IDI President Yohanan Plesner writes that while democracy may be considered a fragile regime that has difficulties coping with extremism, there are still powerful means in the democratic toolbox that can and must be utilized to deal with the threats of homegrown terrorism and hatred of the "other", which can undermine Israel's character as a democratic state.
Published in: The Jerusalem Post
The despicable murders of the radiant young woman Shira Banki and adorable toddler Ali Dawabsha threaten to erode Israeli democracy. Homegrown terrorism, hatred of the “other” and incitement and racism left unattended undermine Israel’s character as a democratic state.
While democracy may be considered a fragile regime that has difficulties coping with extremism, there are still powerful means in the democratic toolbox that can and must be utilized to deal with these threats. It is at moments like this that Israeli democracy must defend itself. To that end, the government must take action on three fronts.
The first is a challenge for the justice minister. Israel must re-examine its legal tools for dealing with hate crimes and incitement to racism. The Israeli Criminal Code from 1988 prohibits racist or nationalist incitement. However, the current law has not been adequately enforced. The lack of enforcement against perpetrators of racist aggression and incitement sends a message that the Israeli authorities are not concerned with this phenomenon. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked must investigate whether our law is adequate to deal with this new reality. A democracy must both promote and protect the right to free speech, but not when that speech incites to violence against others. Indiscriminate hatred of those we perceive as “the other” poses a threat to us all.
The second front is a challenge to the ministers of public security, defense and justice. Israel must rein - force its entire law-enforcement apparatus. We need to encourage collaboration among the various security agencies, to promote more effective investigation and take uncompromising steps against terrorism. In addition, these agencies should make the fight against Jewish terrorism a priority, divert resources to combat it, and treat it as an existential threat to Israeli democracy, rather than as some fringe phenomenon.
Case in point: acts of Jewish terrorism are not mentioned at all on the English-language website of the Israel Security Agency. In a recent report by the US State Department, which reviewed incidents of terrorism in various countries, the State Department listed “price tag” attacks as acts of terrorism that are increasing in frequency but are not being addressed properly by Israeli law enforcement agencies and courts. The report states that most “price tag” attacks have not been solved and notes relatively light sentences handed down those perpetrators who have been brought to justice.
Our elected officials also have an important role to play. They must be role models, the “responsible adult” as opposed to adding fuel to the fire. Statements like that by MK Moti Yogev, denouncing the court as both worthless and an enemy that should be bulldozed, undermine the foundation of the rule of law and could inspire extremists looking for their next target.
The third front is a challenge for the education minister. The most effective medicine for combating xenophobia, incitement, and racism is education. The challenge facing Minister Naftali Bennett is to introduce a curriculum that goes beyond superficial slogans about respect for the “other” and tolerance, and delves deep into what is common to us all so that we might understand one another.
The profound shock of recent events is not enough to prevent similar ones from recurring. Israel’s government must take practical steps to ensure a better and safe future for all its citizens. Only a systematic effort on all fronts will allow Israel’s democracy to grow, despite its growing pains.
Yohanan Plesner is President of the Israel Democracy Institute.
This article was originally published in the Jerusalem Post on August 5, 2015.