Political Promise

Israel: A Democracy or Ethnocratic State?

In Stephen Wager on July 22, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Stephen Wager believes that in order to know where you are going, you need to know where you have come from. For the diplomatic process of a peaceful Israel, he considers the rocky road of modern history in the country.

Traditionally since the 1948 War of Independence, Israel has taken meticulous care of cultivating a positive global image, whilst simultaneously marginalising potential dissident voices. Painting itself as a democracy amongst a sea of authoritarianism has been a relentless approach of the Knesset, the political and legislative body of Israel. Yet over the last couple of decades, historical revisionism, buoyed by the global communication boom, has carved a rather damning scar across the liberal image of Israel. Increasingly, across the international political and academic spectrum, Israel’s carefully manifested democratic face is starting to show glaring political gaps and civil rights inadequacies.

George Orwell once declared: “He who controls the present, controls the past”, it is a quote that in many ways causes us to question the authenticity of history. Digging out further quotations, Churchill once admonished: “History is merely propaganda of the victors”. Such powerful rhetoric has led many revisionists to question the moral foundation of the Israeli state which was ultimately consolidated and expanded after its crushing victory over the fragmented Arab forces in 1948.

Analysing whether Israel is a “Robber state” is not the purpose of this piece. Rather the aim is to analyse how the overwhelming military victories of both 1948 and the Six Day War, 1967, allowed the Israeli regime to postulate myths and garner a history that has grown into a distorted, hardened ideological shield. Only now is the shield starting to show cracks.

The nationalist history portrays Israel as the embodiment of a Western liberal democracy; however, with further investigation this dove like image is as flawed as it is wrong. In contrast to conventional belief, the Israeli state has forged a hierarchical, ethnocratic society bent on protecting the interests of the dominant ethnic group – Judaism, at the expense of the Arabs. As Israeli critic Pappe states: “The aim of the Zionist project has been to defend a white fortress in a ‘black’ (Arab) world”. This has involved three prepositions:

Firstly, the non-democratic nature of the state has been enshrined in Law. In Israel’s Basic Law, Section 1, the Law of Return prevents over 4 million desperate refugees, dispersed throughout the Middle East, from returning to their native homeland. The potency of the law is compounded with the imperial fortification along Israel’s borders, currently reinforced by a 746KM long wall. The construction of the internationally condemned wall aligns alarmingly with Zionist pioneer Vladimir Jabotinsky beliefs who said in 1923, “Zionist colonization must proceed regardless of the native population…it must proceed behind an Iron Wall, that the natives cannot breach”. In addition, a flux of non-democratic laws have been passed since 2007 that undermine in every aspect the term ‘civil liberty’. Political parties that do not recognise the ‘Jewish nature’ of Israel can now be banned altogether, stifling Arab political expression.

Secondly, a barrage of cultural implementations designed to ‘socially construct’ the Israeli state as a Jewish entity, penetrate the corners of society. From the national flag, national anthem, to the proliferation of Hebrew in society – the subordination of non-Jews in society remains constant and discriminatory. Those brave enough to internally question the status quo, are ostracised, as leading scholars Chomsky, Finklestein and Pappe will vouch. The widely acclaimed Free Press Index, ‘Reporters without Borders’, ranks Israel 86/190 countries, behind the likes of Togo and Guatemala. The social cultivation of the Israeli state would not look out of place in aHuxley novel.

Discrimination does not only focus on non-Jews. Envisaging the Jews as one monolithic entity is an inane misconception. According to scholar Alek Epstein, Jewish Arabs, alternatively known as Mizrahi Jews, are in typically Orientalist fashion deemed as backward and in need of ‘moulding’. Indeed a report from the Association of Rights in Israel found that almost 75% of Israeli citizen’s said Arabs were less intelligent and less clean than Ashkenazi Jew. The fact all Israeli PM’s since 1948 have been Ashkenazi, or ‘European Jews’ – perceived by former Israeli PM Moshe Sharatt as the ‘salt of the earth’, testifies to the ethnocratic structure of society.

After centuries of persecution, Zionism’s inexorable quest has been to establish a Jewish state for Jewish people. Yet, that very principle corrupts the common standards of Western democracy and civil liberty. It is for this reason that the rising ‘demographic problem’, caused by both an explosion of the Arab population in Israel and the looming establishment of a Palestinian state, has caused the anxious Knesset to treat civil rights with mounting contempt.

A combination of anti-democratic rulings such as the 2003 Nationality & Entry Act which prevents Israelis marrying Palestinians and Netanyahu’s and Lieberman’s insistent inflammatory anti-Arab rhetoric, has unnerved the general Israeli populace. According to a recent survey commissioned by Ynet, 41% of secular Israelis support municipal religious leaders’ call not to rent apartments to non-Jews.

The phenomenon of globalisation has helped highlight Israel’s somewhat contentious realpolitik foreign policy, which today elicits vociferous global condemnation. Now is time for America to stop peddling the illusion that Israel is a beacon of liberty and instead address the embedded inequalities internally in Israel, before channelling over $4 billion annual aid to a state with dwindling moral support.

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