Israel’s crisis of democracy: leading figures join to call for end to its destruction
Artists urge PM to ‘save democracy’
Dozens of artists, intellectuals, academics and former military officials sign letter calling on Netanyahu to freeze legislation targeting courts, media and civil society organizations in Israel
Writer Amos Oz, director Ari Folman, playwright Joshua Sobol, actress Hanna Maron and dozens of intellectuals, academics and former military officials have signed a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urging him to freeze the recent wave of “anti-democratic” legislation.
The letter was submitted Sunday to the Knesset speaker, ministers, Knesset faction heads, Supreme Court president and Israeli president. It states that “Benjamin Netanyahu has a clear choice: He could either allow the current wave to continue and turn into the destroyer of democracy and law in Israel, or stop immediately.
“He should announce that the legislation and implementation of all bills targeting the courts, media and civil society organizations in Israel will be frozen at least until the end of the Knesset’s winter session. The heads of Netanyahu’s coalition have not taken time for self-examination.”
The letter, signed by some 70 people, includes a specific reference to Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish’s statement on the issue last week. “The Supreme Court president’s clear remarks must lead to a complete change in the Israeli reality. Beinish’s words are a last warning call.
“The Supreme Court president rightfully criticized each citizen for being too silent over the fact that she, law and democracy are being abandoned to a wave on incitement and have found themselves all alone while facing evil spirits and violence.
“Her remarks echo the slain prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who found himself abandoned in the face of incitement.”
The signatories conclude, “We must not allow this disgrace. This prime minister, who led those protests (against the Oslo Accords) – and was warned by the Shin Bet chief of what could happen – should have at least learned the lesson and changed his ways. Stop this wave of legislation now.”
US secretary of state voices deep concern over wave of anti-democratic legislation, particularly bill targeting leftist organizations; criticizes exclusion of women from public life in Israel. Statements draw criticism by Israeli ministers
Yitzhak Benhorin, Ynet
WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced deep concern on Saturday over a wave of anti-democratic legislation in Israel and in particular a bill proposing to limit donations to human rights organizations. Clinton also criticized the growing exclusion of women from Israel’s public life.
In a closed session at the Saban Forum attended both by Israeli and American decision-makers Clinton addressed the issue of discrimination against Israeli women. She expressed concern for Israel’s social climate in the wake of limitations on female public singing and gender segregation on public transport.
Among the Israeli representatives taking part in the forum were Minister Dan Meridor, Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
Clinton, a longtime advocate for women’s rights, noted she was shocked at the fact that some Jerusalem buses have assigned separate seating areas for women. “It’s reminiscent of Rosa Parks,” she said, referring to the black American woman who refused to give up her seat to white passengers in the 1950s.
Referring to the decision of some IDF soldiers to leave an event where female soldiers were singing, she said it reminded her of the situation in Iran.
Clinton’s comments drew extensive criticism in Israel. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said in response, “these voices are totally exaggerated. Israel is a living, breathing liberal democracy.” He added, “The issue of the exclusion of women and separation is unacceptable and must be stopped but to claim there is a threat on Israeli democracy is a big stretch.”
Interior Minister Eli Yishai also rejected Clinton’s statements. “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. I assume that whatever will be done here will be within the measure of the law.”
Minister Gilad Erdan proposed that “elected officials around the world examine their domestic problems first.” He nevertheless said he shared the concern over the exclusion of women noting that such measures cause people to hate the Jewish religion. “I hope that government steps will demonstrate our commitment to equality between men and women.”
This year’s Saban Forum has been focusing mainly on issues related to Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Some members of the forum said that Clinton’s statements about Israel stemmed from genuine fear for the country’s future.
Fighting democracy’s erosion
The forces of darkness want to turn a democratic state into a halachic one and aim to silence opposition
Sami Michael, Ynet Op-ed
There is a special atmosphere marking this year’s Human Rights Day. On the one hand, we’re witnessing an awakening and a determined fight for freedom and against corruption, from Morocco, through Yemen and Syria to Israel.
The masses, suffering from oppression, racism and poverty are taking to the streets and are standing up proudly against ruthless oppression. On the other hand, a cloud is looming over human rights. The forces of evil are using the spirit of the social protest to embrace the outer shell of democracy, which is the majority’s rule. They aspire to cultivate a predatory rule, to have a dictatorship, which is against all that is foreign and different, trample on freedom and justice. We will stand in their way.
