We’re fighting for Israel’s identity, a country that’s as much yours as mine

Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz (Jewish News)
Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz (Jewish News)

In his article of 30 April, Sir Mick Davis warns that Israeli politics is violating the values of the Diaspora. I certainly agree with Sir Mick’s diagnosis, and the four challenges he identifies for Israel as we look to the future. But I firmly believe that the Diaspora has a vital role to play, and that there is still much that we can do together. 

Sir Mick warns: “As large swathes of the Diaspora see Israel’s liberal democratic values under threat, Diaspora Zionism will dwindle, leaving the case for Israel solely in the hands of hard right cheerleaders.”

We already see the impact of this hard-right alliance, which has enabled the erosion of the basic values that were enshrined in our Declaration of Independence. This pact between reactionary forces in Israel and abroad means that pro-democratic forces in Israel and the Diaspora must now come together and create our own alliance that will help Israel change course.

It is naïve to continue to think that change in Israel will come about through the political system. Covid-19 has been a helpful cover to set up an “emergency unity government”: the coalition negotiations have barely focused on the dire straits of the economy, the growing inequality, the outdated health and education systems, and yet we’re meant to believe that they are coming together for the good of the country. The expected government guidelines will gut any real meaning out of the work of the Knesset and will crush the status of the opposition. 

It is frustrating and maddening that centre-left leaders have reneged on the most basic of their promises not to sit in government with a corrupt prime minister, and instead are lining up to join his coalition due to the “emergency situation” while making pathetic excuses about being able to protect democracy from within. In reality, they are lending a hand to the destruction of the rule of law, damaging the status of the High Court of Justice, shattering our system of government and electoral system, and perpetuating the occupation of the millions of Palestinians we have controlled for 53 years. They are giving legitimacy to unilateral annexation in the West Bank – a move that will be an enormous existential threat to Israel.

This government is the worst-possible outcome after 18 months of political limbo and endless elections. Gone is the last shred of hope of a political alternative. Racist and inciteful campaigns have meant that even at a time of national crisis, the role of Arab citizens of Israel in the decision-making process has been thoroughly delegitimised, even as Arab medical staff are at the forefront of our battle against coronavirus.

But it’s not just enough to acknowledge these harsh truths. We do not have the luxury of being able to step back. It is precisely now, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and an uninhibited, powerful government, that we must find the strength to carry on fighting. 

If you feel that the current Israeli leadership does not represent you and your values, step up your support for the organisations that are the glue that holds Israeli society together. Only through substantial and intensive work by civil society can we halt the erosion of the democratic rule of law in Israel. And you can help increase the impact of these efforts.  

We are fighting for the identity of our country – the Israel that is as much mine as it is yours – and after 72 years, we cannot abandon the field to politicians who are too scared to stand up for what they believe in.

Israel has a strong and vibrant civil society, whose values, beliefs and courage chime with those of the Diaspora. Civil society is now the best foundation upon which to build a robust response to the challenges Sir Mick has identified.


About the Author
Zehava Galon is the former head of the Meretz party and served as a member of Knesset for 16 years. She is founder and president of the new Israeli NGO, Zulat.
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