Israel’s right-wing government has found a new point of reference – Syria, a country groaning under a bloody civil war. Every time an Arab Knesset member tries to criticize something in Israel, the ministers immediately suggest that he “go to Syria.” Every time a right-wing minister or MK wants to boast about Israeli democracy, he compares it to what’s happening under Bashar Assad’s regime.
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The latest example took place this week. After Deputy Knesset Speaker Ahmed Tibi and colleagues protested against the speech by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the podium and bragged to the visitor about Israeli democracy.
“In our parliament,” Netanyahu said, “anyone can say anything they want. This is not possible in Damascus.” In another Knesset debate about a month ago, Culture Minister Limor Livnat taunted MK Mohammed Barakeh. “I’ll send you to Assad’s regime,” she said. “There you can talk about enlightenment and culture.” Tibi responded: “It’s won’t do that every time an Arab MK comments on something you’ve said, you bring up Syria.” Pandemonium erupted.
The comparisons to Syria and the statements about sending Arab MKs there are shameful and intolerable. More than once, Arab MKs have spoken out against the dictatorships in the Arab world, including Syria’s. They’re members of the Knesset, not any other parliament. This is their place – by right, not by any favor or benevolence on the part of the right wing.
The need to make comparisons at the expense of the bloody Syrian regime reflects Israeli democracy’s weakness, certainly not its strength. Strong, stable democracies, like those in properly run countries, don’t need to compare themselves to the worst regimes in order to be extolled.
Does Israel really want to be compared favorably to murderous Syria? Does it really want to be mentioned in the same breath as the Arab tyrannies? Israel’s system of government is immeasurably better than the regime in the Arab states. But is this fact enough to guarantee its strength and quality?
Instead of brandishing the racist suggestion that we send Israel’s Arabs to Syria, the government and right-wing politicians should occupy themselves with Israeli democracy, which is crying out to be strengthened.