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Israel or Turkey: which one is the real democracy?

July 16, 2020 at 3:47 pm

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on 21 June, 2020 [Gettyimages/Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90]

Israeli Professor Ron Robin announced his resignation on Tuesday from his position as the Chairman of Israel’s Association of University Heads. He attributed his resignation to the dominance of factional and personal political interests over national institutions, including universities.

Robin cited attempts by the Israeli government to “terrorise, weaken, censor and let political interests dictate the research agenda.” The angry professor called these issues “a clear and immediate danger” to the State of Israel and its future. He stressed that they undermine democracy.

“We are in an unprecedented, very dark time,” he wrote in a letter reported by the Israeli media. “Gatekeepers have become targets, and systems dedicated to the values of freedom of expression and freedom of thought are being attacked again and again. The culture, the judiciary, the media and higher education are under a dangerous attack, threatening the very existence of democracy in Israel.”

Does democracy really exist in Israel, though? It is, after all, a country which is racist and discriminatory, even against 20 per cent of its own citizens who are not Jewish. It promotes hatred and violates international laws and conventions on a daily basis, committing war crimes in the process. Despite this readily provable reality, Prof Robin went on to compare Israel with Turkey where, he claimed, there have been “attempts to wipe out democracy”.

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According to Haaretz, Robin warned against sinking into the “quicksand that would send us back to eras when people believed the Earth was flat and the sun orbits it. In Turkey, as in other places where there have been attempts to wipe out democracy, among the first to be singled out by the regime were institutes of higher education. The State of Israel is walking with eyes wide shut into exactly these dark places.”

He is completely wrong. Commenting on this comparison, one specialist on Israeli affairs pointed out that the professor lives in a country dominated by religious fanatics who believe that they were chosen by God to live in someone else’s land, Palestine. “They have no respect for others’ rights or even lives,” claimed Said Bsharat. “He lives in a country which had a dilapidated government after three rounds of elections; a government made up of the crumbs from disharmonious parties which have no single common factor and are being hit by daily conflict.”

Robin could have explained that the disease tarnishing his country is called Likud and its corrupt leader Benjamin Netanyahu, but was probably unable to find a suitably bad comparison against which to judge him in anything like a favourable light. Or he could he picked US President Donald Trump, whose crazed antics could fill a few books, not least his efforts in support of Israel. Or even Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, who ended the first free and fair democratic experience in his country with a military coup, and was hailed as a great friend of the occupation state next door. Any of these, and I might agree with the learned professor. But to choose Turkey? I’m sorry, but he is simply wrong.

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Let’s make a real comparison between Netanyahu, the highest executive official in Israel, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the most senior executive in Turkey. For a start, Netanyahu is being indicted on at least three corruption charges and should — if justice means anything in Israel, which is doubtful — be heading for prison sooner or later; he is using his public position and influence to divert the due process in “democratic” Israel. No such allegations have ever been made about Erdogan, never mind indictments.

Furthermore, Netanyahu’s failure to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic in Israel saw him announce on Wednesday that cash grants will be paid to every Israeli citizen in order to avoid economic collapse due to a possible full lockdown. He claims that he wants to help Israelis, but is more than likely trying to buy himself out of the mess that he has created for his country.

A protester, wearing a face mask as a preventive measure during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, carries the flag of Israel during a rally against the coalition deal struck between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader, Benny Gantz outside the Knesset building in Jerusalem on 14 May 2020 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

According to the Governor of the Bank of Israel, Amir Yaron, if the Prime Minister really wants to help Israeli citizens, he could temporarily and retroactively raise unemployment benefits for those who are out of work. The head of Israel’s Chamber of Independent Organisations and Businesses, Roee Cohen, pointed out that, “It is a surreal decision to give money to people who don’t need it, instead of people who are crying out.” He described the measure as “cheap populism”.

Erdogan, on the other hand, has effectively distributed aid to needy people during the Covid-19 crisis, and has given assistance to more than 60 other countries, including the United States. Just two days ago, Turkey’s streets were crowded with people celebrating the failure of the coup attempt in 2016.

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Moreover, Netanyahu’s democracy sends immigrants and asylum seekers to Saharonim Prison, in the Negev Desert, and obliges them to sign declarations to get given temporary residency papers so that they can become subject to summary deportation. Erdogan’s Turkey, meanwhile, is looking after millions of migrants and asylum seekers, giving them proper homes and employment opportunities and calling them his brothers.

Netanyahu’s wife has been accused of exploiting public funds and her husband’s position for her personal benefit, while Erdogan’s wife heads a charity that offers local and cross-border assistance for the needy. Netanyahu’s son is a racist who interferes in public affairs; Erdogan’s son-in-law is an engineer who developed one of the most effective defence and attack drones in the world.

Israel has been labelled many times by the UN as a violator of human rights. My own situation as a Palestinian in the besieged Gaza Strip is testimony to that. The UN Refugee Agency has pointed out that Turkey “continues to host the largest number of refugees worldwide, as the number of people forcibly displaced across the world due to conflict, violence and persecution hit record levels. Turkey currently hosts some 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees along with close to 330,000 persons of concern from other nationalities.” The UN and EU have each praised Turkey several times for its handling of the refugee issue.

These are not the only differences between Israel and Turkey. The former claims to be “the only democracy in the Middle East” while demonstrating in its treatment of the Palestinians in the occupied territories and its own Palestinian citizens, as well as its contempt for international law, that it is anything but democratic. Turkey, meanwhile, just gets on with the job and demonstrates its democratic values every day.

Professor Ron Robin should think twice before he makes such comparisons.

Note: This page was updated at 17:34 BST on 21 July 2020. Previously, the page stated that Prof. Ron Robin had also resigned his position as the President of the University of Haifa, which was incorrect.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.