An Iron Dome for Israeli democracy

Having effective opposition is essential not only for the minority, but also for the majority, as it makes the coalition work harder and better for every citizen’s benefit.

The Knesset (photo credit: ITZIK EDRI/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
The Knesset
Since the 2015 election, Israel has been governed by the most right-wing coalition in its history. Stark ideological and policy disagreements are natural and healthy, but what is truly disturbing about this coalition is its dismissal of the fundamental rules of the democratic game.
The founders envisioned Israel as a democracy that upholds liberal values: rule of law, pluralism and free speech. Our continuous adherence to these values, even under difficult circumstances, distinguishes us from the rest of the countries in the region. Benjamin Netanyahu would do well to remember that democracy does not only mean majority rule but also – and perhaps most important – upholding the rights and freedoms of minorities.
Having effective opposition is essential not only for the minority, but also for the majority, as it makes the coalition work harder and better for every citizen’s benefit.
Opposition and dissent are not only present in parliament, but also in civil society organizations, the media, academia, art, the courts and bureaucracy, all of which are responsible for providing checks and balances and formulating alternatives to the policies of the government.
But it is precisely here that we see the main problem that our democracy is facing these days: This coalition not only advocates certain problematic policies, it attacks the very foundations of our political system by methodically working to delegitimize all critical voices.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett is trying to impose an oppressive “academic ethics code” on universities that will inhibit academic freedom; Culture Minister Miri Regev uses the withholding of public funding from theaters as a political disciplinary instrument; Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is promoting restrictions on civil society organizations and human rights groups and incites against them. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin is working to weaken the autonomy of Supreme Court judges. Prime Minister Netanyahu took it upon himself to create havoc and cause panic in the media market by stalling the establishment of an independent public broadcasting corporation, while other ministers were cited as saying that “if we [the government] do not control its contents – what is it good for?” Scholars, artists, human rights activists and journalists are targeted as part of an orchestrated effort to silence the most influential bastions of criticism of this government.
Netanyahu and his cronies have incited against the left wing, saying that it has forgotten what it means to be Jewish; they themselves have forgotten what it means to be democrats.
We cannot, however, blame all our troubles on Netanyahu.
Labor, the leading opposition party, has some soul-searching to do. For 15 years we have not been able to present ourselves as a viable alternative to the Right and offer the Israeli people good reasons for hope.
With me as the head of the Labor Party, the opposition will present a clear vision for the future on all of the country’s principal challenges. Most important, the opposition will provide an Iron Dome for Israeli democracy through unity of action and pluralism of opinion. In the Israel I envision, every opinion and every group has its place and will be protected from the incitement that the current government is instigating.
Bennett, Regev, Shaked, Levin, Netanyahu: You can legislate whatever you want, you may censor whichever artists and journalists you wish to, you can place restrictions on academics and human rights activists; once we are in power we will overturn all the shameful laws and regulations that this coalition has passed.
To quote a phrase that is commonly ascribed to Voltaire: “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This is the essence of pluralism, the essence of democracy. And this is the principle we will follow when I am prime minister.
Amir Peretz is a candidate for the Labor Party leadership. He has previously served as defense minister, deputy prime minister, minister of environmental protection, leader of the opposition, chairman of the Labor Party, chairman of the Histadrut labor federation and mayor of Sderot.