- October 19, 2010
- 18 minutes read
The Israeli Knesset’s Anti-Democratic Agenda
An earlier article discussed the Mossawa Center calling the current Knesset the most racist in history.
It reviewed 2008 and 2009 legislation violating Israeli Arab rights, Mossawa saying "almost every day" they’re victimized by racist actions, and as a result, they face disruptive social, economic and cultural futures.
The upcoming winter Knesset session promises worse, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel’s Debby Gild-Hayo (ACRI) reviewing what’s expected in a report titled, "Harming Democracy in the Heart of Democracy." Ahead of the upcoming session, it addressed expected anti-democratic legislation, including:
- free expression political protest rights;
- equality before the law;
- verbal and physical abuse of minority MKs;
- efforts to delegitimize and infringe on legitimate human rights and social change organizations; and
- attempts to weaken academic freedom.
In sum, it represents extremist efforts to weaken Israeli democracy, or what passes for its current system, by destroying civil liberties, silencing minority views, and characterizing groups holding them as state enemies. In fact, "We are witnessing a reality of increasing tyranny against social, political, and national minorities, which harms their" rights and everyone’s. Perhaps more disturbing is that surveys of the past two years show public support, mainly among Israeli youths.
The Knesset’s 2010-11 Winter Session
Begun on October 10, the Knesset will address some previous session’s unapproved legislation and expected new ones to be introduced. They include:
(1) The Nakba Bill
As first written, anyone commemorating Nakba Day faced prison. It was then softened to deny observing persons or groups public funds, yet still threatens freely expressed minority views. The bill passed the preliminary reading, and may be addressed by the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee ahead of its first reading.
(2) The Anti-Incitement Bill
Amending existing law, it calls for arresting anyone denying the existence of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state. In other words, it criminalizes minority or opposition political views. It passed its preliminary reading and may be addressed by the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee ahead of its first reading.
(3) The Nationalization, Pledge of Allegiance Bill
It requires all Israeli citizens to pledge loyalty to Israel as a Jewish, democratic, Zionist state, and perform military or some form of national service. The government didn’t endorse the bill. In May 2010, a ministerial committee rejected it, and in July the cabinet did as well so far. However, efforts to reintroduce it are expected.
(4) The Admission Committees of Communal Settlements Bill
Its provisions let admission committees reject communal settlement memberships for anyone "fail(ing) to meet (its) fundamental views," its social fabric, and other aspects of how they’re run. Its real purpose is discriminatory – to exclude unwanted members based on their ethnicity, religion or political views. ACRI petitioned Israel’s High Court opposing the bill. It passed its first reading and will be address by the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee ahead of its second and third ones.
(5) The Funds from Foreign Political Entities Bill
In original form, individuals or groups receiving foreign funding must register with the party registrar and immediately report each contribution amount and its source. They must also publicly state they are funded by foreign nations and includes strict penalties. The bill tries "to delegitimize and impair on the activities of organizations that receive" outside funding, even though Israeli law already requires such reporting be made.
However, the new legislation expands on existing law to force "certain civil organization to mark their activities as subversive and illegitimate." It also focuses human rights groups (not others in favor) as a way to delegitimize and incriminate them unfairly. ACRI wrote the foreign minister warning against this type intervention. The Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee endorsed the amended bill. It will be presented for a first reading and addressed by the Committee ahead of its second and third ones.
(6) The Infiltration Bill
Among other provisions, it stipulates that infiltrators based on their country of origin and persons assisting them are subject to from five to seven years imprisonment. "This bill follows" the same delegitimizing trend against "human rights and aid organizations and individuals who help refugees and labor immigrants." The bill failed earlier, but key points will be reintroduced in the new measure, currently being drafted by the Justice Ministry.
(7) A Bill Against Boycott
It states that persons who initiate, promote, or publish material that might serve as grounds for an imposed boycott against Israel may be criminally charged. They’re also ordered to compensate parties economically harmed, including fixed 30,000 shekels reparations, freeing plaintiffs from the need to prove damages.
