Jewish and Then Democratic

The appointment of Prof. Ruth Gavison to oversee Israel's Jewish element becoming more important than its democratic nature is a classic Tzipi Livni move.

Roni Schocken
Roni Schocken
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Roni Schocken
Roni Schocken

While internationally Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is working to guarantee the Jewish majority by dividing the country into two states, in the internal arena she has received a mandate to establish the supremacy of Israel's Jewish component over its democratic one. Instead of having the constitutional upheaval to eliminate Israeli democracy being led crudely by MKs Yariv Levin (Likud) and Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) - thereby causing a mortal blow to Israel's international status - Livni handed the assignment (with the blessing of the coalition parties, of course) to one of the most sophisticated agents of reducing the democratic component: Prof. Ruth Gavison.

Gavison's tactic for promoting the supremacy of the Jewish component over the democratic one has three main elements: First, she is promoting a theoretical and very amorphic discussion of the definition "Judaism and democracy." By doing so Gavison is artificially severing the ostensibly lofty definition from its ultranationalist expression in the reality of Israeli life. She never defines or explains the ideal, which makes it possible to ignore the inherent contradiction between "Jewish" and "democratic" in a country with a Palestinian national minority.

Second, and divorced from the overall discussion of the definition "Jewish and democratic," on the intellectual level Gavison is providing a seal of approval for specific principles that promote Jewish national supremacy. The crowning glory of her work is the ethical-legal defense of the amendment to the Citizenship Law, which undermines the constitutional rights of Israel's Arab citizens to equality and family life: "Its justification is anchored in its being part of the effort to continue to preserve Israel as a country in which the Jewish people realizes its right to self definition," wrote Gavison, without concealing the demographic purpose of the law (which the state explained as a matter of security).

The Admissions Committee Law, in which the Knesset institutionalized a racist and discriminatory mechanism enabling small communities with fewer than 400 families to filter out Arab candidates with the vague explanation that they do not suit "the social and cultural fabric," is also based on Gavison's views. "Some people feel that 'color blindness' is the only normative viewpoint related to civil equality, she wrote, and others, like me, prefer more varied social arrangements, which will offer national communities a variety of life choices, in terms of their degree of integration and their internal solidarity."

Third, Gavison is aiming to weaken the judicial arm, which by nature is supposed to provide protection for minorities from the tyranny of the majority. In recent years Gavison has placed less emphasis on her views in this area (perhaps because of the partial protection provided by the Supreme Court to the Palestinian minority - for example, in its rulings regarding the amendment to the Citizenship Law and the issue of the Nakba Law), but it's clear that, in procedural terms, her views complement the basic viewpoint that is prepared to undermine democracy in order to promote the Jewish nature of the country.

Livni's views are similar to those of Gavison, dating from her tenure as justice minister in the government of then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - when she silenced the Judicial Appointments Committee in an attempt to force Gavison's appointment to the Supreme Court - and up to the present with her Hatnuah party, when she formed an alliance with Haim Ramon, who favors the destruction of the judiciary.

As opposed to overt ultranationalists, Gavison manages - with great sophistication - to enlist support for her views even among moderate liberals, thereby reinforcing the danger she presents. She is a respected professor, an Israel Prize laureate, one of the founders of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and it is more difficult to criticize her than Levin or Shaked. (It was interesting to see how ACRI renounced Gavison's latest views in support of separation between the children of Sudanese asylum seekers and Israeli children in Eilat schools.)

The ultranationalist situation in Israel has never caused Gavison to regret her principles or rethink them, although they are a theoretical basis for many of the antidemocratic arrangements in Israel. At most, she has condemned specific arrangements while ratifying their underlying principles.

When she is granted the official authority to interpret the term "Jewish and democratic," and when the monitoring is carried out by Livni - her political alter ego - Israel may be on the way to openly becoming "Jewish and then democratic."

Prof. Ruth Gavison.Credit: Tomer Neuberg

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