If You Don’t Speak Out Now

We must recognize that Israel under Naftali Bennett and Benjamin Netanyahu is no longer a democratic state in which the rule of law is paramount

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, Israel July 23, 2018.
Gali Tibbon/Pool via Reuters

History is being written now. That’s not an exaggeration. Last week, with all its failures and its new laws, will go down in Israeli history as a major step on the road to establishing a Jewish ultranationalist state on the ruins of liberal-democratic Israel.

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The list of dangerous accomplishments by the ruling settler coalition during the final week of the Knesset spring session included, as we know, the passage of the so-called Breaking the Silence law. “We’ve silenced them!” gloated MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli of Habayit Hayehudi. That’s not true. As the executive director of the organization, I have a duty to explain why this bad law does not apply to us.

The law prohibits anyone acting abroad to prosecute Israeli soldiers from speaking in Israeli schools. But  Breaking the Silence activists have never done this. Cabinet ministers know that every testimony collected by our organization is submitted to the military censors, who remove any information that could pose a risk to Israeli soldiers in the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Do Naftali Bennett and his partners also want the censors to disappear?

True, like other laws this one has acquired a misleading nickname, but that’s not what should be forcing us out of our comfort zone. We mustn’t latch on to a particular article in one of the multitude of laws the coalition has passed whose name and substance enjoy an Orwellian relationship. The law legalizing the theft of Palestinian land, for example, is officially called the “regularization” law, and legislation aimed at labeling human rights organization as treasonous are called “transparency” laws. 

Legislation is but part of a well-oiled, focused and targeted campaign whose purpose is to dismantle Israeli democracy: to weaken the High Court of Justice and persecute opponents of the occupation, including high-school principals, diplomats, journalists and cultural figures. Together, these have assumed a critical mass, the significance of which must be fathomed, rather than escaping reality by debating the clauses of one law or another.

Here — precisely at this point — is where most members of the opposition are missing their historic responsibilities. What we need is not protest speeches or the softening of some legislative particulars: These are appropriate for ordinary times. Holding such a discourse at the present time creates a sense of normalcy, neutralizing any instinct of urgency. The blows already sustained by democracy require a liberal opposition to cry out and point to the crooked line connecting the black dots: the laws, the muzzling campaigns, the incitement and more. All of these make it imperative to recognize that Israel under Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no longer a democratic state in which the rule of law is paramount.

The opposition must fly a black flag over the campaign of destruction waged by the government of occupation and settlements, making the public aware that we’re in a state of emergency. We have to ignite protests in the streets, to bravely defend human rights groups and to stop thinking in terms of electoral benefits. The centrist parties must understand that there is no advantage in distancing themselves from “the left” and in evading admitting the fact that the right’s success in destroying democracy stems from decades of occupation and the wish to preserve it.

This harsh reading of reality should lead to a resolute and urgent call for opposing the messianic-nationalist revolution. Yes, this is precisely what they are doing, without resorting to guns. Attesting to this is Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minster and Netanyahu’s anti-Semitic friend — this is how anti-democratic revolutions are done in the 21st century. This is how governments on the Budapest-Warsaw-Moscow axis operate these days.

Anyone who doesn’t internalize these facts and cry out now will have to wake up when history will lead to brown shirts on Jerusalem’s streets.

Avner Gvaryahu is the executive director of Breaking the Silence.