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Israel is not a democracy as long as the occupation exists

An Israel that does not fight to free Palestinians from occupation is an Israel that will excel in occupation. This is the Left’s most urgent and important mission. 

By Alon Mizrahi

Israelis attend a rally marking 22 years since the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, November 4, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israelis attend a rally marking 22 years since the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, November 4, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

As in every year, the run-up to the commemoration of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin last week was full of attempts to describe Jewish existence in Israel with as much pathos as possible. Questions such as “what are we struggling for?” are answered as if life here is some kind of script or speech.

The 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration is another reason for celebration, as well as an excuse for endless talk intended to put us in a national trance — the kind that nullifies our personal existence and turns the individual into a single drop in a giant wave. We suffered, we went to war, we had our prophets, we built, we traveled, we have a hi-tech sector, we must live together. The neutral observer may wonder: does Israel even exist, or is it all in our imagination?

It is clear why the Right is interested in maintaining this reality. In Israel, as everywhere, the Right tends toward religiosity and nationalism. But why should the Israeli Left play ball? Or, if to be more concrete: why does the Left continue to talk about the central conflict in Israel as if it is one between “Jewish and democratic” without challenging the mystical elements of Judaism, without mentioning the fact that there is no such thing as a democracy that keeps five million people under military law.

What is the left struggling for anyway?

A left-wing Israeli protester stands next to masked Israeli riot police at an anti-occupation demonstration in the West Bank, April 1, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A left-wing Israeli protester stands next to masked Israeli riot police at an anti-occupation demonstration in the West Bank, April 1, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

What is the point of pretending that our argument is between a “fundamental” democracy and a “popular” democracy? Why argue over whether the independence of the courts or the media is an issue, rather than over the fact that the political, legal, and cultural establishment lives comfortably with the notion that Israel is a de facto military dictatorship?

The enormous gap between reality and the reality portrayed by the media and the political establishment is not just a disaster for the intelligence of Israeli citizens — it turns the existence of our political opposition into a joke.

Furthermore, when millions of people who lack basic political rights — some of them under direct military dictatorship — are entirely absent from the discussions of the Israeli Left, its criticism becomes groundless.

I am left wondering what leftists want when they criticize the government. What is their problem with Netanyahu and Bennett’s government? That its members don’t talk nice? That they are corrupt? So what? Doesn’t the Left also have its own people who don’t talk nice? Is it immune to corruption?

An Israeli soldier attempts to block the view of a photographer as Israeli soldiers search Palestinian men in the West Bank city of Hebron, June 22, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

An Israeli soldier attempts to block the view of a photographer as Israeli soldiers search Palestinian men in the West Bank city of Hebron, June 22, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

What is the main theme being articulated by those who do not view themselves as part of the ideological Right? What do they truly believe in? Do these people even have a unique worldview? Something worth struggling for?

The likely answer is no. The non-Right camp in Israel lacks all ideological fervor — it has no sense of urgency, no worldview worth struggling for. Sporadic opposition to all kinds of religious laws or fascistic school textbooks are no replacement for defined political goals, which require a clear ideological rival. Without these, it is no wonder that Israeli leftists feel a sense of emptiness. It is not because they don’t win, it is because they cannot even articulate what their victory will look like. This is not due to a lack of accomplishments, but rather a lack of ambition.

The truth hurts. So what?

The truth hurts. Uttering the words “Israel is not a democracy as long as occupation exists” is difficult. It is certainly difficult to present such a position to the world, as it may entail being marked as a self-hating Jew or traitor.

Moreover, it is difficult to sit around the dinner table and speak of the injustices of military dictatorship to your family. The most basic worldview in this country is one that views Arabs as sub-human. That is an extremely difficult premise, and very few can actually contend with it. But this is the central struggle in Israel, the elephant in the room. This is where the anger, the pain, and the intensity lie. This is where it is worth insisting on a moral position.

Strangely enough, the Palestinians have completely disappeared from Israeli Left’s public discourse. But what kind of justification does a political camp have if it does not challenge its rival? What kind of justification is there for talking about morality and democracy when such a giant injustice goes undiscussed?

As long as occupation exists, Israel is not a democracy. When it is undemocratic, it can only be a national home for Jewish citizens who lack any sense of morality or critical outlook. When it is undemocratic, and it is undemocratic, the regime can only increase its attempts at brainwashing. As our national story — how we view ourselves — grows more disconnected from the truth, there is an urgent need to make our citizens stupider and less aware.

An Israel that does not fight to free the Palestinians from occupation and oppression is an Israel that will excel in occupation and oppression, until it reaches the point that this is the only thing it knows how to do, and ties its fate to the dark forces of the world. This is the Israeli Left’s most urgent and important mission.

A left that lacks this understanding or fervor, one that does not have the willingness to insist on its path — even in the face of an aggressive Right — one that is welcoming to Jewish colonialism in this country, is a shallow and unattractive left. This kind of left will always fall victim to the tricks of the Right and an establishment that opposes change. Even likelier, however, is that it will fall victim to its own disconnected political theory, and disappear.

Alon Mizrahi is a writer and a blogger at Local Call, where this article was first published in Hebrew. Read it here.

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    1. Lewis from Afula

      The military occupation is the only thing keeping Israelis alive. Stop the occupation and you will get rockets, sneak tunnel attacks, suicicide bombers, shootings, stabbings and lots of car-ramming attacks all over the country.

