The political assault on MKs from the Balad party over their meeting with Palestinian families seeking to recover the bodies of loved ones held by Israel has reached a new peak: a bill that would enable a majority of 90 out of 120 Knesset members to suspend a fellow MK. This proposal once again makes clear how widely nationalism has spread in the cabinet and Knesset, and how greatly it is undermining democracy in Israel.
Granting the political majority the option of hurting representatives of the minority because of disagreements or even anger at their actions and positions negates the most basic principles of democracy and replaces them with a tyranny of the majority. In this case, however, we aren’t talking only about the tyranny of a numerical majority, but also about the tyranny of a national majority: a humiliating domination of Arabs by Jews.
There’s nothing new in this tyranny. It is certainly expressed by the occupation, but also within the pre-1967 lines. The law that allows candidates and parties to be disqualified if they don’t support the idea of a “Jewish state” is another expression of this worldview, even if the Supreme Court has imposed many curbs on the law’s implementation and has never allowed the disqualification of Arab candidates whom the Central Elections Committee sought to disqualify.
What’s new in the current bill is its sheer blatancy: the fact that the coalition believes the majority can simply suspend MKs belonging to a political and national majority at will, on such euphemistic pretexts as opposition to the Jewish state or support for terror, when the real reason is simply their unpopular political views – the kind that are supposed to be protected in a democracy.
In this regard, there’s almost no difference between the coalition and the opposition in the Knesset. In the Knesset Ethics Committee, a representative of the Zionist Union faction supported the decision to impose sanctions on Balad over the meeting. And while Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog opposes the current bill, he also took care to express revulsion at the Balad MKs’ actions. This time, even Meretz hasn’t refrained from toeing the nationalist line: MK Ilan Gilon joined the assault.
It’s possible to disagree with the actions of the Knesset members from Balad and still vehemently oppose the proposed legislation against them. This is about the essence of democracy. The new bill must be shelved, and quickly. But that alone isn’t enough.
Knesset members must relearn the fundamental axioms of democracy so that it will be possible to uphold the claim that Israel is “the only democracy in the Middle East.” And it would be preferable for them not to learn this material from the new civics textbook being prepared by Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
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