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Israel is sleepwalking towards tyranny not practising democracy

Israeli forces injure Palestinians with tear gas as they gather to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque following the removal of Israeli security measures in Jerusalem on 27 July 2017 [Mahmoud İbrahem/Anadolu Agency]
Israeli forces injure Palestinians with tear gas as they gather to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque following the removal of Israeli security measures in Jerusalem on 27 July 2017 [Mahmoud İbrahem/Anadolu Agency]

Let me start by acknowledging that democracy is in short supply in the Middle East. However, only one state claims to be a democratic state. In fact, Israel claims to be “the only democracy in the Middle East,” with the “most moral army in the world”.

Increasingly, extremist Israeli governments with no respect for international law, international humanitarian law or international norms have been using the pretence of democracy to entrench Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and to place the state’s Jewish identity above democracy. The Nation State Bill, making its way through the Knesset, seeks to do just that, despite claims a future draft would tone this down.

All is not well with democracy in Israel. Every so often former, senior Israeli politicians or retired security personnel warn that Israel is edging towards apartheid and even more recently towards tyranny.

Former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak have warned that Israel’s policies are leading towards naked apartheid; Barak said as recently as last month that Israel was on a “slippery slope towards apartheid”.

Read: Nation state bill damages Israel says former Israeli PM

Former Israeli officials were blind to the impact of their policies while in office. After all, the settlement project saw a major expansion during Barak’s reign. How is it that he could not see the devastating effect of this on the prospects for peace? It is also true that when it comes to settlements, current Prime Minister Netanyahu needs no excuse to expand the enterprise but still uses this as punishment for perceived Palestinian indiscretions such as joining world bodies or conventions.

To many observers the label of apartheid is already justified. Anyone who has visited the occupied Palestinian town of Hebron can testify that they saw apartheid, felt it and smelt it.

In April former Shin Bet chiefs Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon warned that the country’s political system had sunk in the process of “incremental tyranny”. They were speaking ahead of a public meeting at a Jerusalem gallery that was threatened with closure after hosting a meeting organised by the military whistleblowing group Breaking the Silence, one of the main targets of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ayalon explained that “incremental tyranny [is a process] which means you live in a democracy and suddenly you understand it is not a democracy anymore,” adding that “this is what we are seeing in Israel. The tragedy of this process is that you only know it when it is too late”.

Attacks on human rights organisations within Israel are nothing new. Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, Al-Haq, Peace Now and Yesh Din have all been demonised and individuals issued with death threats. MK David Bitan called for the citizenship of B’Tselem Director Hagai El-Ad to be revoked simply because he criticised Israel’s occupation to the United Nations Security Council.

In 2017 Israel passed a law compelling NGOs to reveal their foreign funding which would allow the government to lobby those states that fund these critical NGOs. This scrutiny does not to extend to those that support and fund illegal settlements.

Israel’s targeting of the media is constant and is hardly a sign of democracy. It regularly raids offices of Palestinian radio and TV stations and confiscates equipment. The 2017 World Press Freedom Index placed Israel 91st out of 180 countries, way behind many Western-style democracies that it claims to emulate including Germany (16), France (39), UK (40) and the US (43). Palestine was ranked 135th.

During assaults on Gaza, Israel deliberately attacked buildings housing media channels, which caused damage and casualties. Israel’s most recent attack on the media came during the recent coverage of protests and Israeli army violence at Al-Aqsa. The Israeli Prime Minister threatened to close Al Jazeera’s offices accusing its journalists of “inciting violence,” a claim the Qatari owned network strongly rejects.

In recent months Israel has escalated its war on freedom of speech both at home and abroad, particularly in relation to proponents of the BDS movement. While it generally claims the movement is ineffective, it has appointed Gilad Erdan as minister for strategic affairs to combat individuals and organisations that pursue this tactic for pressuring Israel.

At the 2016 Yediot Achronot conference which attacked BDS, Israel’s transport minister Yisrael Katz called for the “civil targeted killing” of BDS leaders like Omar Barghouti. Thankfully, Barghouti is still alive but he was banned from travelling abroad for a period of time and was recently arrested on allegations of tax evasion, which he denied.

