Sometimes your blood boils when you see someone trampling on a sacrosanct principle. This occurred last week when Yaron Mazuz called out to Arab Members of Knesset that “we” were doing them a favor by issuing them Israeli identity cards and allowing them to sit in the Knesset. This outrageous statement was not made by somebody who had never gone to school and might be excused for having no understanding of the functioning of a democratic society. It was made by none other than the deputy minister of the interior, addressing the Knesset in the name of the Minister of Interior Silvan Shalom.
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All of Israel’s citizens have the right to vote and to be elected to the Knesset regardless of gender, ethnic background, religion, and not least important, regardless of political opinion. If the deputy minister of interior does not know this or prefers to disregard it, he cannot continue to hold that office.
It was a bad week for sacrosanct principles. The attack carried out by a mob of over a hundred Druze, who ambushed an ambulance carrying wounded who had escaped the fighting in Syria to hospitals in Israel, was an abhorrent crime. No explanations regarding the presumed affiliation of the wounded, or the Druze belief in the transmigration of souls, can excuse this barbaric act. The victims of the attacks were injured, in need of medical attention, and were unarmed and defenseless.
One can understand the strong feeling of concern of Druze living on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights for their brothers and sisters in danger as a result of the fighting across the border in Syria. One can even understand their feelings of loyalty to Bashar Assad, the butcher of Damascus, who they believe will protect the Druze community in Syria. But one would have expected that the belief in the sanctity of human life would be part and parcel of their value system, a sacrosanct principle, especially after having grown up in Israel for the past 48 years. Something is amiss in their continued estrangement from Israeli society and its values, which has been ignored for too long by Druze religious leaders and by Israeli authorities.
So now we go back 10 years to the forcible eviction of Israeli citizens from their homes in Gush Katif in 2005. Evicting people from their illegally built homes is a painful process, which becomes unbearable if they have been living in those homes for many years. But the families of Gush Katif did not build their homes illegally. They were encouraged to settle there by the Israeli government and had been living there for more than 20 years. Their forcible eviction was a gross violation of their civil rights, it was a crime.
Although the decision to uproot them was taken by the government headed by Ariel Sharon, the ultimate responsibility for this crime rests with Israel’s High Court of Justice which gave its approval. It is supposed to be the last resort for those citizens seeking to prevent such a violation of their rights by the government. In this case, it failed miserably. Nothing can excuse it. Those who are charged with protecting our rights failed to do so and instead trampled on a sacrosanct principle they are charged with defending.
As our deputy minister of interior, Yaron Mazuz should have known that voting in elections is not a privilege which the government can award or deny to Israeli citizens. It is a basic inalienable right of every citizen and brooks no interference by the government or the Knesset. It is a sacrosanct principle.
And yet over 150,000 Israel citizens who happen to be abroad on Election Day are denied that right. Those who are travelling abroad after serving in the Israel Defense Forces, professors on sabbaticals, students who are studying abroad, tourists who happen to be overseas, Israelis working for Israeli companies abroad — they and many others have their basic civil rights violated by being denied the right to vote.
Democratic countries around the world have solved this problem, universally common in the age of globalization, by allowing for an absentee ballot. But not Israel. A sacrosanct principle, the right of citizens to vote, is being trampled. It is time for a change.