Three major laws were passed in the Knesset this week: One against the Palestinians parties, the second against the ultra-Orthodox, and the third against the prospect of peace.
Netanyahu’s coalition mobilized this week to pass its centerpiece legislation: the draft reform, the governance law and the referendum law. It’s not a coincidence that those three laws are directly targeting those who are not represented in the government – the first takes aim at the ultra-Orthodox community, the second at the Arab citizens of Israel, and the third is meant to torpedo a future agreement with the Palestinians. The laws were passed together, as part of a political package deal between all coalition members and using rare legislation protocols against the opposition.
The governance law – a joint initiative of Yair Lapid and Avigdor Lieberman – is probably the biggest lie of them all, as it seeks to solve a problem that does not exist: political blackmail. Israelis prefer the word “extortion,” a term used by the elites against the attempt by minorities to organize politically and demand their share of the national wealth and resources. Somehow, those who complain about such maneuvers are always the richest, most powerful elements of society. Between their fifth apartment, the investment portfolio and the SUV, the most urgent need they have is to cut 20 shekel-a-month child welfare payments to the ultra-Orthodox community.
This specific law, however, will not even deal with the ultra-Orthodox, who are often referred to as the “parasites” of the Israeli electoral system. The new bill raises the Knesset threshold (the share of votes necessary to enter the parliament) to 3.25 percent, or roughly four seats. This, by coincidence, is the exact share usually won by the Palestinian parties – who never became part of any government and therefore were never in a position to “blackmail” anyone. Let’s be honest – Lapid and Lieberman always ranted about the Arab representatives in parliament, and now they are simply trying to throw them out of the Knesset.
In an interview to Yedioth Ahronoth this weekend, Lieberman even went as far as estimating that the Palestinians will find it very hard to unite and cross the new threshold. He has a point – while theoretically the Arab parties run under a single ticket, this would be an extremely difficult coalition to maintain, which could actually attract less voices. Religious Islamists will now need to vote for secular candidates, the Jews who vote for Hadash will find themselves with the more radical members of Balad, and so on. For the racist politicians of Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beiteinu, victory is almost guaranteed.
Much of the same goes for the “equal [military draft] burden” hoax. Equal burden is an empty slogan in a country where nothing is equal – assets, rights or legal privileges. Israel desperately needs to diminish the influence of the army over its society and to introduce the Orthodox into the job market. The draft reform law does the opposite: It inflates the army and continues to link the issue of work with army service, at least in the ultra-Orthodox communities’ consciousness. As a result, the law might actually stop some of the positive trends that took place recently among the ultra-Orthodox. The right move should have been allowing Haredi community to work without losing their Yeshiva allowances, and simply leave out the issue of service.
The free riders in Israel are not Yeshiva students; at most, they are caught in a problematic political arrangement. The free riders are those benefiting from tax breaks and loopholes, from the fact that Israel has no tax on inheritance, or from the distributions of national treasures to the super-rich, or from the privatization or national services. Naturally, Lapid will never challenge these problems, because they benefit his friends, his supporters and his donors.
For dessert, the coalition has given us the referendum law, which places another hurdle in the unlikely event of a genuine intention by an Israeli government to end the occupation, be that on its own or as a part of a peace accord. According to this piece of legislation, any handing over of territory governed by Israeli law (like the Palestinian neighborhoods and villages in and around East Jerusalem, or territory west of the Green Line which could be made part of “land swaps”) must be approved by a national referendum. This seemingly democratic measure follows a false logic – as if ending the occupation is and should be an Israeli “choice” – one that the public could make or alternatively reject for an unforeseeable future.
It is therefore worth reminding that indefinite control over civilian population, or the introduction of two separate legal systems for two ethnic populations, are illegitimate by their nature, regardless of what the Jewish public in Israel decides. Not to mention the fact that referendums were never part of the Israeli political tradition. If we are to have one why do it only when it comes to peace? Why not a referendum on the settlements? Or on the next war? In Israel, a simple majority can privatize the health system and a government decision can order war, but human rights are something that needs to be put into question at any given moment.
If someone still thought that there is a difference between the politicians that comprise this coalition – Netanyahu, Lieberman, Bennett, Livni or Lapid – this past week removed any doubt. There might be some nuances in their rhetoric – this one wants to maintain the diplomatic process while the other is interested in the price of dairy products – but in action, when it really counts, they are all united by their contempt for Israel’s minorities and its poorest populations, as well as their support for the occupation and the settlements. Racism, militarism and ultra-capitalism – this is the vision of the Israeli government for the coming years.
* A slightly shorter version of this text was published in Hebrew on TimeOut Tel Aviv’s March 13 issue.
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