Israeli Democracy or Hypocrisy

By Stephen Lendman

An October 2007 Haaretz editorial titled "Democracy or hypocrisy" contrasted the "occupying Land of Israel to the democratic Israel" in calling for a "debate about Israel’s control over the lives of Palestinians deprived of civil rights," saying its democracy is flawed and not addressing it is hypocrisy.

Throughout history, regimes rhetorically embraced democracy as cover for more despotic policies, no different today throughout the world in countries like India, Pakistan, America and Israel practicing what Michael Parenti calls "democracy for the few," (the) "shadier sides of US political life (in which) proponents of the existing social order have tried to transform practically every deficiency into a strength."

He asked, "Who gets what, when, how and why?" Why do so few benefit at the expense of the many? Why are peace, social justice, and real democracy illusions in a nation embracing the opposite of what they represent? Why instead do poverty, racism, sexism, exploitation, rapacious capitalism, and imperialism, in fact, define how America and Israel are governed?

Indian writer Arundhati Roy says her country’s model is "designed to uphold the consensus of the elite for market growth (and has) metastasized into something dangerous" in her book titled, "Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers." She admits to being "hysterical" about where India is heading, sabotaged by religious nationalism and political expediency, "genocide" in the bloody 2002 Gujarat riots, "ecocide" for greater profits, and corruption at the highest levels. She compares Hindu right wing persecution of Muslims to Hitler’s persecution of Jews and asks:

"What kind of India do they want? A limbless, headless, soulless torso left bleeding under the butcher’s clever with a flag driven deep into her mutilated heart?"

Is it less true for America or in how Israel treats Muslims, many its own citizens yet denied virtually all rights afforded Jews, and in Palestine none under military occupation.

On December 27 in the Electronic Intifida, Ali Abunimah said "Israel resembles a failed state" in citing one year after Operation Cast Lead, "but for the people there time might as well have stood still," given how viciously they were attacked, the false premise for doing it, the many hundreds murdered in cold blood, many thousands left with horrific wounds, virtually everyone emotionally traumatized, the vast amount of devastation left, and the wasteland that’s now Gaza under siege, out of sight, out of mind, and out of the consciousness of world leaders doing nothing to help.

On the same date, Haaretz writer Gideon Levy asked: "Was Israel’s Gaza offensive worth it," saying "the (past) year was a year of shame for Israel, greater shame than any other time. It is shameful to be Israeli today" given a conflict that wasn’t "a war but (so unjustifiable an) assault (that) Israel’s international status was dealt a severe blow, in addition to Israeli indifference and public blindness to what happened in Gaza."

An Israeli "Goliath" mercilessly attacked a "Palestinian David," then "wrap(ed) itself in sick apathy despite what was happen(ed and) refuses to open Gaza’s gates to let in supplies….leaving Gaza to its fate, to its ruins."

Is this democracy? Is it better in India, America, or many other nations masking reality behind a friendly face, then running roughshod over millions at home and abroad.

Israel even does it to Jews. About 15,000 Messianic ones complain of threats, harassment and police indifference. They follow the Torah and Talmudic teachings but believe in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. According to author Paul Liberman:

A Messianic Jew is "a person who was born Jewish or converted to Judaism, who is a ‘genuine believer in Yeshua (Jesus), and who acknowledges his (or her) Jewishness." They practice bi-spiritually, outside of customary Judaism and Christianity, yet they believe they’re authentic Jews, "complete" ones to the ire of secular and Orthodox Israelis, some radicalized to target them the way Israel persecutes Muslims.

In a disturbing March 2008 incident, fire damaged their Jerusalem church, and in December 2008, ultra-Orthodox Jews burned Christian holy books. These and other incidents portray a nation much different from its image, one so eroded that Shalamit Aloni’s May 9, 2009 Haaretz article headlined, "Sadly, Israel is no longer democratic," saying:

there’s a "Jewish state and no equality of rights….Democracy exists….only in the formal sense: There are parties and elections and a good judicial system. But there is also an omnipotent army that ignores legal decisions that restrict the theft of land and owned by people who have been living under occupation for the past 42 years. And since 1992, (a Jewish state) means an ethnocracy (in which) gentiles are (considered) donkeys."

