Democracy in Israel: What it is and what it isn’t

Even from the left, democracy is one of the most common justifications in the west for their abetting relationship with Israel. In America especially, democracy has been the pretext by which they have disguised their global-political agenda. It is generally a cover for America’s primary goal, the cultivation of governments willing to toe the capitalist line. Democracy is one of those values both sides, left and right, are willing to fight for�a trope the Israel-Palestine debate habitually hinges on.

Democracy itself, of course, hinges on an ability for the people to participate, equally, in the political process. Inherent in a functioning democracy, therefore, is the freedom of speech. For if you cannot talk about what you believe in, then how can you truly participate?

Israel, in this respect, regardless of the western rhetoric, has never been an honest democracy. It has been a democracy for a select few, the Jewish people. It has been an occupying and apartheid state for the rest, namely the Arab Palestinian, both Israeli citizens and the residents of occupied Palestine, whether Christian or Muslim.

Last week, a member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, was banned from traveling to the US. Yousef Jabareen is a Knesset member (KM) who is part of the Joint List, Arab coalition, of the legislature. Jabareen is an attorney who earned his Ph.D fromGeorgetown University Law Center in Washington D.C. He was invited for a series of lectures on democracy in Israel by the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) organization.

He accepted the invitation but had his trip denied by the Knesset Ethics Committee due to a new ethics rule instated this January. The rule denies members from accepting funds for travel or accommodation from any organization on the Boycott Divest and Sanctions (BDS) blacklist. JVP is on the list.

Israel sees BDS as an arch enemy, however, rather than mediating its behavior their tactic has been attempting to silence, to censor and to criminalize. Whether its using states and institutions to deny BDS support in America or denying entry for pro-BDS individuals and organizations or now, denying elected officials an international platform, the objective is clear�revoke the freedom of speech. Much like authoritarian and theocratic governments around the world, it is clear, in Israel, dissenting voices are not tolerated.

For the Arab members of the Knesset, the illegality of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank is a part of their political platform. KM Jabareen said it is still legal to boycott in Israel and therefore sees this rule as a clear violation of Israeli law. I support boycotting the settlements and the Knesset cannot limit my political possibilities to campaign for that, Jabareen told the Palestine Monitor.

The implications of this rule is pretty clear to KM Jabareen; this is a violation of our freedom of speech, of our political freedom. However, while he sees it as an encroachment upon his duties as an elected official, he is not, in any way, surprised. Under Netanyahu’s current government, this is merely another step in the greater general trend to limit the speech of Palestinians. The fact the political agenda reaches into the elected officials merely goes to show the extent to which this agenda is being pursued.

We have been witnessing, under this government, an ongoing attempt to limit freedom of speech and other political activities, KM Jabareen said. I don’t think other countries in the world who identify themselves as a democracies [would] make these limits, especially on elected people.

This new rule is not the only limit being placed on Arab members of the Knesset. Jabareen has already brought two other new rules to Israel’s supreme court. The first law he brought before the court was the so-called expulsion law. This is a law the Knesset awarded itself back in 2016, allowing the body to expel any elected official by a two thirds majority if they do not like their views or speech. The court has concluded a hearing KM Jabareen said, and they are awaiting a decision.

The second rule was one which prohibits Knesset members from visiting political prisoners. The court has not had a hearing on this yet but Jabareen said they are expected to set a date.

The forbidding of visiting political prisoners, much like the rejection of funds from boycott supporting organizations, is blatant targeting of the Knesset’s Arab members. Israel does not hold pro-Israel political figures and there are no anti-Palestine organizations on the black list.

It’s one sided. The ones invited by these organizations are the Arab members it’s prohibiting us from taking part in these international conferences, KM Jabareen said.

This is a very important issue for KM Jabareen as well as other members of the Joint List. They see international opinion and American public opinion in particular to be vital to the Palestinian plight. International advocacy is an essential function of Arab members of the Joint List and this is I can see this new limitation as an attempt to limit our international work, KM Jabareen said.

Jabareen is in the process of bringing this rule and his denial before the supreme court because he sees this rule as a dangerous limitation without legal parameters. While the Ministry of Strategic Affairs started the black list with organizations supporting the BDS movement, KM Jabareen is worried they have nothing to keep them from expanding it. They could add any organization in the future if this passes without challenge, he said.

From forbidding East Jerusalemites from holding multiple residency IDs while Jewish immigrants are allowed to retain multiple citizenships; to teenager Ahed Tamimi being sentenced to eight months in prison for being caught on camera slapping an Israeli soldier while an Israeli soldier will only serve nine months for being caught on camera killing an incapacitated Palestinian; to an Arab Knesset member being denied their right to speech while no restrictions are placed on Jewish members, Israel’s democratic principles are clear�only for some.

Coincidentally, the speeches KM Jabareen was invited to give were going to focus on the discriminatory and anti-democratic legislation passed in recent years under the current government. His first speech is on April 24, and Jabareen says he is going to go, regardless, in one way or another, I am going to travel. Otherwise that would be accepting these unfair rules.