By Dvir Aviam Ezra, Israel
The upcoming Israeli elections are an example of the continued erosion of democracy in the region. While some developments represent hope for the young, the elections have cast into doubt the Israeli claim of being the ‘only democracy in the middle east’.
For the unaware reader, a short overview – the current elections were called after previous elections in April 2019 failed to allow Mr Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister and winner of the elections, to establish a ruling majority coalition in the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset.
The current elections are marred by increase polarization, especially from radical right-wing nationalist groups, and heightened tensions regarding the rights of the Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The Israeli democracy has certainly been imperfect ever since its establishment. From 1948-1966 Israel has kept 20% of its population, the non-Jewish Palestinian minority, under martial law that restricted their political and electoral rights. Since 1967, Israel has been occupying the West Bank, Golan and Gaza, again leaving millions of people without a voice in the system that maintains effective control over them.
But while imperfect, for a long time the Israeli democracy held on inside Israel-proper, allowing free opinions and even limited discussion on past atrocities and mistakes.
This time though, in its bid to retain power, Mr. Netanyahu and his governing part the ‘Likud’ (ironically translated as ‘unity’) have resorted to several anti-democratic steps. They have demanded to put surveillance cameras inside Palestinian areas in Israel, and when this initiative was declared illegal by the elections committee they have launched a process of fast-track legislation to allow it anyway. They have also joined a request to ban the only Palestinian list from running. Last but not least, they have increasingly cooperated with radicals including the ultranationalist ‘Jewish power’ party, a successor of the banned ‘Kach’ movement, widely regarded as a terrorist organization across the globe.
Even towards the Jewish opposition, the government has increasingly used inciting and violent language, questioning the loyalty, sanity and morality of challengers and spreading baseless rumours on former Prime Minister Barak, hinting that he is, in fact, a paedophile because of alleged connections to the deceased billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.
Such behaviour culminated in increased violence towards the centre-left block, including a recent incident where air gun was shot on an assembly of the centrist party, injuring two.
Additionally, a Jewish-Arab movement called ‘standing together’ has managed to prompt main opposition candidate to announce that he will try his best to appoint An Israeli-Palestinian minister in a future government.
For the first time since 1967, it is safe to say that antidemocratic norms are penetrating into the Israeli democratic system that previously protected at least the basic systems of citizens and occupied civilians. Another result of the personalized and polarized race is that economic issues (with Israel experiencing its worst housing crisis since its establishment) and the peace process (which has stalled for years) take the back seat and are barely referred to on the campaign trails.
All of the above may represent negative omen, however, there are also reasons to be hopeful. A coalition of left-wing parties has established the ‘democratic camp’ list, which is focused on the protection of minorities and the democratic norms. In addition, all four Palestinian parties have managed to unite into the ‘joint list’ which may cause increased turnout and thus an increased Palestinian representation in Parliament. Additionally, a Jewish-Arab movement called ‘standing together’ has managed to prompt main opposition candidate to announce that he will try his best to appoint An Israeli-Palestinian minister in a future government.
No less important is my final message – while we Israeli citizens utilize our right to vote on September 17, we mustn’t forget the millions of Palestinians that have no such rights.
the populist right is gaining across the globe, one can only hope that the youth and the young, from all genders, creeds and ethnicities, will unite in order to protect democratic institutions and highlight emerging subjects such as global warming, LGBT rights and gender equality for all.
No less important is my final message – while we Israeli citizens utilize our right to vote on September 17, we mustn’t forget the millions of Palestinians that have no such rights. When we determine our future, we should also think of theirs. That’s why when I will cast my vote in a few days, I plan to vote for my neighbours as well, by supporting a party that commits for their rights, freedoms and well-being.