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Democratic for Jews, Jewish for everyone else

Can this flag stand for all its citizens or only the Jewish ones? Photo: Yossi Gurvitz

Can this flag stand for all its citizens or only the Jewish ones? Photo: Yossi Gurvitz

Despite the hysteria of the past week, Israeli democracy is in perfect health. Well, for the Jewish citizens of the country anyway. Avigdor Lieberman’s push to investigate leftist NGO’s is a political trick which lacks significant power to change the situation on the ground. Lieberman’s trick was designed to cast the Israeli left as reactionary and quick to cry wolf. It largely achieved its goals. The incredible mobilization to ‘save Israeli democracy’ reinforces the notion that democracy for Jews is in perfect health. The left was attacked, people took to the streets and the system worked. If Lieberman’s desire to investigate leftist NGO’s reaches the next level in the parliament, concerned Jewish citizens will surly take the proper recourse under Israeli law.

Democracy for non-Jews in Israel is another story all together. Palestinian, Bedouin and Druze citizens face institutionalized discrimination in all sectors of life from education to building permits. This everyday denial of rights does not spark nearly the same reaction in the general public. In fact , it is seldom discussed on the nightly news and hardly ever do twenty thousand people march through Tel Aviv in support of minority rights. It is only when Jews are threatened does the population respond with calls that Israeli democracy is under attack.

Hours after the democracy march in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening, Israel began destroying the Bedouin village of al-Arakib for the 9th time. The village is home to Israeli citizens many of whom have served in the army. The citizens are Bedouins and their village, which has been in the same place for the last eighty years, was targeted by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) for destruction in order to make way for a forest. Through the selective enforcement of law and the denial of justice to the villagers, Israel has given itself the necessary permits to destroy the village time after time. In other words, had the residents of al-Arakib been Jewish citizens of Israel, the village would not have been destroyed.

It is reckless to judge the health of Israeli democracy by analyzing the democratic rights of the Jewish population. A democracy should be judged by how it treats its minority. Far from the parliamentary investigation committee which causes twenty thousand to march, the events that took place in al-Arakib represent a real threat to Israeli democracy. With the collapse of Labor party and the current aggressive right wing government, the Israeli left should transform its feelings of perceived persecution and begin to fight against the real persecution of Israel’s minorities. Can we imagine, twenty thousand people marching in Tel Aviv tonight in favor of the democratic rights of the people in al-Arakib? Sadly, the answer is no and there is the problem of Israeli understandings of democracy in the Jewish state.

MK Ahmed Tibi once told me that Israel is ‘democratic to Jews and Jewish to everyone else.” In order to save Israeli democracy this statement must become irrelevant. The Israeli left has an opportunity to one up Lieberman’s political tricks and focus on the democratic rights of the non-Jewish minority in Israel. If this happens an honest discussion of the health of Israeli democracy will begin. Perhaps then the foundations of Israel’s democracy will begin a process of repair and Israel will then really become the Middle East’s only democracy.

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    1. I don’t agree with the division of Jews and non-Jews when it comes to speaking about democratic liberties granted in Israel.
      And I also think its false to judge democracy based (in this case) on minority rights.
      Women, who make up more than 50% of the population, aren’t a minority group but they’re treated as such. EVEN the jewish ones.

      Jewish women in Israel are less represented, earn less then men, their freedom of movement is compromised (with official agreement of the court system). They are abused by the white-Jewish-men that are running the country, just like arabs are.
      The difference is that there’s the whole Israeli Left to cry out when the arabs are being trampled, no one cares when the women are.

      A completely sexist issue such as jewish women dating arab men has been turned by left wing jewish men into a racism hoax, when in fact, you could replace the word “arab” there with any other type of ‘goi’ to be found in the area and those religious MEN would be yelling the same message. Only then, the Israeli left will be silent. As long as no one uses the word “arab” not to their liking, there’s no point leaving the house for their sisters in the struggle.
      Where were those enlightened-democracy-supporting demonstrators when women were told to sit at the back of the bus? When their mothers brought home less money?
      Funny, I would think the women on the left would deserve a lot more from people who demonstrate at the same demonstrations and know exactly how difficult being a woman there can sometimes be.

