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Those Loyal to Democracy in Israel Must Wake Up

Zehava Galon
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Israeli riot police officers scuffle with protesters during a protest to show solidarity with Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem, February 18, 2022.
Israeli riot police officers scuffle with protesters during a protest to show solidarity with Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem, February 18, 2022. Credit: AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean
Zehava Galon

Lawmaker Miri Regev, who is also a candidate for prime minister once Benjamin Netanyahu is out of our lives, said last week: “There are enough democratic countries. Another democratic country is not what is needed. What we need here is the only Jewish state in the world, which must be protected.”

Regev, who enthusiastically had her picture taken with the supporters of the hate group La Familia, will always be the id of Likud. What sophisticated spokespeople conceal, she will say loud and clear. When Regev announces from the Knesset podium that she dismisses democracy – which means that Israel is no longer the state of the Jewish people and all its citizens, but rather a Jewish state – we should listen to her. She is expressing the desires of a large group.

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What group? Two weeks ago, when the professional bonfire-starter Itamar Ben-Gvir opened an “office” in Sheikh Jarrah, a few Likud lawmakers came there, including former Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. Ben-Gvir’s party colleague Bezalel Smotrich also came, and of course it’s easy for us to attack him and forget that the gap between him and Likud is smaller than we think.

In recent weeks some have been lamenting that Likud has become a branch of Kach. This process has been going on for years, from the days of the so-called “Feiglins” and the days when lawmakers hosted the founder of the Lehava movement, Bentzi Gopstein. Netanyahu gave this a push, but the process started earlier.

Those with long memories will recall that the late Sheldon Adelson said, “I don’t think the Bible says anything about democracy. … [God] didn’t talk about Israel remaining a democratic state, and if Israel isn’t going to be a democratic state – so what?” He made the remark in answer to a question about dealing with “the problem of six million Palestinians.”

Israeli settlers gather during a rally in support of reestablishing a wildcat outpost of Eviatar near the West Bank city of Nablus, February 18, 2022. Credit: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

The reason for Edelson’s remark is quite clear: There cannot be a democracy in a country that insists on the de facto annexation of territory in which a large foreign population lives. The left warned of this situation for decades, and the right tried to suppress it. Over the past decade there has been movement from suppression to acceptance: If Israel must choose between giving up territory or giving up democracy, the far right chooses to give up democracy. It’s no coincidence that the right wing that crowds around Ben-Gvir is the right wing that talks about a “second Nakba” while denying that there was ever a first one. There is no other solution: There will either be democracy here, or an ethnic dictatorship.

The right wing has understood this and legislated the nation-state law. It states that there are two ethnic groups here, one has all the rights and the other only has some; one is the landlord, the other just a guest. And what does the citizenship law do? It reinforces this situation: One group has the right to family unification, while the other has to beg to have its existence recognized. Jewish supremacy in judicial language.

We are no longer dealing with the statesmanlike right wing of the 1980s. What’s left of it is now part of the government. We are dealing with the right wing of Regev and some of her colleagues in Likud and Religious Zionism. Racism is their norm, and for the sake of Jewish supremacy they would stab democracy in the back.

A conflict is now raging between those loyal to an ethnic-based state and those loyal to a citizenship-based state. This conflict is alive, the fuse is burning. Those loyal to democracy must wake up, and quickly. We don’t have long now, the other side is organizing and is saying openly what it wants: an anti-democratic Jewish state. We must draw strength from the Ukrainians and make clear that we will fight valiantly for our democracy.

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