The Arab parties of Balad and Raam-Taal were banned last week from participating in the upcoming elections for the Knesset in February. This ruling by the Central Elections Committee is a clear indication of the dire state of Israeli politics and the ongoing deterioration of Israel's democratic character.
Last week, the Central Elections Committee decided to ban the Arab parties, Balad and Raam-Taal, from participating in the upcoming elections for the Knesset in February. This ruling is a clear indication of the dire state of Israeli politics and the ongoing deterioration of Israel's democratic character.
Far right-wing parties have been seeking an opportunity to expel the Arab lists from the Knesset for some time. But recent support from Israel's "centrist", and even "leftist" parties for such a move emphasizes just how far Israel's Jewish majority is willing to distance itself from its core democratic values. The right to vote and the right to run for office are sacred principles of democratic societies.
Disqualifying a party list on the grounds that it is unwilling to accept Israel as a Jewish State has nothing to do with the idea of "defensive democracy" as it is currently being framed. Indeed, democracies must defend themselves from enemies—from those who threaten the physical existence of the state or the democratic regime. However, a political party that calls for abandoning Israel's Jewish identity does not fall into this category. Loyal Zionists, including myself, have the right to completely oppose their attempts to negate Israel's Jewish character; however, anyone who is truly committed to democracy must defend every person's right to freely express his or her opinions.
If the State of Israel wishes to maintain a genuine democratic regime, we must take upon ourselves a double commitment: to allow anti-Zionist voices to be heard, and to oppose and defeat this view in both the public and political arenas. If Israel is interested in developing a fruitful dialog with its Arab population rather than a hostile relationship based upon domination, which will likely lead to violence, we must allow this minority to express itself, even as it perceives Israel, as a "Jewish State", to be a source of hardship and discrimination.
The claims that Balad and Raam-Taal have actively supported terrorism are unfounded, as has been made clear by the Attorney General's legal opinion. He has repeatedly stressed that there is not enough evidence to support a decision to ban Arab parties from the Knesset. Moreover, disqualifying the Arab parties clearly contradicts our Zionist forefathers' vision of the national Jewish homeland. They envisioned an open and tolerant culture, accepting of all opinions and ideas no matter how contradictory and frustrating. They foresaw a Jewish society that perceived its relationship with the Arab population as a moral challenge. Last week's decision is a betrayal of the Zionist dream. It is an obvious sign of weakness, insecurity, irrational fear; it is a disgrace to the State of Israel.
The Israeli system, which grants a political body the power to disqualify party lists, is an anomaly in the international political scene. Allowing politicians to decide the qualification of other politicians for parliamentary membership is an idea that is structurally flawed. We have indelibly stained Israel's democratic fabric through multiple attempts to prevent Arab participation in the general elections. Even if the Supreme Court saves Israeli democracy from itself, the Committee's decision will linger on—a clear example of the attempted deligitimization of the political participation of Israel's Arab citizens.
Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer is Vice President of Research at the Israel Democracy Institute.