Israel has also turned its attention to critics abroad. In March 2017 the Knesset passed a law that would empower the immigration authorities to deny proponents of the BDS movement abroad entry to Israel. Commenting on the new law Erdan said “the rules of the game have changed,” and that organisations seeking to harm Israel’s “national security” through boycotts would be denied entry to the country.

A few days after the law was passed Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), Hugh Lanning, was denied entry to Israel. A few days later I was travelling with my wife and son to visit family in East Jerusalem when I was also denied entry. This was particularly ironic given it is the year Britain plans to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.

The first question I was asked during my interrogation was whether I had heard of the new BDS law. I believed that I was denied entry because of my role in PSC where I am a member of the executive committee, and our promotion of BDS. I did wonder at the time whether the law would be applied equally to Jews holding foreign passports and residing abroad who supported BDS or a more limited boycott of the illegal settlements.

Read: British-Palestinian activist banned from seeing his family

When campaign director for Code Pink, Ariel Gold, made it into Israel recently I noted that a Jewish supporter of Palestinian rights and of BDS had been allowed in. However, she was ‘outed’ in the press and accused of “tricking” her way into the country, which she denied. She is now worried about being denied entry in the future.

At least Gold made it to Tel Aviv. On the 23 July Jewish Rabbi Alissa Wise and two other faith leaders were not allowed to board a flight to Tel Aviv by Lufthansa on the orders of Israel. Wise is from Jewish Voice for Peace. It’s important to remember that Israel has a Law of Return for Jews but denies the right of return to Palestinians.

Israel’s borders extend as far as it wants them to and in Alissa’s case they extended all the way to Washington and will be coming to an airport near you if critics of Israel decide to visit. Israel has developed criterion for entry denial and will demand that airlines deny boarding to individuals in their country of departure.

The implications for critics of Israel and organisations that promote BDS are clearly significant in term of accessing the country to show solidarity with Palestinians. However, they are unlikely to be perturbed about campaigning for the rights of Palestinians and promoting BDS, unless Israel’s lobby in key countries succeeds in wrongly criminalising BDS as the US is currently attempting to do.


In reaction to recent events around Al-Aqsa, Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi – a key Netanyahu ally – threatened Palestinians with a “third Nakba”. The reference here is to the Arabic term for catastrophe or the mass expulsions of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948 and then 1967. How democratic is that?

It seems to me that Israel has found it difficult to reconcile its role of delivering the Zionist project and acting as a democracy. It has to deal with non-Jews that it wishes had all been ethnically cleansed in 1948. Their sheer existence is a demographic threat and as we saw recently in Jerusalem, if they had all gone the ‘third Temple’ would have been built by now in place of Al-Aqsa Mosque in a state only for Jews.

Israel claims to be Jewish and democratic but the reality is that it is a settler, colonialist and apartheid state with a stockpile of nuclear weapons to boot.  It seems that if democracy does not deliver its colonialist aims then – as some of its own senior citizens fear – it will head towards tyranny. I acknowledge that Israel is not there yet but the direction of travel worries me as a Palestinian and should worry Israelis who want to make peace with their neighbours.

Those that support Israel in the West should also worry. Will they heed the fears of former Shin Bet chiefs Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon, or will they only know it when it is too late.

ArticleBDSInternational OrganisationsIsraelMiddle EastOpinionPalestine
  • Pepper Wingate

    This is a term we use in common for the purposes of communication. It in no way implies the acceptance of the existence of a Palestinian nation other than that of Jewish people predating the formation of the nation of Israel nor does it refer to an ethnic group except as was used as reference to Jewish people predating the State of Israel.
    In other words; we can use the same word but you bloody well know what I mean and I don’t accept your implicit meaning.
    GOT IT?

    • shimbaru

      Sure, you’re an “Israeli”.

      • Pepper Wingate

        Not in the least! I am British. I grew up in Scotland and England and I live in Canada. Not Jewish! Not Israeli. Just interested in fairness which you seem to be impervious to.

