Israel, from liberal democracy to nationalist nation state

Any liberal who is looking at the recent developments in Israel will have to make a major effort to ignore the multiple warnings that are literally piling up in front of us. While Israel, for a variety of reasons, has never completely measured up to all the characteristics of a liberal democracy (few countries do), it has certainly made major efforts to do so under often extremely adverse circumstances. For many years, Israel has done quite well, always trying to do better.

Unfortunately, there is no doubt that under PM Netanyahu, Israel has not only stopped improving but is actively regressing as the Prime Minister, supported by massive, undeclared and unmonitored propaganda paid for by US tycoon Sheldon Edelson, guides the State of Israel towards nationalism of the worst kind.

The last Knesset already has passed several clearly anti-democratic laws, including the law on acceptance to communities (permitting the vetting of candidates who want to join small communities, in other words, make it possible to exclude Arab candidates) and the Nakba law (making it possible to cut government funding to institutions that commemorate the Nakba, the forced displacement of Palestinians that came about as a result of the War of Independence).

Another law that has already passed makes it possible to hold illegal migrants in detention without trial for extended periods of time and the government under the leadership of Min. of FInance Lapid, is presently engaged in advancing clearly discriminatory economic steps to make housing more affordable to certain segments of the population and not to others, including Arabs and Haredim. These economic steps are just the tip of the iceberg coming after decades of systemic and systematic discrimination of Israel’s Arab minority.

In the 50ties, 60ties and early 70ties of the last century, Arab owned lands in Israel were nationalized massively leaving Arab towns and villages with only limited land reserves for future construction. While in the Jewish sector 700 new communities were created, the Arab sector has not added a single community since the birth of the Jewish state – only the recent requirement to resettle the Beduins in the Negev has spawned a very small number of new villages.

Construction in the Arab sector is extremely problematic since there are only a small number of planning and construction committees that deal with Arab municipalities (4 out of 123). The remaining 82 Arab local councils have to try their luck in 21 regional planning committees only 5 of which have an Arab chairman. It shouldn’t surprise anyone then that there are almost no industrial zones attached to Arab communities, which, in addition to providing employment close by could also provide a reasonable tax base to those communities, like they do in the Jewish sector all over the country.

Needless to say discrimination of the Arab sector is not limited to land ownership and construction but remains rampant in access to public tranport, funding of education, employment in the public service, salaries, etc. etc.

It is therefore reasonable for any non-Jew to look at the recent legislation and Lapid’s economic proposals in its wake with deep concern: They come after a long line of already established means to keep the Arab sector at bay in an ever more Jewish and an ever less Israeli State of Israel.

Netanyahu’s latest surprise, promoting a presidential system of government by doing away with the Prime Minister’s slate and turning the President’s position into one with real authority in the middle of an ongoing presidential election campaign, is indicative of his undemocratic state of mind. To even consider such a monumental change in government structure head over heels, without first securing the rights of the minorities in Israel through a constitution, is a clear sign that he would like to put us on a path towards authoritarian rule of the worst kind. Coming in the wake of his recent move to legislate the Jewish state basic law (declaring Israel to be the Jewish nation state and giving precedence to its Jewish character over its democratic character) gives even more reasons to be concerned.

Last not least, all of this is happening on the background of unchecked intimidation of Palestinian communities in Israel and the West Bank who are victims of a long line of “price-tag” attacks which, for some reason and despite Israel’s proven capabilities in this realm, remain unsolved.

The fact that at the same time, negotiations with the Palestinian authority have broken down and Israel is hunkering down in bunker mode while our relationships with leading democratic countries, notably the US and Germany are in deep crisis doesn’t bode well for the future. Instead, the government of Israel is working hard at improving ties with Russia and China, nations that are a lot less concerned about democracy than our traditional partners.

The Israel body politics has not grasped the seriousness of the situation. Nor, apparently, has the public. If neither don’t wake up soon, the implications could be grave.


About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is a member of the Council for Peace and Security and was a candidate in Labor’s 2012 primary election for the Knesset list