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Let Them Rage: Why Anti-Zionists Should Be Allowed to Run

If it weren’t the fact that the fracas at yesterday’s meeting of Israel’s Central Election Committee was theater rather than serious deliberation, I might be more upset about the decision to bar from contesting the coming election two of the … Read More

By / January 13, 2009

If it weren’t the fact that the fracas at yesterday’s meeting of Israel’s Central Election Committee was theater rather than serious deliberation, I might be more upset about the decision to bar from contesting the coming election two of the three Arab slates represented in the current Knesset. Everyone there, both the right-wingers accusing the Arab parties of sedition and the representatives of said parties charging the Committee with racism, knew that the decision will almost certainly be overturned by the Supreme Court. That’s what happened 2003, when the Committee sought to ban Balad (National Democratic Assembly), one of the two parties it banned yesterday. The other is the joint slate of Ra’am (United Arab List)/Ta’al (Arab Movement for Renewal). As Ha’aretz’s Ze’ev Segel explains, the Central Election Committee was empowered by an amendment to the Basic Law on the Knesset of 2002 to disqualify parties that act explicitly or implicitly in support of armed struggle against Israel. In its 2003 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that disqualification required a high standard of proof that the parties in question were in fact taking active measures to support armed struggle and that the advocacy of armed struggle against Israel was the party’s governing ideology. (Recommended: the Israel Democracy Institute’s position paper on the disqualification of parties, written by Mordechai Kremnitzer.) Oddly enough, the language in question does not appear on the Knesset website’s version of the law and its amendments, nor on the Hebrew site, nor on any other official Israeli website that I could find. But no matter—the subtext of the debate (or rather free-for-all) at yesterday’s Elections Committee meeting was not sedition and terror but rather the previous amendment to the basic law, which states that:

A candidates’ list shall not participate in elections to the Knesset if its objects or actions, expressly or by implication, include one of the following: (1) negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people; (2) negation of the democratic character of the State; (3) incitement to racism.

After all, none of the ranters accusing the Arab slates of treason thinks that these parties are running guns for Hamas, and the Arab ranters would not be so stupid to do so and then field a slate for the Knesset. The real issue is whether advocating that Israel be a state of all its citizens—rather than a Jewish national state—constitutes sedition in and of itself. That Israel should not be a Jewish state is the official position of Balad and of a part of the Ra’am-Ta’al list. The amendment to the basic law quoted above was passed in response to the election of Meir Kahane to the Knesset. Kahane explicitly denounced democracy and his Kach party vowed to eliminate many of Israel’s democratic institutions and practices. Kahane was his party’s sole representative in the Knesset, but in the early 1980s opinion polls showed Kach gaining support at an alarming rate, and the country’s parliamentarians sought to protect this young and not entirely stable democracy from those who would use democracy’s freedoms to destroy its system. However, in the political bargaining that ensued, the parties of the right demanded that, if the law was to disqualify anti-democrats from running for the Knesset, it should also disqualify anti-Zionists. Their logic was that the Jewish state is essential to the survival of the Jewish people and that therefore advocacy of stripping the state of its Jewish character was ipso facto an attack on the Jewish people. But making opposition to the Jewish character of the state the converse of opposition to its democratic character was problematic from the start. Democracy is the scaffolding of government; the state’s Jewish character is determined by said state having a population that wants the state to be a Jewish nation-state. The state’s Jewish character can’t be set in stone because it depends on the will of the state’s inhabitants. But the state’s democratic character must be inalienable, because if the majority decides that it should not be democratic, no subsequent majority can revoke that decision. To put it another way, the state’s Jewish character is its what, while its democratic character is its how. I am a fervent advocate of the Jewish people’s right to their own nation-state. I strenuously oppose any political party—Arab or Jewish—that says Israel should not be a Jewish state. Neither do I have a high opinion of most of the men (only men) that Balad and Ra’am-Ta’al have sent to the Knesset. But to suggest that Israel should be a state of all its citizens is not treason or sedition. Avid Zionist that I am, there are conditions under which I would, reluctantly and with great fear and trepidation, conclude that Israel could no longer be the country of the Jews—for example, if the majority of people who live in it are not Jews. Balad and Ra’am-Ta’al anger and disturb me, but that’s not cause to keep them out of the Knesset. On the contrary, they and their ideas must be part of Israel’s national conversation. A conversation, not a shouting match, as we saw yesterday at the Central Elections Committee. Read more by Haim at South Jerusalem

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