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Hagai El-Ad

Hagai El-Ad

Posted: August 19, 2009 06:06 PM

"Natural Growth"? There's Nothing Natural About Destroying Israeli Democracy


The annals of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have certainly charted many triumphant peaks of newspeak. Still, recent weeks seem to somehow have succeeded in yet setting new records in this unfortunate endeavor. Cynicism put aside, we should not be amused. The cost of politicians toying so recklessly with our future is getting dangerously high.

If anyone still needs further evidence for the intimate relationship between prolonging the occupation and the weakening of Israeli democracy, consider the recent remarks of Deputy prime minister Ya'alon, calling Peace Now "a virus," shortly after advocating for the resettling of Homesh, describing it as a strategic asset. One may presume Ya'alon understands strategy, being Israel's Minister of Strategic Affairs.

Enough nonsense. What is, indeed, required of us now is that Inaugural promise for a new era of responsibility. But instead, what we are hearing are the prolonged echoes of a previous era, of misguided recklessness and shortsightedness, combined with a touch of McCarthyism. As an Israeli who has a deep vested interest in the future of my country, I cannot but resist this foolishness and call the bluff of this newspeak for what it is: The potential undoing of my country's future, pre-packaged as patriotism and delivered with much pomp.

Here's a slightly more responsible version of reality: many Israelis have grown to realize that the prolonged occupation is immoral, unsustainable, and inconsistent with a democratic Israel. For Israel's sake, they shudder at the thought of resettling places like Homesh. Further, many Israelis adamantly reject what has become the cornerstone of the prolonged occupation: The separate and discriminatory system that makes the occupation a possibility for the Israeli settlers and an endless human rights violation for the Palestinians.

In other words: The price of "natural growth" and the other excuses-du-jour will be the unnatural further demise of Israeli democracy, as well as the prolonged suffering of Palestinians living under occupation. But the buck does not stop there.

In addition, the kind of growing McCarthyism we're witnessing in recent months is directly linked to the irresponsible evasion of the real questions pertaining to ending the occupation. Prolonging the occupation is immoral and senseless. And so along with the exhaustion of rational arguments for the continuation of what must cease, came the one remaining substitute for a real argument: Dubbing the other guy a traitor.

Minister Ya'alon going after Peace Now only follows the IDF going after Breaking the Silence, the Israeli Medical Association going after Physicians for Human Rights, and other similar attacks. All of these attacks against Israeli civil society groups have one thing in common: They never address the issues raised, but instead, as a deliberate strategy, go after those who dare present an alternative take on reality.

Truth is, speaking one's mind in a democracy doesn't turn anyone into a "virus". On the other hand, there are great risks for a functioning democracy if a high ranking government minister joins an orchestrated, McCarthy-style, anti-democratic campaign.

Being the Israeli optimist that I am, I believe that not only do we deserve better, but further -- that our democratic instincts are stronger than giving in to the outdated fallacies of the past. Prolonging the occupation and trying to paint Israeli human rights activist as traitors isn't patriotism; rather, it is a betrayal of our core democratic principles. To reject this is not being "anti-Israeli"; perhaps it is actually one of the most meaningful ways in which one can be patriotic these days.

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