There are initial signs that the massive public outcry against the plans of the Israeli government to castrate Israel’s democracy is impacting the decision making of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It seems that he has begun to backtrack on some of the planned legislation, and recent statements clearly point to Netanyahu’s fears that he may be losing power.
He is beginning to look more and more like a Caesar or a czar or, as his public supporters call him, the King of Israel in his waning days. This is most definitely a positive development, because the proposed legislation and the delusional coalition agreements that he signed, following in the footsteps of some of his heroes and role models like Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orban, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan would have placed almost total authority and power in his hands. Israel would cease to be a democracy.
The success of the public uprising against the so-called judicial reforms cannot be considered complete if Israel simply returns to the status quo prior to the last elections. Israel was not a true democracy before this government was formed and began to dismantle the basic contours of democracy: The independence of the judiciary; the separation of powers; checks and balances on powers of the government; the ability of the legislature to oversee the government; the freedom of the press; the protection of the rights of minorities; free speech; freedom to organize; and the most fundamental – equality of all of the citizens.
Israel, before the forming of our current government, had only two independent branches of government – the executive and the judicial. The legislative branch of Israel’s government ceased to be independent long ago and unlike the US Congress, the Knesset has no real ability to oversee the work of the executive branch.
When Israeli ministers are invited to appear before a Knesset committee, the Knesset has no legal ability to force the minister to appear. Often, the minister will send a low-level member of the staff of the ministry. There is no legal obligation to swear an oath to tell the truth to a Knesset committee hearing. The chances of a member of the opposition passing legislation in Israel are close to zero without government support because of almost total coalition/party discipline.
But, more important than all of the above, Israel, the so-called Jewish democratic state was, in reality – as MK Ahmad Tibi so aptly defined it – democratic for Jews and Jewish for Arabs. There has never been genuine equality between the Jewish and Arab citizens of the State of Israel and there is no law guaranteeing the equality of all Israelis.
The struggle for Israel’s democracy must not end with the freezing or the removal of all of the proposed legislation. Furthermore, Israel will never be a true democracy as long as it continues to rule over millions of Palestinians who are denied their most basic human and civil rights.
Honor Israel's Declaration of Independence
ISRAEL’S DECLARATION of Independence, which so many people in the protest movements are referring to, can certainly be seen as a declaration of intent and values by the nation’s founders. That document clearly stated that they believed the Jewish people deserved to have a Jewish nation-state. But they also made very clear statements about the democratic nature of the state.
It said: “The State of Israel will focus on the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants: It will be founded on the foundations of freedom, justice and peace in the light of the vision of the prophets of Israel; maintain full equality of social and political rights for all its citizens without distinction of religion, race and gender; guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; protect the holy places of all religions; and be faithful to the principles of the United Nations Charter.
“The State of Israel will be ready to cooperate with the institutions and representatives of the United Nations in fulfilling the resolution of the General Assembly of November 29, 1947 and will work to establish the economic unity of the Land of Israel in its entirety.”
So much of that lofty statement remains on paper only. The reality of Israel over the past 75 years is quite different.
That is the reason why over the past six months, several hundred people have been laboring to establish a new political party in Israel called “All of its Citizens” – taken right out of the Declaration of Independence. In its founding document the party states: “A political response is required to the deep tensions between Jewish and Arab Israelis. This must be a substantial partnership whose basis is civil, constitutional and egalitarian – a political party ‘All its citizens.’
“We believe that only such a foundation can put an end to the reality of inequality and resulting Jewish national superiority… Together we will make Israel a country which is a democracy that belongs to all its citizens and to all its communities, a healthy and prosperous society which respects every individual and every community… Commitment to the enactment of a civil and democratic constitution that will preserve the rights of every citizen, and the rights of every community, regardless of religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or any other difference. We commit to an uncompromising fight against violence and against all those who seek to deny or eliminate the rights and freedoms of the other.”
The new party has not made a determination yet on the best solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it does state: “Uncompromising commitment to ending the occupation, to sustainable peace and for a just political settlement agreed upon by the two national communities. The peace arrangements will be based on human rights, on full equality for every person and every community between the Jordan and the sea…”
As one of the founding members of the party, I can state that we seek to unite the forces of true democracy in Israel and to ensure that when we next go to the polls, whenever that will be, those who support the principles stated above will have one list to support that will be formed as a federation or coalition of like-minded political parties.
The list will be equal in its constitution of Palestinian citizens of Israel and Jewish citizens of Israel, as well as gender-balanced in a way that reflects our true values. We do not seek to divide; we seek to unify. Those who support these ideas and principles should work hard to ensure that the current mass protest movement for democracy does not stop short of ensuring real democracy.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to peace between Israel and her neighbors. He is a founding member of Kol Ezraheiha – Kol Muwanteneiha (All of its Citizens) political party in Israel. He is now directing The Holy Land Bond and is the Middle East Director for ICO – International Communities Organization.