Further, if the accused is a foreign citizen, he or she will be prohibited from entering or doing business with Israel, and if a foreign nation is involved, whatever debt it’s owed may not be paid. The funds instead will be used to compensate aggrieved parties, and the country may be banned from further business dealings in Israel. In addition, the provisions "apply one year retroactively."
Again, the bill’s purpose is discriminatory. It targets certain internal political groups, and it aims to "neutralize the (ruling coalition’s) political opposition." It mainly rejects legitimate settlement product boycotts (including BDS ones)." It thus impedes "legitimate, legal, and nonviolent protest(s)," as well as Israeli free expression and assembly rights, what real democracies never prohibit.
The bill passed its preliminary reading. The Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee will next address it ahead of its first reading. Importantly, a ministerial committee rejected provisions pertaining to foreign citizens and states, fearing adverse outside reactions. It remains whether that consideration will hold.
(8) Bill on Revoking the Citizenship of Persons Convicted of Terrorism or Espionage
Israel’s Penal Code already deals with these issues, so why something new? This bill "infringes on the basic rights of Israel’s citizens" because when citizenship is revoked, other rights also are unfairly lost. The Interior Committee addressed the bill ahead of its first reading.
Two additional bills may also be submitted:
- An Associations Bill, banning suits filed abroad against Israeli politicians or military officers. Groups formed to file overseas suits are prohibited, and those established will be shut down; and
- a bill banning veils in public under penalty of imprisonment.
The attitude of coalition MKs is discriminatory, racist, and intolerant of minority members’ views. After the Gaza Flotilla slaughter, it became painfully evident, including verbal and physical abuse against Balad Party’s Hanin Zuabi for her participation.
Hostile MKs wanted her expelled, others prosecuted, and some set up a Facebook group calling for her execution, no matter that her action was humanitarian and lawful. The Palestinians’ Higher Monitoring Committee chose her to represent 1.5 million trapped Gazans. So targeting her vilifies and endangers all Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and supportive Jews. An August 18 Zuheir Andreus Haaretz article said "We are all Zuabi," meaning everyone for democratic freedoms is threatened.
ACRI filed a petition with Israel’s High Court against revoking her parliamentary rights. However, the prevailing Knesset attitude isn’t changing, for sure not in the current session in light of so-called peace talks, ongoing settlement construction, and hard-liners pushing a reactionary agenda overall.
Additional Winter Session Issues Affecting Human Rights
(1) Planning and Housing Reform
A new law will have "far-reaching implications" for all Israelis by impairing public participation in activities regarding the protection of popular interests.
(2) The State Budget and Arrangements Act
Israel’s biannual 2011-12 budget will be addressed, containing "numerous resolutions and amendments that impair on human rights (on) a wide range of issues." They include:
- courts accessibility;
- rights of the unemployed and persons seeking state allowances;
- labor rights;
- public housing residents’ rights; and
- other related issues.
(3) Bills dealing with immigration and civil status.
(4) An ACRI initiated amendment seeks to ban discrimination in public services "that will not allow further selection at club entrances."
(5) A National Health Act amendment, "adding a standing mechanism for updating the medications basket."
(6) An ACRI initiated measure seeks to replace the Wisconsin Plan, aimed at eliminating welfare by privatizing social services.
A Final Comment
ACRI is concerned that "Anti-democratic tendencies in the Knesset are gaining momentum," the Winter Session expected to advance them, though some initial proposals were modified and made softer. The previous session was notable for "laying the foundations for anti-democratic legislation," but many proposed measures await consideration and final action. As a result, the Winter Session will be defining and trying if repressive laws are enacted, hardening tyranny over democratic freedoms. The threat is real and all Israelis are at risk, not just opposition minorities.
As things now stand, "Israeli democracy (has) already sustained a serious blow, Arab Israelis and human rights activists mostly harmed as enemies of the state," their status subject to the whims of a hostile majority. ACRI and other activist groups will keep working to save what’s fast eroding, "doing everything (possible to promote) equality, social justice, and human rights," without which free societies die.
* Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at [email protected]. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon.