Above – Tibi and other Arab MPs have opposed Israel’s aerial and ground assault on the Gaza Strip [File: EPA]
Israel proclaims itself as the Middle East’s ‘only democracy’. The reality, as Avi Shlaim wrote
in last Saturday’s Guardian, is somewhat different.
‘Israel likes to portray itself as an island of democracy in a sea of authoritarianism. Yet Israel has never in its entire history done anything to promote democracy on the Arab side and has done a great deal to undermine it. Israel has a long history of secret collaboration with reactionary Arab regimes to suppress Palestinian nationalism. Despite all the handicaps, the Palestinian people succeeded in building the only genuine democracy in the Arab world with the possible exception of Lebanon. In January 2006, free and fair elections for the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority brought to power a Hamas-led government. Israel, however, refused to recognise the democratically elected government, claiming that Hamas is purely and simply a terrorist organisation.’
As the Rabbi Meir Kahane MK, of the Nazi Kach movement used to say, Israel can be a democratic state of a Jewish state. Another way of putting this is to say that Israel can be a state of all its citizens or a racist state of its Jewish citizens. What happened at the Central Elections Committee, which is composed of representatives of all other parties (in itself, the fact that parties can vote to bar other parties signifies that Israel’s democracy is but a thin veneer) what the most overtly racist parties in Israel – Yisrael Beitenu, which believes in transferring Israel’s Palestinian citizens out of Israel, led by overt racist Avigdor Liebermann, and the equally racist National Union-National Religious Party.
Zionists are arguing that this ban will be overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court. It probably (though not definitely) will. Arab parties have been banned in the past, notably Al Ard (The Land). But the mere fact that the existence of separate Arab parties, in a state where Zionist parties are the norm, depends on the whim and mood of Israel’s Jewish judges, in itself shows how deeply anti-democratic Israel’s political culture really is.
Below are the contents of a press release by the Mosawa Centre on this decision.
Mossawa Center’s Reaction to the Decision of the Central Election Committee:
The Decision Hurts What Remains of Israeli Democracy, Deepens Tensions, and Will Again Hurt the Stance of the Israeli Supreme Court
January 12th – Israel’s Central Elections Committee (CEC) has banned the Knesset’s two Arab political parties, the United Arab List-Ta’al and Balad, from participating in the February 2009 elections. This move to disenfranchise the Arab minority in Israel was supported by right wing parties Yisrael Beiteinu and the National Union-National Religious Party, securing the alliance of centralists Kadima and Labor. The CEC decision will be challenged in the Supreme Court.
The Mossawa Center perceives this move as part of an ongoing trend of political delegitimization of the Arab community and is aimed towards dissuading any Arab voice away from political decisions, a trend that has accelerated since 1995. Mossawa appeals to preserve both democracy and civil rights and expresses deep concern that there is a majority in the Knesset and the Israeli public that supports such anti-democratic initiatives.
The CEC decision both offends both the remaining democratic fabric of the state, made explicit in Israel’s Basic Laws and previous Supreme Court decisions, and international norms of civil liberties and freedom of expression, specifically violating Article 19 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Mossawa sees the consequence of such a decision, namely that the Supreme Court must be the last guarantor of democracy as a dangerous precedent. Implicating an appointed court to again rule on the political parameters of democracy blurs the state separation of powers within the states and undermines the political independence of the court which has wider implications for the future protection of human rights and democracy. This is an attack by leaders Lieberman and Kadima Minister of Justice Friedman on the legitimacy of the Supreme Court itself.
Significantly, the incremental effect of these moves will only fuel further tensions and legitimizes incitement by the media and political figures, which in turn endorses Israeli and IDF aggression, for example in the recent Gaza conflict. Mossawa reiterates that political parties and the media have responsibilities to protect human rights and democratic values.
Since the 1950s there is a correlative downturn in the political participation of the Arab community and a series of boycotts of general elections. In 2006 just 56% of the community participated in an election which has further exacerbated tensions between the majority and minority community. In 2001 82% of the community boycotted the Prime Minister elections, because following the massive use of violence by police forces during Ehud Barack’s term that resulted in killing of 13 Arab citizens and feelings of marginalization and reluctance to confer legitimacy to the Israeli government.
The Arab community has a role in supporting domestic and regional peace, and as a core group with the ability to stabilize a Middle East peace process. For example, that the Oslo Accords were given support and political momentum from the six Arab MKs under Prime Minister Rabin’s term is ignored by the media and political forces who have upheld a tradition of excluding Arab parties from government coalitions. January 12th decision sets a dangerous precedent, further damaging Israeli democracy and alienating the Arab minority at a time when the state and the peace process most requires their assistance
As in the previous law and military confrontations the Arab community stands against the current war in Gaza. The Arab community position against the war has been undermined by political leaders and media for the last two weeks.
The Mossawa Center reiterates its call for a return to full democracy for all citizens of Israel and respect for civil liberties.
Mossawa Center – The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens
Israel poll ban for Arab parties
Israel bans Arab parties from running in upcoming elections