        • shimbaru

          So in your opinion is it fair that at least 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from Palestine by Zionist forces, and their descendants barred by your favorite Democracy from returning to their homes and their land, to which they have title, deeds, and house keys?
          Or is it fair that your precious “Israel” has illegally occupied the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem for the past 50 years, killed thousands of Palestinian inhabitants of the Occupied Territories, and has reduced the remaining Palestinian population to the status of impoverished prisoners on their own land, surrounded by illegal walls and fences, and terrorized by armed troops who brutalize, torture, imprison and shoot to kill Palestinians at their whim?
          And please do tell me, where is the fairness of this “Democracy” that herds the Palestinian people like cattle, down fenced passageways and through slaughterhouse-style checkpoints, surrounded by armed Occupying troops, as they attempt to enter the Promised Land of “Israel” to labor for their daily bread?
          You have formed an opinion of me as being unfair, so I ask you to prove it by refuting these few statements I have made, all factual, all verifiable, and all widely known to be true by a very large majority of the world population.
          Justify the misery that “Israel” has unleashed upon the Palestinian people.

          • Pepper Wingate

            They could have stayed! Many did and are now citizens of Israel and the envy of the Middle East because they have all the rights of Israeli citizens without having to serve in the Armed Forces. But don’t call it Ethnic Cleansing unless you are talking about the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem or the Moslem nations of the Middle East who stole everything from the Jews they expelled. They didn’t even leave them the house keys!
            Israel fought a defensive war with Egypt, Jordan and Syria and defeated them handily in 6 days. I am sure that rankles but there are peace treaties with all except Syria and the land is legally Israel’s to administer and occupy as they will. That they didn’t do to the Arabs what was done to the Jews in 1948 is proof of their remarkable restraint.
            Slaughterhouse! clever! That brings up the slaughterhouses of Pizza parlours and busses that made the checkpoints necessary. If it wasn’t for the bombings and shootings of innocent Jews and Arabs, they wouldn’t be necessary. Like I said, there are Arabs who are the envy of the West Bank and the Middle East because they have jobs in Israel and don’t have to pass through the checkpoints. There again, with a few exceptions, they don’t kill Jews every chance they get or incite their children to attack heavily armed Jewish soldiers with makeshift weapons to earn the family $3000/month from the PA, depending on how many Jews are killed, of course!
            Now, the misery is not the doing of the Israelis. That is solely the doing of the Arab leaders themselves. Palestinians are the best funded refugees in the world. Yet they live in abject poverty. That money is not handled by Israel. It is handled by the thieving Arab leaders. Khaleed Meshaal has a cool $2billion to cool his haemorrhoids. Now that’s obscene when there isn’t clean drinking water in Gaza. Israel doesn’t administer Gaza. There are lots of swimming pools and mansions in Gaza! Strange that!
            Every time Israel invites the Palestinians to the negotiating table, there is less and less available. If they don’t sit down and negotiate in good faith, there will be nothing left. There again no agreement is worth the paper if it doesn’t include the acceptance of Israel’s right to exist. There’s your key!

          • shimbaru

            First of all, please accept my apologies in mistaking you for an Israeli!
            I actually share some of the same Celtic and European ethnicity as you. So we may address the issue as two outsiders with differing perspectives, and with no vested interest in either side.
            The issue here, as previously discussed, is the issue of fairness.
            You spew the usual Hasbara lies and propaganda with aplomb, never for even one moment addressing the actual question at hand. The word Palestine does not appear anywhere in your flippant and soulless remarks, likewise the actual human beings known worldwide as Palestinians receives not the slightest consideration in your tortured rationalizations. Please tell me how your fairness is communicated, in your one-sided and delusional explanations, of the horrors which have been visited upon the Palestinian people by the Israeli state. .
            The Zionist experiment has failed, and has been exposed as nothing more than a particularly vicious and cruel case of European settler-colonization. The occupiers of the once peaceful and diverse land of Palestine are despised by most of the educated, freedom-loving and life-respecting people on this planet, and yet they continue to murder, maim, imprison and torture the innocent Palestinian people who stand in the way of their ruthless ,genocidal land grabbing aspirations. Where is the fairness in this?
            The people suffering in the Occupied Territories have committed no crime except being born on land desired for the Zionist state of Eretz Israel. Where is the fairness in killing babies ,of shooting unborn children with the IDF’s vaunted “One shot, two kills” policy?
            Where is the fairness in demolishing the homes of lawful property owners, of uprooting olive tree plantations by the acre, of spewing sewage upon Palestinian homes, of abducting schoolchildren on their way to morning classes, of midnight raids upon the homes of terrified families?
            Where is the fairness, of denying surviving Palestinian refugees and their descendants the right of return to their native homeland?
            The Israeli state is a theocracy, not a democracy. It has instituted an apartheid system upon the Palestinian people, one which is more cruel than that which was imposed upon the people of South Africa.
            I would like you to explain the fairness in that!