The forces of darkness are tricking prominent institutions into eroding democracy’s strongholds. They aim to undermine the High Court of Justice and we will stand in their way. They wish to weaken human rights groups and we will stand in their way. They want to dismantle organizations that strive to bring peace and end the occupation. We will stand in their way.
They are distributing distorted information and cultivating xenophobia in order to lead the people down a destructive path of hatred towards the Arabs. We will stand in their way.
Israel has one of the highest poverty rates among all developed countries. They conspire to keep their policies of robbing a slice of bread and a glass of milk from destitute children to make the rich even richer. A third of Israel’s children are living in poverty. Poverty is a disaster for children and a catastrophe for the state. We will stand in their way.
Democracy life’s blood
They are fanning the flames of war in order to silence the bitter cry of the homeless, the jobless, the social workers, the residents and the migrant workers, who live in slavery conditions. We will stand in their way.
We are not anti-religion but we are against religious coercion. We will not allow the forces of darkness, which use religion to humiliate women, oppress homosexuals and harass members of other faiths and free-thinkers. Their purpose is clear – to turn a democratic state into a halachic one. We will stand in their way.
If need be, we will take to the streets again. Freedom of expression is the life’s blood of democracy. Those who conspire to support narrow-mindedness, those who advocate blind faith in baseless ideology and a single historical ethos are preaching nothing but spiritual fascism. We will stand in their way. With all our might – we will stand in their way.
The clouds are looming heavy and the atmosphere is turbid, making the brave contribution of the human rights groups and the groups fighting for peace and equality with the Arab nations in general and specifically the neighboring Palestinian people, all that more important.
To my brothers, the Israeli Arabs, I say – your fight for a just society is our fight. Your destiny is our destiny. The right for a respectable life does not differentiate between men and women, religion and nationalities. We, like you, aspire for a better, more humane society, for our children and our grandchildren. Together, only together, can we work on building a just future for you and for ourselves.
Our adversaries are weaker than they appear and we are stronger than our adversaries think. In a joint effort by the human rights groups we have proven that we can stop the forces of darkness. But there’s a lot of work to be done. The forces of darkness will not give up – they aspire to silence us. But we will not be silenced and we will not allow them to hinder human rights, freedom of assembly and the right to protest evils.
If need be, we will take to the streets again. We will do so across the country, in cities and townships, in central Israel and the periphery, among the majority and the minority.
Sami Michael is an author and the president of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. This was his speech at the Human Rights Rally held over the weekend in Haifa
Speaking at annual conference, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish castigated politicians, ministers for their ‘ongoing campaign to delegitimize, influence Israel’s judicial system’
Aviad Glickman, Ynet news
Her term as Supreme Court president may be coming to an end, but Justice Dorit Beinish is still doing battle over the character of the halls of justice she will be leaving behind.
On Thursday the gloves came off, and in an especially combative speech she attacked elected figures who seek to influence the character of the Supreme Court through laws that influence the make-up of its panels and declarations against serving judges.
She accused ministers and MKs of running an incitement campaign against the Supreme Court. “For a few years now there has been a campaign that is gaining momentum from year to year with the aim of weakening the justice system, the Supreme Court at its head.”
Beinish added that this a delegitimization campaign “led by a number of politicians, Knesset members and even government ministers, who take advantage of their immunity and give the public misleading information that has deteriorated to incitement against the court, its judges and against its rulings.”
Speaking at the annual conference of the Israeli Association of Public Law at the Dead Sea, Beinish said that she had warned against the trend to harm the Supreme Court and diminish its authority and by that “to undermine its ability to protect the democratic values of the State.” She added that “the writing was on the wall. The warnings were heard, but no one got up.”
Over the past few weeks the Knesset has passed a number of controversial proposals which aim to limit the Supreme Court.
One of the bills would give the Knesset’s Constitution Committee the right to vet Supreme Court candidates. Another proposal, dubbed the “Grunis bill,” would allow the appointment of a Supreme Court chief justice with only two years remaining until retirement.
Beinish also mentioned the role of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in blocking the bills that would change the face of the Supreme Court: “There is a great deal of importance to the fact that the prime minister declares the importance of the independence of the judges.
“As far as I know, he was also opposed to some of the proposals and blocked the ‘hearing bill’. I assume that the prime minister will continue to stand guard to the best of his ability. Still, as long as an ill wind is blowing, it is not enough to block one bill or another as this is an ongoing trend and not a sporadic struggle.”