Peres: Bills can’t threaten Israeli democracy

President doesn't expect "harmful" NGO bill to pass by majority; "Israel cannot be Jewish and not democratic."

President Shimon Peres_311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
President Shimon Peres_311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
President Shimon Peres on Sunday called a spate of recent controversial bills put forward in the Knesset “harmful,” but said they did not threaten Israeli democracy.
“I don’t believe we can be Jewish and not democratic.
That goes against everything we stand for,” Peres said in an interview with CNN’s Richard Quest at the opening of the Globes business conference in Tel Aviv.
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“I think this country will remain democratic. Recently we introduced some laws that are not exactly in the line of democracy. I don’t think they help, but I noticed that even the prime minister was against them,” he said.
“They’re harmful, but I don’t think they’ll win a majority. Many of the bills will not be approved by the parliament.”
Peres was responding to a question about a Financial Times article last week that said Israel’s democracy was eroding. A number of bills put forward by Likud and Israel Beiteinu ministers during the Knesset winter session have been met with claims that they are anti-democratic. The bills have dealt with the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court, foreign government donations to Israeli NGOs, and penalties for libel.
During an interview that addressed many of the topics affecting Israel, Peres called Iran a “center of moral corruption,” and said the West must tighten sanctions on Iran while also teaching its children about the “moral danger” posed by the Islamic Republic.
Regarding the Palestinians, Peres said the window could never completely close on negotiations, and called on the government to open negotiations with the Palestinians immediately and “energetically.”
“I believe the heads of the Palestinian Authority are serious people. I have reason to believe they’re interested in negotiations,” the president said, adding that Israel should not sit back and wait for an approach from the other side.
He also expressed hope that the world would take action against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s treatment of opposition protesters, saying: “He’s a killer. The world decided to intervene [in other countries] when leaders killed their own citizens. It happened in Libya, it’s happening in Yemen. Now, for the first time, the Arab League decided to pressure an Arab state because its leader was killing his own people.”
Peres said he remained an optimist at 88 years old, adding that there was not an Arab Spring going on in the world today but a “world spring” caused by globalization.
“Globalization is one great advantage in my eyes. It brings an end to racism. It reduces nationalism. If you have a new innovation and you want to look for a new market, you can’t sell only to the whites, only to the blacks, only to the Muslims, so whoever wants to [sell] must forget about racism and be open to other nations. You cannot exist on the old system,” he said.
Peres said the Israeli economy would survive ongoing global economic turmoil, because Israel discovered long ago that its human resources could compensate for what it lacked in other areas. He said a presentation at a recent conference in Paris had shown that even when the economy is struggling, the hi-tech industry – one of Israel’s strengths – can still prosper.
“You know what our greatest lack is? It’s that we have nothing?” Peres said. “This small piece of land is an arid land – swamp in the North, desert in the South, and no water. We have two lakes – one is dead, the other dying.
We have one river – which has fame but no water. If you want to pray you go to the Jordan River, but if you want to irrigate go somewhere else.”
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.