The Association for Civil Rights in Israel released its annual report in late December.
The findings are devastating and reflect Israel’s gradual descent into a proud monoculture that slams alternative groups, racial classes and anti-mainstream perspectives:
Freedom of Expression – If they like what you say: In 2009, there has been a disturbing increase in infringements on freedom of expression, specifically when individuals and organizations criticized the government.
”¢ In the context of the legal and non-violent campaign against “Operation Cast Lead”, demonstrations were diffused, protesters arrested for no valid reason, and some requests to hold demonstrations not granted – because of the messages conveyed.
”¢ Several legislative bills attempted to limit freedom of expression in an unprecedented manner: the “Nakba Law” would have rendered marking Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning (many members of the Arab minority mark this day as the “Nakba” or catastrophe) punishable with imprisonment and the “Loyalty Law” would have ordered the cancellation of the citizenship of those who do not pledge loyalty to the State.
Delegitimization of Human Rights Defenders and Activists: Decision-makers and senior officials within the Israeli government have worked to silence activists and members of social change organizations, whose messages do not correspond to their own. This included aggressive media campaigns, demonization, the diffusion of false information, and attempts to sabotage their funding. Earlier this year, for example, the IDF Spokesperson savagely attacked “Breaking the Silence,” a group which collects testimonies from soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories. In another instance among many, Interior Ministry Eli Yishai called organizations defending migrant workers’ rights a “threat to the Zionist enterprise.”
Arab Citizens of Israel – Rights, if you are loyal: Though Arab citizens of Israel have suffered entrenched discrimination since the establishment of the State, they have faced particularly vicious attacks on their political and civil rights in the past year. Many of the trends mentioned above have affected Israel’s minority most acutely such as the proposed “Nakba Law” and “Loyalty Law.” Moreover, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that whoever did not serve in the military or complete national service would not be accepted to the Foreign Ministry’s training course; Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced plans to offer financial incentives for schools with high military induction rates. These conditions blatantly infringe on the rights of Arab citizens to equality because they generally do not serve in the army but the conditions also discriminate against Haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews), people with disabilities, and others. The proposals also reinforce the notion – held among many – that Arab citizens constitute a fifth column.
Increased Racism among Different Groups: A survey in the daily Haaretz reported a high level of intolerance of, and among, virtually all sub-groups in Israeli society. These include: Arabs, Israelis of Russian and Ethiopian origin, Haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) and settlers. The horrifying attack on the “Barnoar” gay and lesbian youth club in Tel Aviv elicited widespread condemnation by public officials, but Web forums and talkbacks revealed deep-rooted hatred and disgust for the homosexual community among the general public.
The Right to Adequate Housing – If you are “one of us”: ACRI has documented many instances of illegal discrimination in various housing projects against Arabs, religious groups, members of lower socio-economic classes, and others through acceptance committees, acquisition groups, and other mechanisms.
The Right to Health Care – If you can pay: With the increasing privatization of health care and the increase in the cost of co-payments, members of weaker socio-economic classes are surrendering health care and treatments because they cannot afford them. As a result, doctors and pharmacists are forced to find loopholes to ensure their patients receive proper treatment and medication and even pay for these out of their own pockets.
Occupied Territories – Rights, if you are Israeli: During “Operation Cast Lead”, Israel was responsible for the widespread killing of civilians and continues to view the entire population of Gaza, including minors, as an enemy population, worthy of collective punishment. Despite the repeated pleas of human rights organizations in Israel and abroad and concrete suspicions of breaches of law, Israel has yet to conduct an independent inquiry into its actions.
In the West Bank, Israelis and Palestinians continue to live in two separate and unequal realities: Palestinians are forbidden from travelling on certain main thoroughfares for the purported benefit of Israelis; Israelis and Palestinians are subject to two separate justice systems, where the military law to which Palestinians are subject is much harsher and neglects their due process rights; Palestinians in the West Bank suffer from a grave shortage of water, again for the benefit of Israelis; and Palestinians continue to be victims of attacks by Israelis in the West Bank, with the Police and military not sufficiently protecting Palestinians as required by law and not punishing the perpetrators adequately.
The Deterioration of Democracy: In 2009, lawmakers repeatedly attempted to pass harmful laws in a secretive and hasty manner, purposely trying to circumvent public debate. This was true in the cases of the biometric database bill, the land reform bill, and several radical changes to the State’s social and economic policies. Moreover, ACRI has documented a worrying trend in which the State increasingly ignores Supreme Court rulings, continuing to implement illegal policies, which violate a range of rights, and challenging the basic tenets of Israel’s democratic institutions.