As a country analyst for Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World Report, once yearly I report on the improvements and fissures in the democratic and civic freedom landscape in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. The political systems in the Palestinian territories are currently stymied by the absence of regular elections. So for month-to-month changes in democracy legislation, it is to Israeli news that I turn.
Recent news from Israel reveals a regrettable bill having been passed into law, one legislating differences between Israel’s Muslim and Christian Arab citizens for the ostensible purpose of expanding the membership of a public advisory council for the Equal Employment Opportunities Law.
The real reason, though, as articulated by the sponsoring MK himself, is chillingly different.
“We and the Christians have a lot in common. They’re our natural allies, a counterweight to the Muslims who want to destroy the country from within,” said Likud member Yariv Levin in a Maariv interview, which was extensively quoted in a February 25 article in Haaretz.
“I was praying that this was a dystopian-fiction piece or some sort of whacked-out satire. It’s not, and it’s bad,” wrote Israeli pollster and political commentator Dahlia Scheindlin in posting a link to the Haaretz article on Facebook.
I paused before deciding whether to focus my Ottawa Jewish Bulletin column on this unfortunate news piece.
I feared my usual critics would slam me for revealing an unsavoury side of Israel.
This, in turn, led me to realize that now is a good opportunity to reflect on how I see my role as a Bulletin columnist.
My goal is to get readers to reflect on topics related to Jewish life, including Israel. The principles and practices that guide me are: promoting an educated perspective on Jewish life; the valuing of liberal thought, including individual choice; a commitment to community; a spirit of volunteerism; a valuing of open debate; a prizing of Jewish literacy; and an empathic perspective for the experiences of others.
When I write about Israel, my goals are similar. I seek to promote a broad-based debate about Israeli policies, to promote an emotional and intellectual connection to the country, and to encourage critical and analytical thought.
My goals regarding Israel also have a political end, with which some readers will agree and others will not. That end is the maintenance of a Jewish and democratic Israel. The specifics of that goal, as I see it, are the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, so that Israel stops being an occupying power – a position which is eroding its democratic character.
The two-state solution is a position well within the international consensus. It is also a position held by a majority of Israelis and Palestinians. It is hardly controversial. In fact, there are many to my left who would disagree in the very justness of Israel’s existence. The positions I advocate in my column are intended to respond to those critics as much as to critics to my right, who, for whatever reason, seem to have less of a problem with Israel’s ongoing occupation.
The issue of the recent legislation in Israel is that much more concerning because it connects not with the occupation of the West Bank, nor with the faltering peace process, both of which topics are well trodden in the daily news, but because it suggests a slow erosion of democracy within Israel itself.
As Canadian Jews, should we be concerned with Israel maintaining its democratic character? Given the efforts of our community to support Israel, both symbolically and financially, and given how much we have depended on Canada’s democracy to prosper out of the ashes of Europe, I would think the resounding answer is yes.
The Jewish Agency has recently invited a widespread Diaspora conversation on the future of Israel and Jewish continuity writ large. As I wrote in a February 19 post to the Forward Thinking blog on the Jewish Daily Forward site, when I joined the 2,000-person online conversation a few weeks ago, I found precious little debate about Israeli policies. The more we allow ourselves room to talk seriously about Israel amongst ourselves, the more robust Israel’s future hopefully will be. And a more robust Israeli future can only bode well for the health of our Jewish community here.
Mira Sucharov, an associate professor of political science at Carleton University, blogs at Haaretz.com.