Choking democracy through the backdoor

Palestine Update  123
Choking democracy through the backdoor
A report from the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)

About ACRI and the report
Established in 1972, ACRI is Israel’s oldest and largest human rights organization and the only one dealing with the entire spectrum of rights and civil liberties issues in Israel and the Occupied Territories. An independent and non-partisan organization, ACRI’s mandate is to ensure Israel’s accountability and respect for human rights, by addressing violations committed by the Israeli authorities in Israel, the Occupied Territories, or elsewhere. ACRI promotes  universality of human rights and and civil liberties of all, regardless of religion, nationality, gender, ethnicity, political affiliation, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic background.

Since its inception, ACRI has been consistently successful in bringing precedent-setting litigation to the Supreme Court and has contributed significantly to the protection of human rights in Israel and in the Occupied Territories. ACRI has built a solid reputation for professionalism and integrity and is widely respected within the legal community, and among decision makers, the media and the public at large. This reputation enhances ACRI’s ability to make a real and lasting difference.

The claim to be the sole democracy in the Middle East is a claim that Israel could have made prior to 1967.  It is now a military- dictatorship that rules on draconian regulations that refute the Palestinians any basic human or civil rights.  How can a government that permits democracy on a partial basis claim to be a democratic? Merely having an elected legislative structure does not certify its democratic status. It is a sham claim.

This report highlights the alarming movement toward the corrosion of democratic values in Israel and the endorsement of anti-democratic initiatives. The author of the report, Attorney Debbie Gild-Hayo (Policy Advocacy Director), joined ACRI in 2006 and has since overseen ACRI’s policy advocacy work in the Knesset committees and before leading decision makers and government officials. The report is discerning and, hence, a must-read for those in who seek to understand Israel’s bizarre stratagem to create facts-on-the-ground through dubious legislative actions.

Ranjan Solomon

Overview of Anti-Democratic legislation by the 20th Knesset
Summary of report by Attorney Debbie Gild-Hayo, Director of Policy Advocacy, ACRI

In recent years we have witnessed a disturbing trend toward the erosion of democratic values in Israel and the promotion of anti-democratic initiatives. It is particularly alarming that democratic values are being undermined and the rules of the democratic process are being broken in the Knesset -Israel’s parliament and the heart and symbol of Israeli democracy. Statements and actions by senior political figures have far-reaching ramifications and influence on the attitudes of the Israeli public regarding democracy, human rights, and political, social and ethnic minorities.

The most basic rules of the democratic game have repeatedly been challenged. The foundations of the democratic system have been attacked, including the separation of powers and respect for the office and function of the different branches and institutions that exist in a democracy; the role of civil society; protection of human rights, for example the freedom of expression, the right to protest, and respect for the underlying value of equality.

By using the “defensive democracy” approach, these areas have been subjected to systematic erosion through biased and distorted interpretations. If that were not enough, in the present era of “new politics” the formal and informal rules of the democratic process are eroded, to the extent that there seems to be almost no mutual respect and willingness to genuinely listen and discuss with those who disagree with the majority; the formal procedures remain the be-all-and-end-all, and even they are changing, or at least challenged, for the convenience of the political majority; political correctness is almost completely abandoned, causing immediate and even long-term damage to various minority groups; political interests have become more important than truths and facts, since this is the era of “alternative facts” and “fake news”.

What is an anti-democratic activity?
The erosion of democracy is manifested in a range of interdependent initiatives: an attempt to erode the power, authority and activity of “gatekeepers” -the institutions that make up the democratic structure and constitute the set of checks and balances that are vital to democracy and ensure the rule of law, good governance, the protection of human rights and minorities, and the elimination of corruption and the tyranny of the majority; an attempt to silence critical voices of the government, including silencing public criticism expressed by social or political minorities; an attempt to delegitimize political opponents, human rights organizations and minorities; an attempt to restrict the actions of those holding up to positions that are inconsistent with those of the political majority; and portraying the minorities in the Israeli society in a generalized manner as enemies of the state, while legitimizing the violation of their civil and political rights.
The aspects and manifestations of these initiatives are varied, and include: bills that seek to change the governmental structure; bills that violate fundamental rights that form the heart of a democratic system, primarily the freedom of speech and political protest and equality before the law; verbal assaults on those whose positions are currently in the minority in the Knesset and in society; attempts to delegitimize gatekeepers who are essential for the existence of a democratic system, including the Supreme Court, the President, the Attorney General, the State Prosecutor, the Police and the Inspector General, the State Comptroller, the media and the journalists; an attempt to damage and delegitimize the vital work of human rights and social change organizations; and attempts to restrict the freedom of expression in academic, artistic and cultural spaces and to impose a narrow political agenda; and more.

Why are such actions problematic? What harm do they cause?
The result of these initiatives is damage to the basic principles of Israel’s democratic system:
Ongoing and cumulative damage to the freedom of expression and protest, human dignity, and equality; a weakening pluralism and a range of opinions, thoughts, and attitudes; damage to the freedom of association; and harm to the legitimacy of diverse attitudes and opinions. Conversely, these initiatives strengthen the tyranny of the majority towards social, political, and national minorities and legitimize the violation of the rights of these minorities. These initiatives arise in the context of a social and political reality that, whilst not new, remains highly charged and on occasions extremely harsh. Nevertheless, we believe that the use of the mantra of “defensive democracy” whenever attempts are made to violate the rights of minorities (whether ethnic, social, or political) is misleading and does not render the process legitimate or just.

This process that we are currently witnessing may ultimately lead to the decay of the entire democratic system. Defending the state and the safety of its citizens must be undertaken in a proportionate and proper manner, whereby basic rights are denied or restricted only in the most extreme instances, as already established in Israeli law. It is important to note that even if these bills and initiatives do not progress to the stages of legislation and implementation, the attempt to advance them in and of itself has a considerable chilling effect on Israeli society as a whole. These initiatives seriously harm the Arab minority in Israel, human rights and civil society organizations, the Supreme Court and State Prosecutor’s Office, the media, academia, and the world of arts and culture –and therefore damage Israeli democracy. During the legislative process, bills and initiatives form part of the public agenda and influence the public mood and the perception of reality in Israeli society, creating a chilling effect on institutions and on society at large. It is also important to note that some of the initiatives in and of themselves deserve to be discussed or advanced. The difficulty lies in the scope and comprehensiveness of the phenomenon that emerges, including all its related aspects described above, resulting in the decaying of the democratic space in Israel.

The list of some of the anti-democratic initiatives and bills proposed and promoted in the 20th Knesset, demonstrate the current trend. For the details of these and a detailed analysis of the various initiatives see

Don’t befriend me for a day, and leave me a month. Don’t get close to me if you’re going to leave. Don’t say what you don’t do. Be close or get away.
لا تصاحبني يوماً .. لتهجرني شهراً ولا تقربني .. لتبعدني .. لا تقل ما لا تفعل كُن قريباً .. أو ابتعد.
Mahmoud Darwish.