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Slowly but surely Israel is acquiring the status of an anachronistic entity. The legislation that passed in the Knesset that dark night last week, which makes ethnic inequality a legal norm, has no parallel in democratic countries because it contradicts the very essence of democracy. In terms of the principle on which it is based, institutionalized discrimination against the non-Jewish population takes us back to the early days, when Israel’s Arab citizens were under a military government.

This had a far-reaching effect on Israeli society. Aside from the desire of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and the ruling elite not to limit their freedom of action, it was the ethnic and institutionalized discrimination that rendered impossible the writing of a constitution. In that way the Israelis, who for the first time became citizens in their own country, learned that independence did not require equality and democracy did not include respecting human rights.

In the year after Israel canceled its military government in Arab areas, the great disaster of the Six-Day War took place, and a military government was established in the territories. Over time, with the settlements, a colonial regime has been created that does not even try to conceal its nature. At a time when all Western countries have stopped ruling over other nations, Israel is creating a colony for itself, and even transferring the norms that reign in the occupied territories across the borders into the state itself.

Does the West have any such anachronism? The settlement colonialism is the main reason today, usually the only one, for the opposition, sometimes bordering on hatred, that Israel arouses among much of the Western intelligentsia. It’s not the enemies of Zionism and the anti-Semites who are delegitimizing Israel, but Israel itself, with its own two hands.

Although the extreme right has become stronger in Europe too, and the last word has yet to be said, racists don’t rule there, and they are considered a repugnant minority not only to the left, but to a substantial part of the liberal right as well. In this country, however, the extreme and clerical right is the government, with only a vacuum opposing it.

The disgraceful flight from a confrontation with the right in the Knesset will not soon be forgotten, and the center’s moral bankruptcy will be recorded as a disgrace. The greatest enemies of democracy and the sources of fascism’s strength have always been not the radical right’s independent power, but the opportunism, conformism and cowardice of the center.

And what would we say if in a Catholic country in Western Europe, the church leaders controlled political parties and dictated entire chunks of national policy? How would we react to the sight of a party leader and important government minister kissing the hand of a robe-wearing cardinal and running to carry out his instructions in the public arena? And how would we accept the news that to attain one of the most important positions in the country − chief of the Shin Bet security service − the clergy’s consent was required?

Of course, such sights would generate scorn and disgust, but in this country we have long gotten used to the fact that the settlement rabbis’ “halakhic rulings” can openly reject the rule of law and the state’s authority, and the hilltop youth are allowed to declare de facto autonomy in the areas they control. We have also gotten use to figures like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and MK David Rotem, the chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, whose ilk in Europe are part of a history many people are ashamed of. It’s sad to see how one of the great hopes of the 20th century has become an anachronism before our eyes.