Does democracy threaten Israel?

The challenges for Israel and it’s obsession with maintaining it’s Jewish indentity are comming thick and fast.

A Christian Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset, Dr. Azmi Bishara, who is travelling, is apparently afraid to return to Israel for fear of being arrested by Israeli Security Agency that is accusing his of treason and espionage. So what did Bishara do?

Bishara, it seems, is a threat not because of any particular action or statement but because he has become a symbol of a new kind of opposition within Israel.

Israel stifling dissent? Never.

The Israeli leadership are threatened by a proposal and a movement that they will struggle to argue:

The authors of the document called “The Democratic Constitution” maintain that the Arab citizens of Israel should be considered a “homeland minority” with national rights. The idea is to transform Israel into a bilingual and multicultural democracy for all its citizens, rather than a Jewish democracy, which they argue is an oxymoron. Such transformation would inevitably mean changing the laws of citizenship and immigration so that citizenship would no longer be granted automatically to any Jew wishing to immigrate but rather to anyone born within Israel’s territory or whose parent or spouse is a citizen, or to people persecuted due to their political beliefs.

Not long after the documents’ publication, Israel’s second-largest newspaper, Ma’ariv, reported a meeting between the head of the security agency, Yuval Diskin, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. During the meeting Diskin warned Olmert that the radicalization of Israel’s Arab citizens constitutes a “strategic threat to the state’s existence.” Diskin added that “the proliferation of the visionary documents published by the different Arab elites in Israel is particularly worrisome, [since] the documents are united by their conception of Israel as a state for all its citizens and not a Jewish state.” The head of the security services concluded that “the separatist and subversive patterns represented by the elites might engender a new direction and mobilize the masses.”

In other word, the Israeli government are openly admitting that democracy in Israel has to take a major back seat to the maintaining of Israel’s identity as a Jewish state. What’s more, they are prepared to go to any lengths to protect it – legal or otherwise:

Balad sent a letter protesting Diskin’s assertions, arguing that legitimate political activity whose aim is to change the state’s character should not be considered subversive or dangerous. According to Ha’aretz, the Israeli Security Agency replied that it “would foil the activity of anyone seeking to harm Israel’s Jewish or democratic character, even if that activity was carried out by legal means.”

Diskin’s words are telling. He admits not only that anyone who strives to alter the Jewish character of the state is considered an enemy and will be treated as such but that the secret service has no respect for democratic practices and procedures.

What greater indictment of Israel exists but the very admission that not only is it not a democratic state, but that democracy threatens it’s very existence?

More than anything else, Bishara constitutes a symbolic threat, since he personifies the recent demand of the Palestinian elite to transform Israel from a Jewish democracy to a democracy for all its citizens.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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