Twenty-five years after the assassination of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the Israel Democracy Institute, together with the Department of Zionist Enterprises in the World Zionist Organization, hosted a special conference focused on the unique relationship between Zionism and democracy in Israel and how the country is coping with threats to the values articulated in Declaration of Independence.
The forum began with the presentation of special survey on Public Attitudes on Incitement and the Limits of Freedom of Expression. The survey indicated that significant amounts of Israelis are concerned about the high levels of incitement in their society and divisiveness in the public discourse. It also found that Israelis believe that the dangerous divisiveness they say exists can even lead to the possibility of another political assassination. Israelis are split however, when it comes to the question of who are the main targets of incitement with numerous segments of society stating that they are the most threatened as well as who is fueling the incitement.
Dror Morag, Head of the Department of Zionist Enterprises, World Zionist Organization: "These are not easy days for anyone in this country. We are gathering here today in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, one of the most serious moments in the history of the State of Israel. As we approach the day of remembrance for Yitzhak Rabin it is an appropriate time to hold this conference. Twenty five years have passed since the assassination and we have learned nothing. In a post we published on social media ahead of this event, many difficult comments against Rabin were written in response, reflecting various conspiracy theories and mainly ignorance and hatred. There is no greater evidence as to the magnitude of the crisis and the need for improvement.
When the Israeli public loses faith in the law, when it believes that its political leadership is primarily responsible for incitement and that political assassination is a matter of time – it is time for our leaders to wake up immediately. The State of Israel is in danger. This is exactly what the disintegration of a democracy looks like.”
MK Yair Lapid, Opposition Leader, Yesh Atid-Telem: "The next government coalition will change everything we thought we knew about Israeli politics. All the old disqualifications, no longer exist. At the end of the day, the next coalition will be formed by people, if we value life, who know how to say 'here is a list of actions that must be taken in order to deal with the pandemic – here is what has to be done to save the economy' – and that’s it. Any other topic is irrelevant at the moment. When these are the issues – everyone can take part – Jews, Arabs, ultra-Orthodox and secular. Everyone. Right, left and center.”
On the Party Balad: "I again say no to Balad. But as for Ayman Ouda, Aryeh Deri, Naftali Bennett and Nitzan Horowitz - they all have parents who are threatened by Corona and they all have children who cannot go to school. They are all potential partners in a future government if I head it. (...) "Naftali and I know how to work together. When we know what the numbers are and what the results are and how it crystallizes, we can also talk about what the collaboration will look like."
On the ultra-Orthodox society: "I could have, in four days of concentrated media work, gained 25 seats (in the polls), six of which would be the result of the Israeli public’s anger at the ultra-Orthodox. I made a decision not to do that, because it is not right for Israeli society. We need the social cohesion that will help us fight the pandemic."
MK Pnina Tamano Shata, Minister of Aliyah and Absorption, Blue and White: “What we have witnessed requires serious examination and decision-makers will have to consider broad reform in everything related to the Israeli police. We must ask ourselves questions - what are the conditions for hiring a policeman? What is the policy regarding demonstrations? The Ethiopian communities’ demonstrations after Teka was killed by police protested police violence, but unfortunately, the answer we received from Israeli society from all walks was 'you lost us'.”
"Those who are entrusted with enforcing the law should know that they have the ability to control the height of the flames. Decision makers can direct the demonstration to better places. We all need to do be held accountable but in particular decision makers, when they call us traitors. We see higher levels of tolerance for incitement and violence in Israeli society. They are no longer just 'keyboard heroes,' people have just become violent."
On the political system: "I have a lot of respect for Assaf Zamir, but I did not agree with the step he took, I think it was not right. But I don’t agree with assessment that Blue and White is weakened or lacks unity. We are very strong and I believe we will reap the fruits of our decisions when we reach the moment of truth that there will be elections in the future. We are simply doing what we believe is right for Israeli society and the State of Israel even if it has a price."
Deputy Attorney General, Adv. Dina Zilber: "As a society, and particularly our legal system, we have a duty to deal effectively with incitement. Twenty five years later, we must ask ourselves whether this lesson was internalized. The legal issue is very important to me, but it is a kind of emergency brake. If we reach the point where we have to activate it then this is evidence that the situation is both problematic and unhealthy. The legal system has a certain ability to deal with these things, but this should not be the main arena. The challenge before us is social and educational - how we as a society resurrect the ability to have a social discourse on the most pressing questions that have been causing rifts in Israeli society since the establishment of the State.”
Zilber continued: “The Attorney General, both as an individual and as an establishment, is the target of the most blatant attacks in Israeli history. On the one hand, there were demonstrations against him over the course of many months. On the other hand, he and his office worked tirelessly to ensure that this right was protected. This, of course, is an inherent and necessary part of a democratic society, even when it is aimed at you. At the same time, care must be taken that the rules of the game are observed and that it does not erode the legitimacy of the activities of these institutions.
Just as we respect and act to enable the executive branch to fulfill its governance and the Knesset as reflecting the sovereignty to legislate and fulfill the will of the people, both the judiciary and the legal system have roles to play. Yes, judicial review to criticize decisions, put restraints, brake where necessary, raise a flag and place signs. Synergy between the institutions is what ensures the balances and brakes on democracy. Erosion of what we are witnessing is a challenge that should bother not only the legal system, but all of us as citizens in a democratic society that we want to heal. It means respecting the activities of the institutions and not trying to blacken or label them or impose political blemishes on them, because their activities are carried out in a matter-of-fact manner and face difficult and not simple challenges from public figures."
Noa Rotman, screenwriter and granddaughter of the late Yitzhak Rabin: "Once you write and create, you do it from your own wounds. There is no distinction between national and personal scars. Our ability to contain bluntness and critical criticism is crucial to our sanity and democratic power."