Let Them Rage: Why Anti-Zionists Should Be Allowed to Run

Haim Watzman

If it weren’t the fact that the fracas at yesterday’s meeting of Israel’s Central Election Committee was theater rather than serious deliberation, I might be more upset about the decision to bar from contesting the coming election two of the three Arab slates represented in the current Knesset. Everyone there, both the right-wingers accusing the Arab parties of sedition and the representatives of said parties charging the Committee with racism, knew that the decision will almost certainly be overturned by the Supreme Court.

That’s what happened 2003, when the Committee sought to ban Balad (National Democratic Assembly), one of the two parties it banned yesterday. The other is the joint slate of Ra’am (United Arab List)/Ta’al (Arab Movement for Renewal).

As Ha’aretz’s Ze’ev Segel explains, the Central Election Committee was empowered by an amendment to the Basic Law on the Knesset of 2002 to disqualify parties that act explicitly or implicitly in support of armed struggle against Israel. In its 2003 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that disqualification required a high standard of proof that the parties in question were in fact taking active measures to support armed struggle and that the advocacy of armed struggle against Israel was the party’s governing ideology. (Recommended: the Israel Democracy Institute’s position paper on the disqualification of parties, written by Mordechai Kremnitzer.)

Oddly enough, the language in question does not appear on the Knesset website’s version of the law and its amendments . . .

Read the rest on Jewcy–Comment there or here.

11 thoughts on “Let Them Rage: Why Anti-Zionists Should Be Allowed to Run”

  1. I would let the Arab parties run. I think it is very important for Israeli Jews to know what the Arab population thinks, and the Arab MK’s make clear their disdain for Israel and its Jewish population.
    I would also let the Kahanists run. Israel’s problem is not “too much democracy” but rather too little. Large portions of the population feel they are basically disenfranchised and this is a very dangerous thing. This feeling was greatly amplified by Sharon and the Likud’s support for the destruction of Gush Katif. People saw it made no difference what a leader or his party promised, they could turn around and do the opposite, spitting in the face of the party’s supporters and voters. Thus, one could conclude it makes no difference who you vote for, so why bother. Dennis Prager, who strongly opposed Obama in the US election said that one good thing to come out of it will be that many people, primarily poor blacks, will now feel they have a stake in the system. In Israel, where the country’s situation makes much greater demands on the citizenry than does that of the US, it is all the more so important to have everyone’s voice heard.

    Regarding the current war with HAMAS, here is a piece by Jeffery Goldberg in the New York Times exposing what their real views about Jews and Israel are and why it is an illusion to think that “giving them power will make them more moderate”…


  2. I agree that this is pure theater, populist electioneering. Eitan Cabel openly admitted as much: “I know it won’t stand up in the Supreme Court, and rightly so, because there is no evidentiary basis for the [committee’s] decision.”, while frivolously voting for the ban anyway. I hope the SC does the right thing, perhaps even censure the committee for its abuse of the legal system.

    I also agree with the primary importance you put on the democratic character of the state. But I don’t think it’s entirely honest intellectually to suggest that Israel is a Jewish state because it just happens to have a large Jewish majority, in the same sense that Italy and Bavaria are Catholic states.
    First, this is only the de-facto part of the argument (which I wouldn’t have a problem with), while paragraph (1) of the amendment makes this the legally mandated status quo which must not be challenged. The Law of Return, and conversely, the trouble that non-Jews have gaining citizenry, even if they’re married to a citizen, have the same effect, and are meant to, obviously.
    Second, the way this Jewish majority came about and was cemented in the war of 1948 serves badly as a foundation for innocent democratic credentials. That doesn’t necessarily mean Israel is a Jewish tyranny the way Saudi Arabia is a Wahhabi tyranny, but to gerrymander the dominance of one group by violent expulsion of others is on its face no more democratic than the one-party “rei publicae” (which public, exactly?) of the old Eastern Bloc.

