Ariadna Theokopoulos: More Israeli Democracy, More Tea?

By Ariadna Theokopoulos

I was puzzled and embarrassed to read Uri Avneri’s recent article about the “decline of Israeli democracy." It was puzzling to me that several respected Internet publications accepted it and then again that there seemed to be no response echoing my embarrassment and exasperation.

What “decline”? From what? Does the case of Israel not being and never having been a democracy have to be made every day all over again? My unease comes from the fact that it is not Israel’s ambassador to the US but a lifetime advocate of Palestinian rights and a much-respected Israeli peace activist who is nattering about the Israeli “democracy.”

The threat, according to Avneri, is posed by the political ascent of Avigdor Lieberman, a frank Zionist with no use for euphemisms and a popularly acclaimed appetite for short cuts in achieving the goal of a state not only for Jews only, but of Jews only.

Avneri’s clear assumption is that “the state for Jews only” is or has been at some point a democracy. Would that be right after Nakba or during the successive and systematic ethnic cleansing campaigns against Palestinians (“Israeli Arabs” in Zionist avoidance speech). Was it when torture was made legal or when racist marriage laws were passed? Or was it when the token “Israeli Arab” members of the Knesset were arrested for unscripted speech?

Avneri sincerely despises Lieberman, which would be commendable as far as that goes if the most serious harm done by this sharonesque cynic were not mostly one of exposure of the essence of Zionism. It is nothing short of amazing to see Lieberman described as a “real danger” to Israeli democracy in a state with institutionalized apartheid, systematic policies of ethnic cleansing (ongoing in Jerusalem and the West Bank) and gross violations of human rights.

Avneri also decries the corruption of the Israeli government, an issue that might distress a starry-eyed Zionist, but which to a Palestinians must seem akin to the spectacle of an oncologist wringing his hands in concern that his stage IV patient has develop hemorrhoids.

It is not very different from occasionally hearing our own fellow citizens unselfconsciously wax nostalgically about the “golden 50s” in the presence of African Americans, or sadly decry “America’s loss of innocence,” which happened with the attack on Pearl Harbor, upon JFK’s assassination, with the defeat in the Vietnam war and/or on 9/11. How sturdy a virginal innocence that withstands such serial violations!
Similarly, how amazing the Israeli democracy that can decline infinitely even though starting from an imaginary existence!

Long admired for his vocal support of Palestinian rights, Avneri may well embarrass into silence those who feel discomfort with this gaffe. It is like having a likable old neighbor over for dinner and, when he has an incontinence accident at the table, of which he himself is unaware, you whisper to the other guests: “It’s his age and infirmities, you know.” What do we whisper about this article? “It’s his eyesight, you know: he has Zionism in his retina, something awful”?

What “democracy” carries out massive ethnic cleansings, pushing people to live in what is generally acknowledged to be the largest open-air prison in the world, Gaza, where it relentlessly subjects them to deadly raids and terror? Are those who discuss Israel’s “democracy with a straight face even aware of the daily headlines?

• Palestine’s Qana massacre: “We pulled out bodies, all women and children, Dismembered, without heads or hands," says Khaled Abu Saada, a Palestinian ambulance driver who evacuated the wounded to hospitals. (www.ynetnews .com)
• The international Red Cross said it was "appalled” that 18 people — mostly women and children — had been killed during Israeli military operations Wednesday in the northern Gaza Strip. (
• Study: 57 unarmed Palestinian minors killed by IDF since June during IDF operations in the Gaza Strip, according to a new report prepared by Physicians for Human Rights. (
• AP: “Israel will keep targeting Palestinian rocket squads in Gaza despite the risk of inadvertently hitting civilians, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday, as tens of thousands of Palestinians buried 18 victims of an errant Israeli artillery strike.” An “errant strike”? Yes, indeed, according to Olmert the strike “was supposed to hit an orange grove.”

Can we agree once and for all that “Israel” and “democracy’ do not belong in the same sentence unless linked by an adversative conjunction?  Why participate in this pantomime of a Lewis Carroll tea party where imaginary tea is served and pretend we’d like some more?

There is no lack of Israeli educated opinion that would not offend an informed readership (Ilan Pappe is but one illustrious example) and there are lots of articles by Avneri that are worthy of prominence. Just skip those he writes for his domestic audience.

No more tea, thank you. Please!

-Ariadna Theokopoulos contributed this article to Read Avnery’s article at this website.

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