          • Pepper Wingate

            You are right. We do disagree. As an outsider, what gives you the right to label my arguments ‘hasbara’, ‘flippant’ and ‘soulless’? I have enormous compassion for the Arab people that you label ‘Palestinian’. Unlike you I see them as being robbed by their own leaders.
            Arab refugees are the only refugees are the only refugees that are able to inherit refugee status. Right of return? Not granted to Tibetan refugees or Vietnamese. (I could go on.) Strangely, these refugees of yours are the best financed refugees in the World. Yet they live in abject poverty. All except their leaders! Khaled Meshaal, for one, has a cool $2billion to cool his haemorrhoids. The people ‘suffering’ are the victims of their own people who have prevented them from integrating when they live in other nations and refused to develop industries and prevented the development of infrastructure to improve the lives of Arabs in Israel.
            When I compare two groups of refugees, Arab and Jewish, both with nothing. Now 70 years along Jews have built a democracy, a thriving economy, an army to be reckoned with, and a culture of innovation that is envied around the world. Arabs have not fared so well. They have been lied to and manipulated by their own leaders who have no interest in their welfare. In 1948 they could have had a nation of their own. Every time the leaders refuse to negotiate with Israel there is less for them. If they don’t bother to negotiate in good faith, they will find themselves with nothing at all.
            It is strange that Jewish entrepreneurs have shown themselves to be willing to develop industries to employ Arabs. Despite the millions that the leaders have syphoned from their people, they can’t see their way to give them sewers or industries to employ the youth.
            You call Israel a theocracy. I know from personal experience that Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze and many others live freely in Israel and practice their religions without let or hindrance. How many Jews are allowed to pray at the two holiest places for Jews? Are Jews free to wander around Hebron? Why are Christians in Bethlehem being persecuted by their Muslim neighbours? That’s not down to the Jewish State!

          • shimbaru

            The usual deflections and Hasbara talking points you spout do paint you as a Zionist , therefore you have exposed yourself to my very accurate, if non-complimentary, descriptions of your heartless and hollow rhetoric.
            As non-combatants in the war for Palestine, you and I will most certainly fight an endless war of words if we devote the time and energy.
            I personally have better ways to spend my time, rather than trying to convert a committed Zionist to my point of view.
            The very bottom line is that an invasion took place in the land of Palestine, in which armed Zionist troops overran a peaceful defenseless population, threw them into the wilderness, and set about colonizing the entire nation of Palestine, Having accomplished a great deal of their nefarious and cruel scheme, the Zionist invaders find themselves with a restless and growing population of Palestinians in territories illegally occupied by the settler-colonial state of “Israel”. These Palestinians, born and descended from the Indigenous people of the land of Palestine, are the only true and legal citizens of Palestinian land. The “Israeii” occupiers are mere squatters upon the land of Palestine, and have no more right to that land than I would in my grandfather’s village in County Mayo.

          • Pepper Wingate

            What nation? Palestine was a geographical description used by the British, not even an Ottoman description. If they were defenceless, then why 5 Arab armies? If Arabs were over run then why are Arabs full citizens of Israel? Jews are the indigenous people of Israel and have had a continuous presence in the land for over 3 millennia. The Jordanian invasion was illegal and recognised as such internationally. Israel is legal and even the ICC can’t find a case to answer otherwise they would have jumped in with both feet.

          • shimbaru

            So, you are not only a Zionist, but a Palestine denier as well.
            Zionism, by United Nations proclamation equals racism.
            Since you so wholeheartedly support Zionism, I must conclude that you also support racism l. That distinction is very offensive to me, and renders further discussion moot.
            I will leave you to defend the indefensible, to attempt to legitimize the illegitimate, and to whitewash the crimes of the gangster entity you love. Of course you may reply, if you wish your words to echo in hollow space, as I shan’t be answering.
            Happy trolling!

          • si91

            The UN itself is a morally bankrupt body dominated by dictators, and event they repealed the “Zionism is racism” resolution in 1991.