Israel’s democracy is in danger again.
Frankly, Israel’s democracy has been in danger for over 20 years, at least since the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and never had really been on solid footing anyhow. So if you feel like you’ve heard enough crying about this particular wolf, I understand.
This time, though, something does feel somewhat final. This week, the Knesset Ethics Committee suspended three Arab lawmakers who met with the families of dead Palestinian terrorists, whose bodies Israel is holding. This was a new low in the years-long drive by the government and Israeli right-wing to delegitimize and disenfranchise Israel’s Arab politicians, such as Israel’s political bugaboo Haneen Zoabi, who’s been suspended for four months.
Then, as if that wasn’t enough, the coalition moved to expedite a bill that would allow a majority of 90 MKs (out of 120) to suspend a fellow MK for expressing extreme political opinions. It also passed a first reading of the “NGO transparency bill,” albeit without the clause requiring representatives of NGOs that receive foreign funding to wear identity badges. Because why not.
Each of these developments is its own little Pandora's box. There’s the hypocrisy of right-wing MKs, so virulently opposed to members of Knesset meeting with the families of terrorists, unless one of their own - Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked - does this. And the blatant racism of trying to remove elected officials who represent a fifth of Israel’s citizens. And the frightening recognition that the wave of anti-left, anti-Arab incitement is backed by the government, and sometimes even funded by it, and that in recent months it has been led by Benjamin Netanyahu himself.
The choir invisible
The truth is, the debate surrounding Israel’s democracy feels more and more like a demented homage to Monty Python’s parrot sketch. The government is trying to sell Israel as a living, breathing, vibrant democracy, but any person with eyes in his head would know that this parrot is barely breathing.
Like John Cleese’s enraged customer in that Python sketch, one feels stupider for every minute spent arguing about this. Israel’s democracy has not yet reached the point where it is no more, has ceased to be, rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible - but it’s pretty damn close.
Israel, in fact, is already an ex-"Jewish democratic" state. After years of systemic diminishment of its democracy, it has gone full Jewish. The so-called “nation-state” bill, the infamous bill that aimed to define Israel as a Jewish state and effectively remove the “democratic” from Israel’s definition of itself as a Jewish democratic state, was killed in Knesset - but even without passing, it has de facto become the law of the land.
Whether it is Likud MKs disparaging democracy or the Education Ministry excluding a novel from the recommended list for high-school curriculums because it “promotes miscegenation,” or the coalition and opposition cooperating on a draconian “anti-terror” bill that expands the definition of terrorism to include flag-waving and online commenting, Israel is already not even trying to function like a democracy. Removing Arab MKs from the Knesset would be a bitter final nail in a coffin that has already been bought.
Fittingly enough, the coup de grce may have been delivered this week by no other than Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s ridiculous statement about his plan to “surround all of Israel with fences” and “obstacles” in order to protect it from “the wild beasts,” meaning Palestinians and neighboring Arab states, was a display of everything wrong with Israel under his leadership. Israel circa 2016 is fearful, hateful, and paranoid, self-involved to a degree even Donald Trump would find distasteful, and soon it might have big walls surrounding it from every which way, quarantining it, and a political system where only Jews need apply.
They say great, historic leaders can shape a country in their image. Netanyahu is Israel’s second-longest serving prime minister. The Israel he has helped shape is a shtetl with an air force and German submarines..