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For a whole week the liberal factions in Israel were anxious about the fate of democracy. This followed the central election's committee's decision to disqualify one Palestinian party and two Palestinian parliament members from the elections. The Israeli Supreme Court's decision the following week, to allow their participation, released a sigh of relief, as if the danger has passed. I believe this relief stems from a overly narrow definition of democracy. The danger does not begin nor end with the rights of the Palestinians citizens of Israel. The majority’s despotism of the elections committee was but one extreme example of the anti-democratic "spirit of the times" in Israel.
In a democratic regime the citizens and the parties that represent them agree on the rules of the game for resolving conflicts amongst them through negotiation, without coercion or violence. The democratic rules of the game acknowledge the legitimacy of disputes and differences among citizens, and agree on how to disagree: how to live side by side respectfully with the other, without rejecting them or denying them their rights. The majority has the right to decide on the goals and policies of the state, but without compromising the minority's rights.
Israeli democracy has reached a dead end. It can no longer define policies and goals without significantly damaging the rights of one side or another. Hence a discourse of rejection, where all reject all, developed: The right rejects the left, and the left rejects the right, the secular reject the orthodox, and the orthodox reject the secular. National Unity means rejecting the Israeli-citizen-Palestinians, and "Secular Unity" adds disqualification of the orthodox, as well. The anti-democratic political discourse of the 2003 elections can be summed up in the saying: "Tell me who you hate and I'll tell you who you vote for."
This discourse of rejection shapes the politics of hate, which discriminates on the basis of negating the other. Such discourse and the hate politics lay everything to waste. This practice is not reserved to any one camp. The right thrives on hating the "Arabs" and rejectingthe left, while the left thrives on hating the "settlers" and rejecting Sharon. In order to secure their spot as the centrist party, ("Shinui") rejects the "orthodox" as well as the "Arabs"," exposing their hate for the Middle-East and the eastern Jews. The rejection discourse is anti-democratic because it has no room for recognition or dialogue with the other; instead it completely bans the other, without any factual political discussion of common goals and ways to co-exist. This is why the Labor party's declaration - that it would not take part in a government headed by Sharon - sounds like yet another rejection and not as a political debate: After two years of sitting in Sharon's government, all of a sudden he is disqualified as the "head of a Mafia." The rejection discourse always claims "it’s either us or them." That is, there can be no co-existence, no chance for dialogue.
The rejection discourse and the politics of hate lead Israeli democracy to a dead end, due to the lack of pragmatic discussions and the inability to form a stable coalition for commonly agreed-upon goals. Any coalition expected to be formed after the elections would inevitably break a major promise by one of the three major parties. A "narrow right" coalition would break Sharon’s promise to form a moderate national unity government and follow Bush’s road map. A national unity government would break Labor’s promise to end the occupation and stay out of Sharon’s government. A "secular coalition" with Shinui at the center would break both the Labor and the Likud's promises. Only one thing is certain: It will not be a center-Left coalition capable of ending the occupation. A government headed by Mitzna, with Shinui, Meretz, and the Arab parties shall not rise even if it is feasible (certain poles put it short by only two seats). The reason is the rejection discourse which "unites the Jews" around hating the Arabs: How could they rely on the Arabs to solve the crisis? This is what Rabin was murdered for.
Here is the core problem that undermines Israeli democracy and brings it to a dead end. Denying the Palestinians in the occupied territories their right to have an independent state (or their equal citizenship rights in Israel) is fundamentally anti-democratic, inevitably leading to resolving conflicts through violence. The distance from there to seeing the Palestinian citizens of Israel as enemies is very short. Once the rights of one group are denied, the rejection discourse cannot be stopped: The left wing is delegitimized because it is "an ally to the Arabs"; the "Leftists and the Seculars" endanger the Jewish state, so that the orthodox Rabies become its gate keepers, while the right wing is empowered by the occupation, the war, and the politics of hatred.
The 2003 elections will not solve any of these primary problems, and they were not meant for that. They were meant to provide a democratic façade to the undemocratic continuation of the occupation. Only external pressure can extricate Israel and the Palestinians from the "bear-hug" of the occupation.
The writer is a political sociologist from Ben-Gurion University. e-mail: [email protected] Copyright Lev Grinberg 2003. For fair use only/ pour usage équitable seulement .