Nadav Tamir

There is no democracy with occupation

In 1988, Professor Isaiah Leibovitz wrote “If this situation continues, the hooliganization — or should we even say the nazification — of the people and society in Israel, is inevitable”. Today, 35 years later, hooliganization has reached its peak: bullying is omnipresent, on the roads, on social media, in the vulgar speech of elected officials, and in every aspect of life in Israel. Violence reached its peak against Palestinians, even when comparing, in this year alone, the number of Israeli deaths resulting from terrorist attacks to dozens of Palestinian deaths that are not related to terrorism. The violence and bullying towards Palestinians by Jewish settlers is an everyday occurrence and is another horrific indication of the decline in the value of human life and human dignity that we are experiencing.

In another sphere, political bullying has reached a peak within Israel, where a government coalition is rushing to neuter Israeli democracy. Hooliganism in this case is found in the form of individualized legislative proposals aimed at legalizing the election of serial criminals to office. In this sphere, bullying is also visible in the demand to arrest opposition leaders, a chief of staff, and a former legal advisor, and in the loss of any ability to listen or cooperate.

There is a direct link between the decades-long occupation and the events taking place in Israel today, since the occupation has accustomed Israelis to the fact that there is a large public that does not deserve attention, consideration, or the protection of its rights. It is not surprising that, in the eyes of the government, those opposing the judicial coup are, to a large extent, filling the shoes of the Palestinians. The government is disinclined to listen to them and cares little for their rights. As with the Palestinians, the government easily adopts a hard line towards those opposing the judicial coup, as they have become, in a way, its enemies. Hence the government’s demand for arrests and punishment, and the basis for delegitimization that is voiced top-down.

As Prof. Leibovitz predicted, the occupation crosses the green line and spreads throughout Israeli society. The methods used ‘over there’ are moving here, oppressive acts applied ‘there’ are moving here, and soon the disdain for human life will move in – it already has in a way.

But in this hour of darkness, there is also a glimmer of light, a spark of hope. Masses of Israelis are realizing that their homeland is shedding the last vestiges of democratic restraints, that they are being stripped of their right to express an opinion, to demonstrate, to gain a fair trial, and that the laws that restrain the government are being trampled. Increasingly, they realize that these events are not happening in a vacuum, but that the methods that have been honed for more than five decades in the occupied territories, are being applied here, towards them.

It is possible that we now understand that we cannot truly exist as a democracy within, while maintaining a dictatorship without. In the end, one side will prevail over the other. Either democracy will win by ceasing military control over another nation, or dictatorship will prevail, by applying the totalitarian means that are deployed in the territories towards the citizens of Israel. As we speak, a despotic grip is tightening around the throat of Israel’s democracy, and many who believed that we could remain disengaged from the events in the occupied territories now begin to understand, perhaps, that they too are paying the price of the occupation.

In her 1989 poem ‘After the Flood’, Nurit Galron wrote — “There is a country of insurgents where wounds are dressed, and there is Tel Aviv — partying, living, eating and drinking”. 35 years after Leibovitz’s prophecy, the flood has reached Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and has immersed the country. This flood can no longer be ignored, nor can we turn a blind eye. Perhaps this will awaken millions of Israelis who will finally realize that the occupation, the military control of another nation, exacts a painful price not only from the Palestinians, but also from us Israelis. The road to restoring Israeli democracy cannot end in the delay or defeat of the current government’s steps, but must result in putting an end to the occupation. Only then can we halt the hooliganization of Israeli society.

Meanwhile, most of protestors in Tel Aviv are wary of making this connection and are horrified by speakers who try to connect the palpable risk to democracy with the occupation of the territories or the waving of Palestinian flags in protest. However, the moment may well come when they too will recognize that there is no democracy alongside occupation.

When that happens, we will be able to thank “the irony of history” when a league of corrupt, racist, and religious zealots’ wielders of power helped the silent majority awaken and face what is seeping in from the territories into Israel, and have the courage to return our country to its original vision.

About the Author
Nadav Tamir is the executive director of J Street Israel, a member of the board of the Mitvim think-tank, adviser for international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, and member of the steering committee of the Geneva Initiative. He was an adviser of President Shimon Peres and served in the Israel embassy in Washington and as consul general to New England.
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