      I find that the state operates in such a fashion that ANY group that can be taken advantage of, is taken advantage of, regardless of religion.
      (I add to this that for Religious women citizens of Israel, the situation is worse since they have 2 institutions weighing on them- all of course run by men, regardless of their religion).

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    2. BlightUntoNations

      ………………………………………Tahel…unfortunately, until Jewish women in Israel are subjected to beatings, arbitrary arrest, demolition of their homes and occasionally assassination, the topic remains a distraction. Many women’s group’s are on the front lines of the ethnic cleansing movement and are among the most vocal of the settler zombies. It’s time for Israel to clean up its putrid mess, which unfortunately, is largely rooted in Judaic precepts that large numbers of Jews are resistant to dispense with. The lunatic ideology of Judaism is bad for women. it’s bad for everyone, The existence of a Jewish state is bad for everyone. We have to find a way to get rid of this scourge, not simply treat the opportunistic infections that go along with it. (As an aspiring physician, I’m sure you can appreciate the analogy. )

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    3. While I agree with the general message (and I like Tibi’s quote), I think that by saying “everything is the same, all the time,” you risk missing the places where change can and does happen – and recognizing such opportunities is what politics is all about.
      I was happy with the demo last Saturday. I would have been happier if 20K marched in Sheikh Jarrah or El-Arakiv, but this could have been a start.

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      • I agree that the march was a good thing and I am/was supportive of the left’s showing. But it was a good thing for something that is not in danger. Even for extreme left wing Jewish activists, the democratic system in Israel works pretty well. I think that we could get to a point where the system will fail for Jews but it is in the future. This country is still very much a Jewish state.
        In my opinion, the real threat to Israeli democracy is how it treats its non-Jewish minorities. It is only there that real change can happen for this state to be the only democracy in the middle east. Sadly, I feel as though the march on Saturday confirmed more the Jewish character of Israel and not the democratic because of the catalyst and showing.

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    4. Tahel, I think that you raise an excellent point. This is a systemic problem in every democracy, but in Israel according to the point that I am making in this post, a Jewish woman still has more rights than a Palestinian man or woman. So the issue remains that the fundamental problematic is one of ethnic or religious classification in Israeli society. That being said, women no matter what their backgrounds, are treated far far worse than men in this society. I will write something exploring this issue in the detail that it deserves but for this post I felt that it went beyond the scope of the specific argument that I was trying to make. The bottom line that you raise is one hundred percent is that democracy in Israel and in the west deprives woman of their democratic rights. This is not isolated in Israel and deserves to be analyzed in depth in the Israeli context as well as the Palestinian one.

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    5. No argument from me, I completely agree with your points.
      The context I was aiming for with my comment is the point you made about the majority of the Left getting caught up in playing victim, and only being able to pull out the masses when it comes to Jews’ rights, only I was commenting on the radical left that, while doing more than most, is also at some point sitting down to rest. And it seems that the point they have chosen is when it comes to the rights of some of their own fellow women.

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    6. BlightUntoNations

      …………………………………………The attacks on women praying at the wailing wall are religious in nature. The hebraic nutballs even attacked a crippled man for using his electrified wheelchair on the sabbath. The routine racism and much of the misogyny comes from Judaic lore. The ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians is only 50% a greed for land and resources. The rest is rooted in biblical psychosis, which atheist Jews in Israel seem nearly as beholden to as the ultra-orthodox maniacs. It has become integral to Jewish identity, this “settling of the land” nonsense. At the end of the day, Passover needs to be repealed. Religious celebrations of barbarity and murder like Purim have to be denounced. The rabbis and the synagogues must lose their immunity from attack. The entire issue of what it means (if indeed, it means anything at all) to be Jewish must be fiercely interrogated. The Jewish state must cease to exist. No partial measures hold out much promise. We see this with many other issues as well, for example climate change. Any remedy that fails to reduce world population is at best, a very short term means of averting complete disaster.

      Reply to Comment
    7. F

      “Palestinian, Bedouin and Druze citizens face institutionalized discrimination”

      Joseph – this bring up an interesting question. What is the situation for the Jewish-Druze Israelis?

      Reply to Comment