      Reply to Comment
      • Tom Parker

        Sorry, there’s no occupation. The Arab population is thriving under Israeli rule.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Thriving like this, I gather? ==>

          Israeli Occupation’s Brutal Routine: Nightly Raids, Boys Cuffed for Hours and Seized Jewelry
          There’s never a dull night in the village of Beit Ummar, where the Israeli army is a regular visitor

          Parker, yours is an Orwellianism outdone here only by champion Orwellianist JeffB.

          Reply to Comment
          • Mark

            I suppose they are thriving compared to Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and shortly, it seems, Lebanon.

            Thriving is a relative rather than absolute term. Certainly the mantra seems to be if you don’t bomb us we won’t bomb you. Might work well in the aforementioned countries.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Mark: Only someone operating from a baseline of Israeli arrogance (rather typical, I’m afraid) and, let’s face it, contempt for non-Jews, and feeling himself privy to a sick Orwellianism and the usual whataboutery, could describe being subject to the nightly savagery, abuse of children, and brazen theft that is Israeli SOP in the West Bank as relative “thriving.”

            Reply to Comment
    2. JeffB

      I find it interesting how critical you are of the left not present a set of policies and goals in an article where you don’t present a set of policies and goals. I agree fully a realistic leftwing plan would be wonderful. Right now the good ideas for ending the occupation are coming from the right. And those plans just get rejected.

      Take for example: http://www.federation.org.il/index.php/en/
      This plan has Palestinians who have read it and like it. There are people mainly on the right who support it. This offers a way to end the occupation of the West Bank. Right now the opposition is coming from the left. Same as the Bennett plan.

      Then of course there is your main thesis. Israel have elections and these elections have meaningful impact on policy. That’s a democracy. There is an issue about how limited the enfranchisement is certainly. But that doesn’t mean it the country is not a democracy. People are right to reject that sort of extreme language.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “There is an issue about how limited the enfranchisement is certainly.”

        Gets my vote for the inanely disingenuous understatement of the year. Aka Orwellian.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      Once again you forget that for a large part of the Israeli People, it is not an occupation but a liberation.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        He didn’t forget anything. He applied his considerable intelligence and actually thought things through. You might try it some time. Oh wait…

        Reply to Comment
      • carmen

        Oh, that’s cute. You’ve changed the the meaning of ‘liberation’ to actually mean theft. That works too. The only thing liberated in palestine was their land and that was done by jewish terrorists backed up by their new version of colonialism they called ‘zionism’. You never fail to amuse Gordin.

        Reply to Comment
        • Mark

          “You never fail to amuse Gordin”

          I hope that gives you some comfort Carmen.

          Reply to Comment
    4. carmen

      ‘There are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know’.

      By posting this I’m not trying to convince any zionist of the evil of their ways – they already know and they just don’t give a shit. They would try to drag the rest of us down the road to perdition with them by their progaganda here and abroad 24/7, by labeling any criticism of their policies antisemitism (yawn) and by stifling, in some of the most violent, murderous ways, any attempts by palestinian to claim their rights to live on their land unmolested.

      Abby Martin Exposes Zionism & Israel on Joe Rogan Podcast – YouTube

      Aug 7, 2017 – Uploaded by Islam Rewards

      Reply to Comment
    5. brightdark

      The left that loves the Palestinians can’t get elected. Some parties can’t even make it over the threshold to be in the Knesset. Therefore Israel is not a democracy.

      Sound more like sour grapes from a tiny minority that is throwing a temper tantrum.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Bruce Gould

      In the meantime, “An Israeli entertainment magazine usually featuring Tel Aviv’s vibrant arts and culture scene crossed over Israel’s controversial separation barrier this week to shed a spotlight on Palestinian life in the West Bank and Gaza Strip…
      In a rare move, the Israeli-Jewish staff of Time Out Tel Aviv decided to hand over its popular platform to Palestinian writers, bloggers, photographers and artists to fill the weekly edition with detailed stories of how music, art, food, dance, theater and other entertainment enterprises manage to thrive, despite the 50-year-old military occupation of the West Bank.”


      Reply to Comment
      • Mark

        Shhhhh, Bruce. Don’t tell anyone. It will spoil the narrative.

        Reply to Comment
    7. Christopher Rushlau

      This article is worse than the Right it pillories: at least their (?) stance is consistent: get rid of the indigenous people. This one piles up a heap of indignation and then trails off in mumbling. What does Mizrahi say about the right of return for the expelled indigenous: “oh, sorry, that’s a deal-breaker, we can’t afford that much justice!”? More generally, does Mizrahi endorse a civil-rights state: majority rule with minority rights? Let me say something unlawyerly, since I’m not a lawyer: a rights regime is not a matter of law (much less of ideology): as Learned Hand said back in US legal history, rights are an aspiration: perhaps likened to an asymptote in geometrical graphs: idealized equality. The Chinese may have a clearer general concept of rights than Israelis, despite the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian institutions. How do people in a given state in general regard each other? In the US at the moment, for example, the prevailing attitude on the street, the pretty people’s attitude, is to ignore each other. That won’t work for long.

      Reply to Comment
    8. To Grace Joy:
      I think you will find a very definitive reply to your query as well as finding out just who you are by reading a couple of books by one of your own; Shomo Sand —

      Reply to Comment