domingo, 17 de julio de 2011

De Tikkun: Uri Avnery sobre leyes discriminadoras

[Selections from an essay sent to Tikkun this morning from Uri Avnery, leader of

the Israeli peace movement Gush Shalom. Tikkun's comment: It has long been

argued by the peace and justice movements in the West that you cannot deny

democratic rights to one section of the population without eventually denying

those rights to everyone. The key to the withering away of democracy in Israel is

the Occupation, and the restrictions placed on Palestinians is now becoming the

psychological and ideological foundation for denying democratic rights to Israelis.]

THE FUTURE – indeed, the present – of Israeli democracy is shrouded in doubt.

by Uri Avnery

It is a miracle, because it did not grow slowly over generations,

like Anglo-Saxon democracy. There was no democracy in the

Jewish shtetl. Neither is there anything like it in Jewish religious

tradition. But the Zionist Founding Fathers, mostly West and

Central European Jews, aspired to the highest social ideals of their time.

I have always warned that our democracy has very shallow and

tender roots, and needs our constant care. Where did the Jews

who founded Israel, and who came here thereafter, grow up?

Under the dictatorship of the British High Commissioner, the

Russian Czar, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, the king of

Morocco, Pilsudsky’s Poland and similar regimes. Those of

us who came from democratic countries like Weimar Germany

or the US were a tiny minority.

Yet the founders of Israel succeeded in establishing a vibrant

democracy that – at least until 1967 – was in no way inferior,

and in some ways superior, to the British or American models.

We were proud of it, and the world admired it. The appellation

“the Only Democracy in the Middle East” was not a hollow propaganda slogan.

Some claim that with the occupation of the Palestinian territories,

which have lived since 1967 under a harsh military regime

without the slightest trace of democracy and human rights,

this situation already came to an end. Whatever one thinks

about that, in fact Israel in its pre-1967 borders maintained

a reasonable record until recently. For the ordinary citizen,

democracy was still a fact of life. Even Arab citizens enjoyed

democratic rights far superior to anything in the Arab world.

This week, all this was put in doubt. Some say that this

doubt has now been dispersed, and that a stark reality

is being exposed.

American Jews boycotted the cars of the infamous anti-Semite Henry Ford.

Jews in many countries took part in a boycott of German goods immediately

after the Nazis came to power in 1933.

The Chinese boycotted Japan after the invasion of their country.

The US boycotted the Olympic Games in Moscow. People of

conscience all over the world boycotted the products and the

athletes of Apartheid South Africa and helped to bring it to its knees.

All these campaigns used a basic democratic right: every person is

entitled to refuse to buy from people he detests. Everyone can refuse

to support with his money causes which contradict his innermost

moral convictions.

It is this right that has been put to the test in Israel this week.

IN 1997, Gush Shalom declared a boycott of the products

of the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. We believe

that these settlements, which are being set up with the express

purpose of preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state,

are endangering the future of Israel.

The press conference, in which we announced this step, was not

attended by a single Israeli journalist. But the boycott gathered

momentum. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis do not buy settlement

products. The European Union, which has a trade agreement that

practically treats Israel as a member of the union, was induced to

enforce the clause that excludes products of the settlements from

these privileges.

There are now hundreds of factories in the settlements. They were

literally compelled, or seduced, to go there, because the (stolen)

land there is far cheaper than in Israel proper. They enjoy generous

government subsidies and tax exemptions, and they can exploit

Palestinian workers for ridiculous wages. The Palestinians have

no other way of supporting their families than to toil for their oppressors.

Our boycott was designed, among other things, to counter these

advantages. And indeed, several big enterprises have already given

in and moved out, under pressure from foreign investors and buyers.

Alarmed, the settlers instructed their lackeys in the Knesset to draft a

law that would counter this boycott.

Last Monday, the “Boycott Law” was enacted, setting off an

unprecedented storm in the country. Already Tuesday morning,

Gush Shalom submitted to the Supreme Court a 22 page application

to annul this law.

THE “BOYCOTT LAW” is a very clever piece of work.