  3. It is said that when President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act he turned to one of its Congressional supporters and said “The Democrats have just lost the South.” And so it came to be. Perhaps a selling point against those wishing to gag Arab parties.
    The Amendment to your Basic Law allows ban on lists “negat[ing] the democratic character of the State” either actively or in intention. Is not a ban on Arab lists knowing the Supreme Court will overturn the ban intended to negate the deomocratic character of the State? Intention is a very dangerous legal weapon.
    Your words, Watzman: “But to suggest that Israel should be a state of all its citizens is not treason or sedition. Avid Zionist that I am, there are conditions under which I would, reluctantly and with great fear and trepidation, conclude that Israel could no longer be the country of the Jews—for example, if the majority of people who live in it are not Jews. ” This takes courage and honesty to say. Greatly so. This is the paralyzing fear. In the American Southwest, it is with us in weaker form.
    This American who knows not his greater past apologizes for speaking not knowing true fear.

  4. Would America allow al Qaeda to form a political party? Who knows, it might win a congressional seat in San Francisco, Ann Arbor, or Berkeley.

  5. fiddler – It seems to be that you are attacking the Law of Return for incompatibility with true democracy. I am not the first to bring this up, but Israel is far from alone in having Jus sanguinis (or “Lex sanguinis” if you think that is what the Law of Return is) as a factor in naturalization, and if it does prevent one group from otherwise becoming a majority, it really doesn’t negate the democratic character of the state.

    As Aharon Barak said – “Israel has to be the state of the Jewish people but also the state of all its citizens. Israel is a home to which a Jew, as a Jew, is given a special key with which to enter. A golden key, which is not given to others. But once you enter the home, all those who reside in it are equal.”


  6. LB, I’m aware that there are other countries with a jus sanguinis, including my own (Germany), although that was heavily amended in the 1990s. In and of itself such a law (which concerns relations between the state and non-citizens, after all) isn’t incompatible with democracy (I say that with some trepidation, as I would rather like my own country to adopt a jus soli). In Israel’s case however there is not one but two peoples with genealogical and religious ties to the land, and the Law of Return is a part of the legal framework invented to exclude one of these peoples for the benefit of the other.
    I think it’s a bit disingenuous from Barak to oh-so-magnanimously grant equal rights (which in reality don’t even exist) to others, with the tacit understanding that this can only be so long as those others don’t matter in the democratic process. That’s the subtext of “Israel has to be the state of the Jewish people” anyway. It also means that a huge number of non-citizens – diaspora Jews, who even outnumber Jewish Israelis 2:1 – supposedly have almost the same stake in the state as its citizens, while Palestinian refugees or their descendants, who arguably have at least the same stake in the *land* are to be forever excluded – and Palestinian Israelis are seen as a “demographic threat”.

  7. From the BBC online (admitedly not an Israel friendly source): “Israeli police say they have brought “a number” of Israeli Arabs into police stations who have not committed any crimes, but just to warn them to stay within the law – a move one told me amounted to blatant intimidation.

    “They are scared, that’s my reading,” says Ameer Makhoul, who was taken for questioning by a senior officer last week after organising a series of anti-war protests.

    “He told me: ‘you are terrorist, you are supporting the enemy’.

    “But they cannot tell me how to behave. I am not an immigrant. I didn’t come to Israel – Israel came to me.”

    A “demographic threat”, Soctt Benson? Citizens, born in the State, are a threat? Where has one heard this before?

  8. When the BBC speaks about anything Israeli related, a grain of salt is needed. Even al Jazeera has a better record of accuracy on Israel than the BBC.

    Citizens, born in the State, are a threat? Where has one heard this before? How about Conrad Henlein, leader of the Sudeten Germans, who created the Sudeten crisis? How about Vikdun Quisling of Norway? How about Ahmed Tibi?

  9. Herbert, in democracy protesting, even a war, is not a defacto threat. To call in those exercising free speech because they do so is chilling to speech and should be prohibited. If Arab Israeli citizens are singled out this way the chill is worse. I suspect, in this case, the BBC report is accurate.
    The quote (by LB, above) of Aharon Barak is wonderful. This outsider who has no fear of violence coming to his life thinks it your best hope.

    It is one thing to advocate the rights of another in abstraction. To do so when they are the rights of your enemy–a very hard thing. This the secular questioning of self which democracy demands.

  10. Basically, you are voicing opposition to the law. Kremnitzer and the Supreme Court have (how surprisingly!) have in effect made the law banning anti-Zionist parties into a dead letter. The alternative, of course, would be to repeal the law.
    By the way, note that Meir Wilner, the head of the Israeli Communist Party (the core of the present Hadash) is one of the signatories of the Israeli declaration of Independence, which relates the Zionist narrative of Jewish history

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