On Democracy and Slave Owners

By Seraj Assi

This month the Knesset in Israel approved the final reading of the Boycott Prohibition Law, which imposes severe punishments on any person or organization that calls, directly or indirectly, for boycotting Israel, including the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The Boycott Law is by no means surprising. For it joins a series of fascist laws that were recently approved by Knesset starting from the “Nakba Law” through the Loyalty Law, along with a list of new law bills under preparation.

What is unique about these laws is that they render unnecessary any effort to explain what make them fascist. Yet it seems that all these laws represent a state of denial and political disconnect on the side of Israel. The Boycott Law in its turn misses the point because the campaign for boycotting the Israeli products primarily includes the Israeli law itself. For the boycotters’ main message to the State of Israel is that its existence on Palestinian lands is completely illegal. 

This takes us directly to the question of Israel’s democracy as a whole. We should remember here that the Constitutional Law of 1985, which was passed by the vast majority of the Knesset, bans the participation in the Knesset elections of any party that opposes the principle of the “Jewish State”. 

The Law makes it clear that the Israeli democracy is an exclusively ethnic democracy fashioned for the exclusive interests of the Jewish community. This kind of democracy can therefore be seen as a modern colonial version of the slave-owners’ democracy in ancient Greek society. At bottom of the whole structure are the natives, namely the Palestinian citizens of Israel, who have been made into a class of “free servants” of this hegemonic democracy.

Israel’s democracy thus functions as the political rule designed by the Zionist institution to maintain the repression of Arab-Palestinian citizens and Palestinians everywhere through legal manipulations. The idea is to reduce all forms of resistance against Zionist hegemony in the region to the narrow official circles and state courtrooms and turn all political struggles into civil struggles.

It is thus a democracy goaded into the service of the Zionist colonial enterprise. For any voice that is not directly aligned with the Zionist interests is immediately silenced- hence the abundance of this kind of fascist legislations. Perhaps this examines why the supremacy of the so-called Israeli democracy is stated in such a violent way so that any critique of its core principles and foundations is met with fanatic nationalist hysteria.

Statements flooding from Israeli official circulations to defend Israel’s democracy by all means clearly testify to the strategic role democracy plays in service of the Zionist agenda. For Zionist statesmen know very well that without this kind of democracy, it will be almost impossible to carry out Israel’s ethnic hegemony in the region while effectively reducing all forms of resistance to peaceful and gentlemanly legal struggles. This is the winning formula of liberal Zionism.

The irony is that Israel’s democracy has long been propagated worldwide as a witness to an Israeli multicultural and hybrid space where Arab citizens can vote and Arab Knesset members can enjoy full parliament privileges. Here precisely lies the bitter irony of the practice of this kind of democracy. For according to this democracy, Arabs in Israel are allowed, once every few years, to decide which particular representatives of the Zionist gang should be in the Knesset to oppress them!

Hypothetically speaking, Israel could become the greatest democracy in the world- a haven of human rights and social justice and a dreamland of multiculturalism and hybridity. To be sure, however, it will always remain a colonial state whose existence was founded on the dispossession of another people. The combination of democracy with the multicultural space, whether real or fictional, should not hide the deep hegemonic structures of this hybridity and the historical conditions that created it, namely, the Zionist occupation of Palestine.

Unfortunately, one now has to undertake excavations in order to reveal this truth and bring it to the knowledge of the masses and intellectuals alike. It now requires an enormous intellectual effort to remind liberal activists, academics, politicians and intellectuals that any critique of Israel and its institutions must begin with its colonial foundations instead of its contemporary political hypocrisy and undemocratic pitfalls.

– Seraj Assi is a PhD Student in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, Washington DC. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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