THINK ABOUT IT: Superfluous laws

Though the Knesset has not passed a law as objectionable as the Polish Holocaust-related law, it has passed legislation that appears to deny historical facts.

Gavel from Reuters 150 (photo credit: REUTERS/Chip East)
Gavel from Reuters 150
(photo credit: REUTERS/Chip East)
Poland’s new Holocaust-related legislation is despicable, because of its background and spirit more than its actual wording.
The legislation seeks to detach Poland from responsibility for the Holocaust, which was initiated and perpetrated by Nazi Germany, turning any insinuation that Poland and the Polish nation hold such responsibility into a violation of the law, even though it does not deny (or admit) that individual Poles actively or passively participated in despicable Holocaust-related activities, or collaboration with the Nazi authorities.
In other words, it is not at all clear whether Prof. Jan Grabowski from Canada – the son of a Polish Holocaust survivor – would be found to be in breach of the new law following the publication of his book Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland, published in October 2013, which deals with the murder of Jews by Poles during World War II.
The law should, however, be seen against the background of growing criticism in the West of the Law and Justice Party-led Polish government for truncating democratic norms and institutions through policies designed to emasculate judicial independence, weaken civil liberties, politicize the civil service and exert control over the media. Sound familiar? Sadly, similar criticism can also justifiably be hurled at the current Israeli government. Part of the criticism relates to laws passed by the Knesset – some government-initiated, and others private members’ bills supported by the government – that deserve the description “anti-democratic” and should never have been submitted in the first place, even if the intentions behind them were not anti-democratic.
Though the Knesset has not passed a law as objectionable as the Polish Holocaust-related law, it has passed legislation that appears to deny historical facts. Thus, the 2011 “Nakba Law” enables the Finance Minister to deny government financing to bodies that view Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning, even though there is no denying that the establishment of the State of Israel led to a catastrophe for the Palestinian Arabs, resulting in hundreds of thousands of Palestinians becoming refugees, and the loss of property even by those who remained in Israel.
Of course, the fact that the Arabs had rejected the 1947 UN partition plan and refused to establish a Palestinian state in part of what was Mandatory Palestine places part of the responsibility for what happened to the Palestinians in 1948/49 on them. But nevertheless, rejecting the Nakba out of hand, and putting in place sanctions against Israeli citizens who view it as an integral part of their history, is a denial of historical facts.
However, it should also be noted that the original Nakba Bill (proposed by Yisrael Beytenu MK Alex Miller) sought to impose imprisonment of up to three years on anyone marking Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning and was rejected out of hand by the Knesset, which further differentiates between the Polish and the Israeli laws.
I DO not intend to list all the problematic bills rejected and laws passed which were supported by the current government, but should like to mention one, that will apparently be brought to the plenum in the Knesset’s summer session, with coalition support.
This time it is a bill that not only seeks to hurt the Arabs, but also the haredim (ultra-Orthodox). The bill was submitted by MK Oded Forer, and another MK from Yisrael Beytenu, and seeks to change the wording of the declaration of allegiance of Knesset members, that currently says: “I undertake to be loyal to the State of Israel, and fulfill faithfully my mission in the Knesset.” THE PROPOSED new version would state that “I undertake to be loyal to the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, in the spirit of the Proclamation of Independence, to uphold its emblems and respect them....”
What is wrong with this proposal? It seeks to force Arab and haredi MKs to include words in their declaration of allegiance that are objectionable to them, which would either cause them to lie in their oath, or deny them a seat in the Knesset on grounds that are undemocratic and likely to result in the delegitimation of the political and governmental system.
One of the passive elements in the job of the MK is to provide legitimation to the political and government system among their voters. By playing the parliamentary game according to the rules and procedures, even if they have reservations about the definition of the system (which applies to both the Arab and the haredi MKs) , MKs contribute to the stability of the system.
If the representatives of close to a third of the population (Arabs and haredim) decide to break the rules of the game, for whatever reason, the system is liable to be shaken, and democracy weakened.
When the original declaration of allegiance for MKs was worded in 1948/49 in the Justice Ministry, it was deliberately decided to prefer a minimalistic version to a more elaborate one, to avoid dissent – and indeed, never did an MK refuse to make the declaration [though MK Meir Kahane of the Kach Party tried to add words of his own, and was finally forced to retract].
Throughout the years, but especially the past two decades, all efforts to add words to the declaration were warded off by the government, on the grounds that shaking the boat was superfluous and dangerous. The current government is the first to change course – not necessarily because it wishes to undermine the position of the Arabs and the haredim, but within the framework of the prime minister’s policy of giving in to the legislative demands of his coalition members to avoid coalition crises; in this case the bill is a Yisrael Beytenu hobby horse.
This is not to say that the prime minister, or any of his ministers, have decided to deliberately undermine the Israeli democratic system, it is simply that many of them do not seem to have given sufficient thought to the long-term implications of their proposals, beyond their serving immediate political interests, or weakening the old liberal and social-democratic elites, who despite many years in opposition still seem to have a say in what happens in Israel (and thank heavens for that).
However, no matter what their motives, it is time that our government started looking at the long-term ramifications of its actions, and if it cannot do so through introspection, perhaps it can do so by looking at what is happening in Poland, an extreme right-wing, chauvinistic and racist country that places “national honor” above all other values and enacts superfluous laws in its service