The Corrosion of Israeli Democracy

The NYTimes has an article today Israel’s Other Occupation – that gets at the core issue in Israel, how its democracy is being corrupted by the West Bank Occupation. This is no small matter because Israel is an outsize player not just in Mid East politics but also as a shaper of US policy. For example, US aid to Israel has amounted to over $40B over the last 15 years [it is largely military aid the bulk of which Israel spends in buying the latest US military technology]. US participation in Wars in Kuwait and Iraq certainly had oil supply motives; but also  benefitted Israel interests in reducing and then eliminating the influence of Saddam Hussein. And curently, the rise of tensions between Israel and Iran over Iran’s acquiring nuclear weapons, has Israelis  advocating pre-emptive strikes against  Iran regardless of the unintended consequences and catastrophic collateral damage that could be incurred against not just US but also Western democracies in general.

So the health and strength of the Israeli democracy is  a vital concern to the US. And the current prognosis is not good according to Gershom Gorenberg,  an Israeli journalist and historian and the author of “The Unmaking of Israel.” The crux of the problem lies in the fact that Arabs citizens of Israel make up 20% of Israel’s overall population[this partially includes Arab Israeli citizens in the disputed territories such as the  Golan Heights and the West Bank]. Gershom describes how these Arab Israelis are systematically made to feel as second class citizens despite the efforts of  the Israeli government and Supreme Court.:

Israeli politicians and pundits labeled the Oct. 3 burning of a mosque in Tuba Zangaria, an Arab community in northern Israel, and the subsequent desecration of Arab graves in Jaffa as a sudden escalation. But they were mistaken.
For several years, extremist West Bank settlers have conducted a campaign of low-level violence against their Palestinian neighbors — destroying property, vandalizing mosques and occasionally injuring people. Such “price tag” attacks, intended to intimidate Palestinians and make Israeli leaders pay a price for enforcing the law against settlers, have become part of the routine of conflict in occupied territory.

Now that conflict is coming home. The words “price tag” spray-painted in Hebrew on the wall of a burned mosque inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders transformed Israel’s Arab citizens into targets and tore at the all-too-delicate fabric of a shared democracy…..In 1995, Adel and Iman Ka’adan, an Israeli Arab couple, tried to buy a lot in the community settlement of Katzir. As educated professionals eager to live in a place with good schools for their daughters, they fit the community’s profile. But as Arabs they were ineligible. Their legal battle led to an Israeli Supreme Court decision in 2000 that rejected discrimination against Arab citizens, stressing, “equality is one of the foundational principles of the State of Israel.”

These are the tangible signs of the extreme right in Israel that are, like the Tea Party in US domestic politics, setting the political agenda for tough no concessions on Israeli settlements in the West Bank and poisoning any chance of meaningful negotiations for an Israeli Palestinian settlement. This ultra-nationalist attitude is not new:

Jews began settling in occupied territory weeks after the Israeli conquest of 1967. The strategy of settlement was born before Israeli independence in 1948, when Jews and Arabs fought for ethnic dominance over all of British-ruled Palestine. By settling the land, Jews sought to set the borders of the future Jewish state, one acre at a time. Post-1967 settlers, though they saw themselves as a vanguard, were really re-enacting the past, reviving an ethnic wrestling match — this time backed by an existing Jewish state.
Now, the attitudes and methods of West Bank settlement are inevitably leaking back across a border that Israel does not even show on its maps.

The last line is emphasized because this is at the heart of the Palestinian – Israeli conflict. In a land that has had the following population history:

Year Jews Christians Muslims Total1
First half 1st century CE Majority ~2,500²
5th century Minority Majority >1st century
End 12th century Minority Minority Majority >225
14th cent. before Black Death Minority Minority Majority 225
14th cent. after Black Death Minority Minority Majority 150
1533–1539 5 6 145 157
1690–1691 2 11 219 232
1800 7 22 246 275
1890 43 57 432 532
1914 94 70 525 689
1922 84 71 589 752
1931 175 89 760 1,033
1947 630 143 1,181 1,970

Source of data
too many Israelis regard all of Palestine as their own and Arabs as second class citizens . It is a haunting, harrowing echo of 1920-1945 Germany. And US Policy of almost unflinching support of Israel has cost dearly in lives lost in Nairobi, New York, Madrid, Bali, London, and countless other al-Qaeda attack points and the cost in lives and trillions of dollars spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. In an era of government deficit cutting, the US should consider cutting unconditional support of Israel’s Palestinian policy.

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