are also causes for concern.
IT IS true that there were
always flaws in Israel’s democracy. Israel’s Arab citizens were subject to a
draconian Military Administration until 1966, and the Knesset still hasn’t
managed to pass comprehensive human rights legislation. But that does not mean
the current dangers to democracy should be taken lightly. What is most worrying
is that the state is not doing enough to effectively combat the anti-democratic
For example, even though the Ministry of Education has
various programs to instill democratic values in pupils, nothing is done to
ensure that these programs are actually implemented effectively, or that the
teachers are in fact committed to these values.
In the commemoration of
Yitzhak Rabin, too much emphasis is placed, in my opinion, on his heritage,
rather than on the fact that a democratically elected prime minister was
assassinated for implementing a policy that was approved by the Knesset. One can
sympathize with what Yitzhak Rabin stood for, but it is also perfectly
legitimate from a democratic point of view not to identify with it. The emphasis
in our commemorations should be on the assassination itself, and the fact that
in a democracy the way to try to remove a prime minister is by means of open
debate and elections – not unbridled incitement or a fatal
However, my main criticism is directed against the initiators of
some of the allegedly anti-democratic bills in the Knesset.
main criticism is directed against the initiators of some of the allegedly
anti-democratic bills in the Knesset. I believe Knesset Members such as Yariv
Levin, Ze`ev Elkin, and David Rotem, when they say that they are trying to
reduce what they view as undue left-wing influence on the government system,
despite the fact that Israel has a right-wing government. I also believe that
their actions are not deliberately directed against the democratic system as
such, or anyone's basic human and civil rights. However, because others are not
so sure about their motives, I would expect them to make sure that they make
their true intentions absolutely clear in the wording of the bills they lay on
the Knesset table.
For example, it is perfectly legitimate for people
with doubts about the peace process and who object to the land-forpeace formula
to ensure that political agreements that call for the relinquishing of
territories to be approved by the Knesset by a special majority (the Oslo
Accords were approved by an ordinary majority), or in a national referendum if
such a majority is not obtained. However, the law that was passed on this issue
last March should have emphasized that Israel is committed to peace, and that if
the majority are willing to relinquish territory to achieve this goal – so be
Again, it is perfectly legitimate to seek to prevent undue
international intervention in the internal affairs of Israel by setting limits
to the financing of Israeli associations and organizations by foreign
governments and institutions. However, the wording of the bill ought to make it
absolutely clear that the goal is to prevent undue foreign intervention – not to
curtail legitimate human rights activities, or activities designed to advance
It is also perfectly legitimate to ensure that the
make-up of the Supreme Court is more balanced between liberals and
conservatives, as long as the goal remains justice and the upholding of the law
with regard to everyone, irrespective of his/her national origin or ideology.
This should be emphasized in the bill dealing with changes in the way judges are
selected and their appointments approved.
The writer teaches at the
Academic College Emek Yisrael.