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The Only Democracy? » On The Ground Reports » Israeli Democracy: Bubble about to Burst?

Israeli Democracy: Bubble about to Burst?

By Inna Michaeli,  Coalition of Women for Peace (Israel)

“Uh-oh, we’re in trouble
Something’s come along and it’s burst our bubble”

– Shampoo, “Trouble”

Just last Wednesday a new poll was published, solicited by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, indicating that a vast majority of Jewish Israelis think that human rights organizations that expose immoral conduct by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely. Most of the respondents also stated that Israeli citizens who support international pressure on Israel should be punished, as well as journalists who publish news “that reflect badly on the actions of the defense establishment”. At the same time, 98% of those polled claimed that they believe in freedom of expression.

That was Wednesday’s news buzz, but it only took 24 hours for the situation to deteriorate. On Thursday, we faced a new Knesset-led attack on human rights and peace organizations in Israel. More than 20 Members of Knesset submitted a law proposal to outlaw human rights organizations involved in activities to bring Israeli military and governmental officials to international courts, in order to investigate their involvement in war crimes committed in Gaza. Among the organizations mentioned by the MKs were the Coalition of Women for Peace, Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel.

We are still trying to grasp the full meaning of this proposal, backed up by the current militaristic and anti-democratic public opinion in Israel. Human rights organizations are to be silenced, journalists are to be punished for reporting the truth and citizens are to be imprisoned for supporting non-violent international intervention? What are we to expect in the news tomorrow?

The new law proposal did not pass yet and perhaps will not pass at all. Yet, it is just another step in a wild attack on peace organizations and human rights defenders – by Knesset Members, extremist organizations and journalists feeding the Israeli public with distorted half-truths and straightforward lies. No doubt it will be followed by other measures, intended to shut us up.

The aforementioned public opinion poll and law proposal expose the painful double-standard of what is referred to as the Israeli democracy. The belief in democratic values, such as freedom of speech, and the respect for human rights are sincere. Yet they come with a willingness to compromise democracy and human rights any day, for almost any reason. The general atmosphere in Israel is highly militaristic, now even more than ever, and the public seems to support almost any measure against those that bring other voices into the public sphere or oppose Israel’s policies of occupation and discrimination.

The anti-democratic racist logic always finds its excuses, explanations and justifications, without renouncing the progressive democratic discourse. Israel committed war crimes in Gaza? Blame Hamas, we are not responsible; discriminating policies are implemented against Palestinian citizens of Israel? They are not loyal enough to the Jewish state; universal jurisdiction endangers Israeli military and government officials? Let’s demand that the British government will alter laws and cancel universal jurisdiction (who needs it anyway); the UN calls for a ceasefire for Israel to lift the siege of Gaza? Well, the world hates us, of course.

This powerful logic dominates the public discourse, the education system, the government and the judicial system. It is embraced by many Israelis so strongly and warmly, that one can be easily confused and perhaps even convinced for a moment that Israelis really do believe what they are saying. And they look so Western, too…

This convincing double-standard doesn’t work as well in other countries and regions. They have their own double-standards, their own forms of discrimination and oppression to justify. This is perhaps one of the reasons that international intervention is so threatening for the mainstream public and the official institutions in Israel. A strong solidarity movement of the international community and Palestinians and Israelis committed to justice and equality suddenly makes them take the Israeli peace and human rights organizations seriously.

In the new reality created by the ”threat” of international intervention (or rather its first steps), the ability of this dominant logic to solve every dilemma and dismiss every criticism is undermined.  Of course, some of us are frightened by what is happening around us. However, in the current political and social reality, it is not about pushing the public slightly to the left, instilling abstract values of tolerance or engaging a few more groups in peace education. The double-standard on democracy and human rights goes much deeper than that. It’s about changing the collective state of mind and finally bursting our bubble.

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