Come Join the March of the Many

Our government is currently spearheading the attack against the foundations of our democracy.

Hagai Elad
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Hagai Elad

The government and its institutions are those responsible for safeguarding our rights - all our rights. They have the power to enforce the law or break it, to foster an atmosphere of equality or of discrimination; it is in their hands to decide whether collective resources are equitably distributed among different groups in order to close socio-economic gaps or whether they are channeled into the hands of the few. Ultimately, the actions of our leaders are what will determine whether they back the state's commitment to the rights of all those living under its jurisdiction.

Left-wing demonstration against loyalty oath bill in Tel Aviv on October 16, 2010.Credit: Tal Cohen

Alas, the past year seems to have set a new standard in the way the state betrays its commitments to the public. In government circles, the Knesset, academia and other spheres, Israeli democracy finds itself under threat.

In the Knesset, the recent wave of anti-democratic legislative initiatives was highlighted by the amendment to the citizenship law and the draft bill that would make it possible for small communities to reject "incompatible" residents. These bills, however, are only part of a more widespread trend which recently prompted the Knesset speaker to note: "There are members of Knesset who in their deeds turn to the emotions of the public and in so doing are creating a public global image of Israel as an apartheid state."

In the courts, the inconceivable inclination of the state to ignore court rulings reached new heights this year, prompting the attorney general to publish the following directive: "Implementation of court rulings ... is an obligation of the state. Obedience to court rulings does not just obligate the residents of a country and all who come through its gates, but rather it first and foremost obligates the state itself." Has the rule of law deteriorated to the point that it is necessary to enunciate such obvious guidelines? And, has the government changed its ways since the directive was handed down, or does it still regard certain court rulings with contempt?

Social services, be it welfare, health or housing, continued to be neglected; this is neither a new phenomenon in this country nor an act of nature - it's become systematic policy. This past year yet again, inequality, socioeconomic gaps and poverty reach record levels, leaving more citizens than ever to fend for themselves. Indeed, the recent national disaster in the Carmel Forest and the inability of the firefighters to control the blaze were painful reminders of the dangers of an economic policy that promotes cuts in public services. Maintaining a high level of public services in not in the interest of a particular demographic group but of society as a whole.

On racism, the origins of the wave that is now sweeping the country can be traced to government leaders: Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke at the United Nations about "transfer of populations and territories" - and kept his ministerial seat; a municipal rabbi, a civil servant, published a halakhic decree that Jews are prohibited from renting apartments to non-Jews and not only kept his position, but has been joined by dozens of his peers. The common thread is that racism is receiving legitimacy and backing from the government, either through active participation or by tacit compliance.

Thus it is our government that is currently spearheading the attack against the foundations of our democracy. It is also responsible for the separation regime that is taking an even stronger hold in the occupied territories, the shameful treatment of refugees and migrant workers, and the close links that have been forged between those ruling the country and those groups seeking to intimidate and tag as "disloyal" anyone they see fit, targeting, among others, academia and human rights organizations.

Looking at this gloomy picture today, International Human Rights Day, one might ask: What hope is there for human rights in Israel? The events of the past year showed that this hope lies primarily in the hands of the citizens. It is critical that we remember that the power of the state and its institutions, and the budgets and resources they use, are given to it by us, the citizens - all the citizens. The chief responsibility of the state and all those working on its behalf is to be loyal to the public. The public still remembers its rights. Israelis demand that their government safeguard the basic rights of all those under its authority, they oppose cuts in public services, and they support equality and human rights. Everyone's rights.

Today, Friday, December 10, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is celebrated worldwide, thousands of people will be gathering for the second year in the streets of Tel Aviv for Israel's Human Rights March. Working toward many different causes through shared values we will call out together: Human rights are everyone's rights. In order for the state to change direction, in order for the democratic forces to continue believing in our values and fighting for them even in the face of extremism, we will march together in the largest annual human rights event held in Israel. This is the march of the many who, despite the attacks against them, are determined to continue believing.

Hagai Elad is executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI ).

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