18 October 2012
The Other Elections
After a number of false starts and close calls over the past months, it seems that Israel really is headed for early elections for the 19th Knesset this coming January. Today, Ha'aretz editorialized that the move "liberates Israel from an anti-democratic Knesset that brought the tyranny of the majority to new heights." That's strong language for Israel's most sober and respected newspaper, but for the NIF community it has a powerful resonance.
The 18th Knesset saw the introduction of dozens of bills that, if passed, would fundamentally alter the democratic character of the State of Israel. Sound hyperbolical? Here's Ha'aretz again:
Knesset members from Likud, headed by faction chairman Zeev Elkin, vied with MKs from Yisrael Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi and National Union in producing both legislation and verbiage aimed at riding roughshod over vulnerable minorities, first and foremost Israeli Arabs, as well as over civil society groups and human rights organizations. They made it their goal to reduce freedom of expression and freedom of protest and to intimidate the media. In an effort to prevent the evacuation of settlement outposts established on stolen, privately owned Palestinian land, legislators - led by Netanyahu and other senior ministers - searched tirelessly for ways to violate the rulings of our highest court and make the state prosecution odious.
The 18th Knesset polluted Israel's law books with the so-called "Nakba law," which undermines Israeli Arabs' right to observe Independence Day as a day of mourning, and with a law allowing small communities to set up admissions committees that can bar people from moving in on the grounds that they aren't suited to the community's outlook. The latter law was sponsored not only by MKs from the extreme right, but also by some from Kadima, the main opposition party.
In addition to this parade of bad proposals, the 18th Knesset's tenure was also characterized by an atmosphere of growing intolerance in Israel that was embodied in the legislative agenda described above. This included an alarming rise in incitement and even violence against those perceived as "the other" (a group that included Palestinians, Christians, peace activists and even the IDF) by extremists in the so-called "Price Tag" movement who embraced arson, intimidation and terror as tactics to pursue their radical pro-settlement goals. And, on the 18th Knesset's watch, Israel also saw the fight over women's exclusion taken to new levels, as some ultra-religious hardliners campaigned to keep women in the back of the bus and to remove images of women from the public sphere in Jerusalem.
But it is important to remember that the "democratic recession" in the 18th Knesset's Israel did not go unanswered. Knesset members of conscience from across the political spectrum stood up to and opposed antidemocratic legislation. Leaders like Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin and President Shimon Peres spoke out against of incitement and in support of democratic values and the rule of law. And in the streets of Israel last summer, half a million Israelis marched for social justice and a better, fairer Israel. A year later, several of the leaders of that mass-movement have announced that they will attempt to take the energy of their movement for positive social change to the next level by standing for office in the 19th Knesset.
And, during the time of this last Knesset session, NIF and our community of organizations, activists and supporters around the world led the charge to push back against these disturbing trends. Day after day, we worked tirelessly to defend Israel's liberal democracy from the threats of incitement against minorities, exclusion of women and the raft of anti-democratic bills. With your help, NIF and our amazing organizations, activists and supporters helped keep the light of liberal democracy shining, even in a very dark political climate.
We don't know what the 19th Knesset will look like, but one thing is for sure: even as the candidates, parties and public debate the big geopolitical issues that understandably consume so much of the conversation in and about Israel these days, the equally important fight for the soul and direction of Israeli democracy will continue. And NIF will be there, working with you to ensure that Israel's democratic camp is able to defend its country's founding values.