What Sort of Democracy Bans Legitimate Political Parties?
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th January, 2009
Israel likes to portray itself as a model democracy in a region where various forms of non-democratic government are more the norm. Certainly it has just about the purest form of PR in the world, though its lack of a threshold means that some real nutters get into the Knesset as long as they can garner at least 1% of the popular vote. Thus there are some really extreme, racist, right-wing political parties represented which sometimes wield considerable power, as larger parties are unable to form governments without having some form of broad coalition.
This makes it all the more outrageous that Israel’s Central Election Committee has voted by an overwhelming majority to ban two of the three main Israeli Arab parties — Balad and United Arab List-Ta’al — from standing in next month’s general election. The committee, which comprises representatives of the country’s major political parties, has voted by a seven-to-one margin in favour of barring the two parties on the grounds that they ‘support terrorism’. Ahmad Tibi, a UAL-Ta’al MP, told the BBC ‘they are accusing us of supporting the terror while they are killing the children of Gaza.’ He continued, ‘This racist government wants us out of the Knesset during the war on Gaza.’ The Supreme Court will have the final say on Friday; if it endorses the Committee’s stance, that ;eans the two parties are out of the race. That would do wonders for Israeli Arabs’ confidence in the democratic process!
Christian and Muslim Arabs make up 20% of Israel’s population, though they have just 7 MPs in the 120-seat Knesset. In principle, they are full citizens of Israel, but they complain of systematic discrimination within the self-defined Jewish state. Some extreme fundamentalist Jewish religious leaders and politicians have argued that the Arabs should be expelled from Israel, and even more believe that Israel should formally annexe the occupied Palestinian territories as part of their vision of a Greater, supposedly ‘historic’, Israel. Not surprisingly, most Israeli Arabs are distraught about what is happening in Gaza, even if many disapprove of Hamas.
It was significant that the Israeli media the other day claimed that 90% of the population of Israel supported the onslaught on Gaza. Obviously, Israeli Arabs must not have been included in this crude opinion poll. Not for the first time, it appears that as far as the powers that be are concerned, non-Jews don’t count.
(photo of Ahmad Tibi: Hagai Aharon)