Israeli Democracy is Simply a Facade
If we believe in democracy, we must believe in it for everyone
Israel defines itself as a “Jewish and democratic state”. This is an oxymoron. Israel’s political system is an apartheid-type system that discriminates against the Palestinian minority. It strips Arab citizens of multiple national and civil rights otherwise accorded to Jews.
Arab Israelis - of any religion - are designated as second-class citizens and denied equal democratic rights. How can a state that disenfranchises more than 20% of the population claim to be a democracy?
This is not to mention the Palestinians whose land is being grabbed by Israel to establish settlements which are illegal under international law, and the blockade of the West Bank and Gaza, which remain effectively occupied.
The simple question is: If Israel is a democracy only for its Jewish citizens, is it a democracy in any sense of the term?
It is this anomaly that makes each Israeli election incomplete. Israel occupies more than half of the people in the lands it controls and oversees. Its leaders and governments have never hesitated to assert that it is “the nation-state of the Jewish people, and the Jewish people only”.
By now, Israel has fulfilled all the requirements of being an official apartheid state and it is time that the world name it as such through a sturdy UN resolution. From this must follow measures related to boycotts, divestments, and sanctions, which are already gaining ground through popular pressure on businesses, universities and governments across the world.
The international community must allow hard politics to advance a principled and robust anti-racist, anti-colonialist policy that sees Israel having to work to reclaim its place in the comity of nations. There is no place for a colonising entity such as Israel to exist as an equal, at a time when the years of decolonisation have been completed, and it is believed that nations and peoples must live as equals.
Israel has no reason to claim any distinction that would allow it to be a growing colonialist power.
Palestinian Arabs deem their Israeli citizenship to be sheer political imagery. They are right to reject the political system as a ‘façade democracy’. Occupation and democracy are harsh contradictions and can never co-exist under a restricted system.
Since 1967, Israel has imposed ruthless and incapacitating restrictions on the movement of Palestinians inside the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Since 2006, it has imposed an overpowering and illegal siege and naval blockade of Gaza, amounting to collective punishment of 1.8 million Gazans, which surely amounts to a war crime.
The country has ruled millions of people without granting them the right to vote or to be elected to the systems that govern them. It not only robs them of their civil rights, it does far worse. Michael Sfard writing in Haaretz says bluntly: “It plunders their land and resources, and transfers them to the most privileged of its citizens, and deprives them brutally and cruelly of independence and of a say in deciding their future”.
Israel’s supporters in the international community showcase Israel as a vibrant democracy. These are largely countries in the Western hemisphere whose own recent political background is colonial in nature. In the international arena, their political behaviour is no less racist than Israel’s. Their support to Israel despite its brazen disregard for international law and international humanitarian practices, and violation of the Geneva Convention, marks them out as complicit with Israel’s crimes of warfare with citizens.
Is it even remotely conceivable that a western nation openly practising such authoritarian, discriminatory or oppressive policies would be allowed to easily get away with it?
If we believe in democracy, we must believe in it for everyone.
Rabbi Alissa Wise, a senior official at Jewish Voice for Peace in the USA had this to say in response to recent Israeli actions: “A democracy does not deny 4.75 million Palestinians who live under Israeli control the right to vote. A democracy does not establish a ‘Nation State Law’ privileging Jewish rights above Palestinian rights. A democracy does not incarcerate an entire people by land, air and sea. That is called something else: apartheid”.
Clearly, Israel’s founding fathers never intended it to be a secular, democratic state. Here’s what they proclaimed in 1948:
“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
Analysts ask why there is no reference anywhere to democracy. Apparently, that idea was pondered over for several drafts and re-drafts but eventually abandoned. Was that the foremost and now everlasting deception?
It is clear that even this proclamation was designed to pull wool over the world’s eyes while clandestinely planning a racist state in policy and practice. Democracy was never Israel’s political destination.
The millions of descendants of the 720,000 Palestinian refugees forced out of their homes during the Nakba are still banned from re-entering, and most are forced to live in permanent refugee camps around the Middle East or trapped in Gaza’s open-air prison.
In the last 16 months, protestors in Gaza have been holding the weekly Great March of Return demonstrations, demanding the Palestinian right of return guaranteed by the United Nations, and an end to the 12-year blockade of Gaza.
Israel has responded to these peaceful, yet stubborn demonstrations with brutality, killing some 296 Palestinians and wounding hundreds more, including children.
Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, recently wrote in reference to the most recently concluded elections that “Israel is not a democracy… Democracy is the rule of the people, not the rule of one people over another.”
Israeli governments’ most notorious political tactic has been to shock their own people about threats to the country’s existence and to its security, by invoking the threat that Arabs have just one intention: to exterminate the Jews. Utter falsehood and scare tactics. The risks to Israel’s democracy emanate not from Arab militancy, but from Israel’s own lack of moral fibre in the political arena.
The notion that Israeli political thinkers and analysts who defend Israel’s partial democracy advance is that because it is surrounded by “enemies”, Israel must retain a “defensive democracy”. This is a sheer lie to cover the crime. It lacks credible foundations.
Sensible Israelis have started concluding that the occupation is untenable. The racist-colonialist ideology must give way to genuine democracy that is visibly real. After all, if Israel seeks an authentic democracy, it must learn swiftly that one community cannot rule over a land and its peoples, because the land it claims has always been inhabited by those of another nation, with different national aspirations.
If Israel desires democracy, it must abandon the notion of a Jewish state with a Jewish majority.
Ranjan Solomon has worked on the question of Palestine for over 30 years and is a steady advocate for a just solution to the seemingly intractable Palestine-Israel conflict.