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Israel Ditches Democracy Amidst Independence Day Celebration

Richard Silverstein

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Triumph of the Jewish will: Israel Mt. Herzl Independence Day ceremony featuring flag standards of IDF service units and reminiscent of another historic triumphalist ceremony


May 6, 2014


On Israel Independence Day, the Netanyahu government succeeded in torching democracy at the expense of  a budding theocracy.  A bill to amend Israel’s Basic Law and declare Israel as a Jewish state, one which has been fought successfully by former Likud elders who were eliminated in a settler putsch during the last party primaries, will be introduced in the Knesset next week.  If it passes it will represent what I ironically call the Triumph of the Jewish Will.

For the naive Zionists among you (the few there are left) you may ask: what’s so bad about declaring the obvious, that Israel is a state for and by Jews.  Aside from the fact that this is a false premise (one out of five Israelis are Palestinian), turning Israel into an declared religious state will jeopardize democracy.  Contrary to the solemn declarations of generations of Zionists in Israel and the Diaspora, Israel cannot be both.

The law declaring Israel to be the nation-state of the Jewish people is Netanyahu’s updated ticket into the heart of the Israeli right…By placing this law on the agenda, Netanyahu is attempting to shake off any vestiges of the negotiations he was forced to hold, and which caused him to be suspect by the right. Even if this dramatic law ultimately fails, Netanyahu can pride himself that at least he tried. On the other hand, if the law does pass in the Knesset, it would leave an enormous question mark hovering over the democratic nature of the state.

The meaning of this is simple: Netanyahu is prepared to gamble on the democratic nature of the State of Israel to stay in office and reap political benefits. The very person who came out in his previous term against the uninhibited laws proposed by Knesset members from the right…has abandoned all that is left of revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s respectful…manner [toward democracy] and the heritage of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin in the Likud.

…There is a connection between this atmosphere of total anarchy when it comes to containing acts against Arabs and the consolidation of the rule of the settlers within the Likud Party and the government. It seems as if Netanyahu had not only abandoned any efforts to combat extreme right-wing elements in his party such as the Danons and the Elkins. He is actually aligning himself with them by adopting the same kinds of legislation and patterns of operation.

Netanyahu is the first prime minister to vilify the legacy and the existing legislation which anchor Israel as a Jewish state that successfully maintains a democratic regime, and he is doing it for populist reasons.

The Al Monitor report further notes that Bibi judges that to retain power indefinitely, he feels he must hitch his star to the far-right element within his party.  Only by an alliance with the rising young "populists" will he be able to win future election contests.  Now, instead of deferring to the elder statesmen of the Likud and reigning in the firebrands, Bibi has thrown his arms around the latter and embraced them as his own sons.

It’s also no accident that settler price tag attacks have become epidemic.  Instead of one a week or month previously, now there is one or more a day.  Shootings, vandalism, destruction of property, desecration of mosques and cemeteries are now so common they don’t even break into the news cycle.  Israelis have become anaesthetized to settler hate.  One of the reasons such hate thrives in the political hothouse that it modern Israel is racist legislation like this.

It’s also no accident that the settler hate crimes are barely investigated, let alone prosecuted.  My last post recounted the attacks by a former Shabak and Mossad chief against the current Shabak head, Yuval Cohen, for failing to combat Jewish terror.  Impunity endorsed at the highest level of Israeli society also conveys the clear message that Israel is a state by and for Jews–let others be damned.

The article finally concludes on this note:

The passing of this law is a seminal move that goes far beyond disturbing the balance between the democratic and Jewish nature of the state, which have existed in tandem for the past 66 years. It could alter the established order and grant legal preferences to Jewish principles over democratic ones. In other words, it can officially turn Israeli-Arabs into discriminated-against and second-rate citizens. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s prediction of an apartheid state could be realized even sooner than anticipated.

…It is obvious to all that he [Netanyahu] has raised a white flag of surrender to the right wing and the settlers.

I would go much farther and say that such a law would open the floodgates of racism to new-old proposals like ethnically cleansing Israeli-Palestinians or rejiggering borders so that Israel’s Palestinian citizens are eliminated from Israel (a Lieberman proposal which I call ethnic cleansing lite).  It will revive proposals like the loyalty oaths of which Lieberman was so enamored during the last campaign.  Right now, Israel places African refugees into internment camps in places like Holon.  What do you think people like Lieberman, Danon and Elkin have in store for Palestinian citizens who refuse to take such an oath?  It ain’t summer camp!

There is, of course, a still small voice alive within Israel.  A voice that represents that tiny surviving remnant of democratic values.  It could be found yesterday in Tel Aviv at Combatants for Peace 9th annual joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day commemoration.  It presents Israeli and Palestinian performers and speakers (though the Palestinians have been impeded by security forces from attending past events as some sort of threat to the Israeli consensus).  In honor of this band of hearty activists who represents the best of Israel, I offer this short video of the ceremony.

There will undoubtedly be a reader or two who believe I’ve gone too far in my reference to Leni Reifenstahl’s Triumph of the Will in the Israeli context.  To them I want to be clear that history never repeats itself verbatim.  So if Israel turns into a racialist theocratic state of the sort Meir Kahane envisioned, which is a distinct possibility, it won’t ape Nazi Germany.  There hopefully will not be extermination camps and crematoria.  There will be no genocide.  But there will be ugliness you and I can’t even imagine.  It will shock even someone like me who has witnessed these episodes for decades.  That is why the reference to Nazi Germany is apt.  It reminds of the worst the future may have in store even if it doesn’t quite come to that.



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