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Israeli security forces inside the Al Haram Al Sharif in the Old City of Jerusalem on August 11, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard Israeli officials boasting that their country is the only democracy in the Middle East even as it flouts all democratic principles whose mainstays are equality, free expression, human rights, civil liberties and the rule of law.

Israel’s banning of Democratic Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from visiting, ostensibly due to their backing of the BDS Movement, is being billed by Israel’s critics, wrongly in my opinion, as an affront to its democratic values whereas, in fact, those claims pre-suppose that such values existed in the first place.

This democracy in name only allows diverse opinions when they suit and when they touch a nerve, they are branded as being anti-Semitic even when expressed by Jews termed ‘self-haters’.

Perhaps America’s democratic values should be placed under a microscope instead given that a US President has openly advised a foreign nation to bar his nation’s own democratically-elected representatives else be considered weak. Whether Donald Trump — who boasts an Israeli colony in his name on the occupied Golan Heights courtesy of his buddy Netanyahu — is an American-First president or one that puts Israel first is now a question under debate.

Without rights for all regardless of ethnicity or religion as envisaged by Ben-Gurion, Israel’s so-called democracy should be called-out as a sham.

- Linda S. Heard, British political columnist

Isn’t it about time that the international community dropped the pretence of considering the Jewish State a democracy? For decades, Israeli leaderships have chipped, nay hammered, away at David Ben-Gurion’s Declaration of Independence that pledges complete equality of social and political rights to all inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex”.

That Declaration sounds worthy but in reality wasn’t worth the paper on which it was written when 700,000 sons and daughters of the soil were forced to flee, their villages permanently erased or their homes sequestered, and never permitted to return.

The myth

The notion that the state sees all Israelis as equals is a myth and always has been. Almost from Israel’s birth Jews from Arab lands, many herded into ghettoes, were seen as an underclass not fit to socialise with the more ‘refined’ Yiddish, Russian or German-speaking European Jewry. Israel invented a new word for these Arabic-speaking others, collectively called Mizrahim whose customs, traditions and oriental prayer chants were frowned upon as being alien.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Israel opened its doors to Ethiopian Jews escaping violence and famine but instead of finding a welcoming sanctuary, they were greeted with discrimination and blatant racism on the part of the establishment. Even today, this 180,000-strong community is banished to the peripheries where they disproportionately suffer from poverty and unemployment in comparison to others.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2018 Nation State Law unapologetically shredded all vestiges of Gurion’s lofty pledge, stating “the right to exercise national self-determination” within Israel, “is unique to the Jewish people. In one sweep of a pen, Arab Israelis and the Druze community whose members are permitted to serve in the Israeli Army were rendered second-class citizens.

Arabic was downgraded from an official language on par with Hebrew and, contrary to international laws and UNSC resolutions, Jewish colony was pronounced “a national value” that must be promoted and developed by the state.

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Moreover, Israel can no longer assert it is a country that abides by the rule of law when it promotes the expansion and construction of colonies on the West Bank deemed illegal by a slew of UN Security Council Resolutions. Israel’s criminal laws are heavily weighted in favour of Jews with soldiers or armed colonists found guilty of killing innocent Palestinians given derisory sentences or no sentence at all. Is there any other country on the planet besides Israel that prosecutes children in military courts and locks them up for the crime of throwing stones at tanks?

Writing in Ha’aretz under the heading “Israel, on the road to a theocracy”, Uri Misgav asserts his country’s democratic-secular identity is under attack. “The ultimate source of authority is no longer the state and its institutes. The sources of inspiration are not liberal humanism, human rights, the enlightenment movement and science,” he writes, while blaming Netanyahu for surrounding himself with religious Zionists “motivated solely by utilitarian considerations”.

Democracy, theocracy or whatever else, to misquote the Bard, this thorny rose by any other name would smell the same. If anything, Israel is a rogue military state disguised under lashings of Made in the USA whitewash hiding under the facade of being a democracy. Without rights for all regardless of ethnicity or religion as envisaged by Ben-Gurion, Israel’s so-called democracy should be called-out as a sham.

— Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.