Israel Bans Novel Invoking Democracy

There is a long list of bans that Israel has declared over the years, some implemented while others in the process of having laws passed so that they can be banned. In all cases the bans have invoked a debate which shows a healthy and working democracy.

Some of these bans include skinny models (a fight against anorexia), animal tested products (a move to honour all forms of creation), fur (to protect endangered species), fluoridation in its drinking water (because it amounts to mass medication without consent), the use of the word Nazi and associated ideology and symbols (these cause pain and provokes hatred), Muslim groups engaged in terror or related activities (a security measure); imports from Gaza (violates the embargo), and the travel of Israeli’s to enemy states (they may be captured and interrogated).

The most recent is the ban of a novel for use in schools written by Dorit Rabinyan (because it describes a romance between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man). Some schools requested it and a professional committee approved it before the government decided to ban it. Since then sales in shops of the book have increased.

Before I explain about my friend Melissa (not her real name) but who exists and is the 47 year old daughter of such a marriage I wish to provide some insight to the issue.

Politics and economics may be taught and studied in Universities as separate fields but in my view they need to read together and in conjunction with sociology and anthropology. For example the most important act of the Knesset which is a political body is to pass the budget which is an economic decision. Yet politicians are not economists. So the vote is influenced by expert advisers but mitigated by parochial interests; to the advantage of some but disadvantage of others.

That is to say in the Israel democracy citizens need to consider what the relationship between the individual and the state is. They need to ask whether absolute government between elections is a given – namely if the government elected by the majority of the people, has the subsequent right to decide about all matters regarding the daily lives of its citizens. If the answer is YES then all bans are acceptable, if the answer is NO then only some even no bans are acceptable.

Clearly the government, any government past, present and future, has to consider that any ban will be scrutinized and maybe criticized in the domestic and international press. This is one method of democracy flexing its muscles between elections. The government cannot do as it wishes; it still needs popular support.

So about Melissa now age 47 – she was born in New York after a romance between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man who could no longer live in Israel. Even mixed marriages in those days between Sephardi and Ashkenazi were also frowned upon by society.  Technically she is both Jewish and Muslim, as Judaism looks at the mother and Islam at the father. Both her parents educated her knowing this leaving the decision to her when she felt she was able to accept one or the other, or something else.

At age 17 she came to study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for an undergraduate degree in the Social Sciences. This was only one reason. She wanted to meet and live with her grandparents from both parents, from both religions, and make up her mind where she belonged.

It didn’t work out the way she thought it would. She was at least three years younger than all other female students. They had served in the Israeli army and she hadn’t. Her Jewish grandparents were ashamed to even introduce her to their neighbors – this is our granddaughter whose other grandparents (our in-laws) live in a Village in the Galilee Triangle, we think that have electricity and eat Halal food.

Her Muslim grandparents, Israeli citizens, tried to prevent her from returning to the University after she visited them for the first Shabat. They had a nice Muslim boy ready for her for an arranged wedding. She returned to New York without having completed her degree and having decided that both Judaism and Islam were not welcoming to her personally.

There is no doubt that opposites do attract and there is no doubt that women and men of all ages have inter-religious relations in Israel. I now live in Akko a mixed city and see this. I lived in Jerusalem a mixed city as a student and saw this then. No government action to ban a novel can prevent or promote such relations.

However a government ban of a novel can provoke a debate. The debate is sometimes more important than the outcome. The debate shows a healthy and working democracy. The debate shows that politics, economics, sociology, anthropology and education are one and the same and at the fore of public interest. They are not black boxes in academia despite the banning a novel due to parochial influence after professional advice; similar to voting on the national budget.

The debate shows that the press and the public can express their right of free expression. The debate shows that if the book were to be introduced into schools then the topic would also be debated among students. The debate shows that if the book were not to be introduced into schools then parents consider the topic taboo. The book itself is now a lesser issue. The superior issue is that democracy is alive and functioning in Israel.

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.
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