First of all, the law is disguised as a means to fight the

de-legitimization of the State of Israel throughout the world. The law bans

all calls for the boycott of the State of Israel, “including the areas

under Israeli control”. Since there are not a dozen Israelis who

call for the boycott of the state, it is clear that the real and sole

purpose is to outlaw the boycott of the settlements.

In its initial draft, the law made this a criminal offense. That would

have suited us fine: we were quite willing to go to prison for this

cause. But the law, in its final form, imposes sanctions that are another thing.

According to the law, any settler who feels that he has been

harmed by the boycott can demand unlimited compensation

from any person or organization calling for the boycott – without

having to prove any actual damage. This means that each of the

300,000 settlers can claim millions from every single peace

activist associated with the call for boycott, thus destroying

the peace movement altogether.

AS WE point out in our application to the Supreme Court, the law

is clearly unconstitutional. True, Israel has no formal constitution,

but several “basic laws” are considered by the Supreme Court to

function effectively as such.

First, the law clearly contravenes the basic right to freedom of

expression. A call for a boycott is a legitimate political action,

much as a street demonstration, a manifesto or a mass petition.

Second, the law contravenes the principle of equality. The law

does not apply to any other boycott that is now being implemented

in Israel: from the religious boycott of stores that sell non-kosher

meat (posters calling for this cover the walls of the religious

quarters in Jerusalem and elsewhere), to the recent very successful

call to boycott the producers of cottage cheese because of their

high price. The call of right-wing groups to boycott artists who have

not served in the army will be legal, the declaration by left-wing

artists that they will not appear in the settlements will be illegal.

Since these and other provisions of the law clearly violate the

Basic Laws, the Legal Advisor of the Knesset, in a highly unusual

step, published his opinion that the law is unconstitutional and

undermines “the core of democracy”. Even the supreme

governmental legal authority, the “legal advisor of the

government”, has published a statement saying that

the law in “on the border” of unconstitutionality. Being

mortally afraid of the settlers, he added that he will defend

it in court nevertheless. The opportunity for this is not far

off: the Supreme Court has given him 60 days to respond

to our petition.

A SMALL group of minor parliamentarians is terrorizing

the Knesset majority and can pass any law at all. The power

of the settlers is immense, and moderate right-wing members

are rightly afraid that, if they are not radical enough, they will

not be re-elected by the Likud Central Council, which selects

the candidates for the party list. This creates a dynamic of

competition: who can appear the most radical.

No wonder that one anti-democratic law follows another: a

law that practically bars Arab citizens from living in

localities of less than 400 families. A law that takes away

the pension rights of former Knesset members who do not

show up for police investigations (like Azmi Bishara--the Israeli Arab who

was the candidate for Prime Minister and then withdrew at the last

minute to help Arabs vote for Ehud Barak; later accused of treason for

meeting with Syrian Arabs. He was a regular contributor to Tikkun magazine.)

A law that abolishes the citizenship of people convicted of

“assisting terrorism”. A law that obliges NGOs to disclose

donations by foreign governmental institutions. A law that gives

preference for civil service positions to people who have served

in the army (thus automatically excluding almost all Arab citizens).

A law that outlaws any commemoration of the 1948 Naqba

(the expulsion of Arab inhabitants from areas conquered by Israel).

An extension of the law that prohibits (almost exclusively) Arab

citizens, who marry spouses from the Palestinian territories,

to live with them in Israel.

Soon to be enacted is a bill that forbids NGOs to accept

donations of more than 5000 dollars from abroad, a bill

that will impose an income tax of 45% on any NGO that

is not specifically exempted by the government, a bill

to compel universities to sing the national anthem on

every possible occasion, the appointment of a Parliamentary

Commission of Inquiry to investigate the financial resources

of left-wing [sic] organizations.

Looming over everything else is the explicit threat of

right-wing factions to attack the hated “liberal” Supreme

Court directly, shear it of its ability to overrule unconstitutional

laws and control the appointment of the Supreme Court judges.

FIFTY-ONE YEARS ago, on the eve of the Eichmann trial,

I wrote a book about Nazi Germany. In the last chapter,

I asked: “Can It Happen Here?”

My answer still stands: yes, it can.

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