Neoliberalism’s Impact on Israeli Jews

In 1985, the Knesset amended the Bank of Israel Law, prohibiting it from printing money for government loans, ones needed earlier for development to finance immigrant absorption, industrialization, full employment, and budget deficits.

It was part of a neoliberal takeover, entrenching a massive power transference from various government agencies to the Finance Ministry and national Bank, much like America’s financialization de-industrialized the country, shifted power to Wall Street, let criminal bankers commit massive fraud, plunder the Treasury, steal the wealth of millions, and pull off what Catherine Austin Fitts calls a financial coup d’etat.

So today they own the country, plan to suck the last ounce of worth from it, turn America into Guatemala, and leave millions without jobs, a safety net, homes, savings or futures.

Washington and Tel Aviv collusion produced Israel’s 1985 shift with two declared goals:

— reducing budget deficits to near balance; and

— dampen inflationary pressures by cutting wages, prices, credit, the currency’s value, public benefits, pensions, and in the process curb union power and establish a secondary, exploitable, temporary worker market.

Also in 1985, the Arrangements Law passed as an emergency Economic Stabilization Plan measure. It sidestepped the normal legislative process, became a permanent budget adjunct, and kept Knesset members from debating its fallout and corruption of economic democracy for Israeli Jews.

The result has been a race to the bottom, especially since the 1990s, by privatizing everything, curbing welfare and social benefits, and shifting wealth to the top, like in America under ideologically extreme technocrats making economic policy in Washington, at the Fed, and in Wall Street board rooms with the aim of destroying the middle class and turning workers into serfs with no rights, no benefits, and barely enough to survive.

Jewish Poverty and Hunger in Israel

In March 2007, the Jewish headlined the deepening divide between haves and have-nots among Jews saying:

"Welcome to 21st century Israel in microcosm. Once idealized as a socialist paradise, the Jewish state is increasingly becoming a country of two classes – those who have soared in the increasingly capitalist economy and those who have stumbled in its wake."

In 2007, before the current economic crisis, the decline had "grown to alarming proportions." It’s always that way for Israeli Arabs. Now, more than ever, it affects Jews, especially the elderly, holocaust survivors, immigrants, ultra-orthodox, single parents, families with four or more children, and Israeli workers (the working poor) struggling to get by in a nation less caring for their needs.

The result brings disturbing headlines like:

— "Half a million children living in poverty – report;"

— "1 in 5 below poverty line, NII reports" – Israel’s National Insurance Institute; and

— "Jerusalem top(s) list of cities with poor families."

Now it’s worse according to a February 2009 NII study showing:

— one-third of Israeli children (774,400) living in poverty-stricken families;

— one-fourth of Israeli households with children impoverished;

— another 39,000 single-parent poor families;

— 44% of all families needy enough to receive NII stipends;

— over 400,000 families suffering from "nutritional insecurity," a euphemism for hunger meaning they skip meals, eat less, some days not at all, and have nutritionally deficient diets high in carbohydrates and low in fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and protein-rich foods.

Israeli streets highlight the problem – 1,000 or more daily at soup kitchens for a hot meal; older men and women picking through garbage in larger cities; and growing numbers of Israeli Jews joining the ranks of the impoverished as social benefits erode at a time of greater need. Like America, Israel no longer cares.

According to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Sociology Professor Uri Ram, author of "The Globalization of Israel: McWorld in Tel Aviv, Jihad in Jerusalem," even the Labor Party renounced its founding values, and embraces the "transforming (of) Israel from a welfare society into this kind of free-market, corporate-dominated" one.

In 1997, YEDID (friend in Hebrew) was founded to promote social justice by operating Citizen Rights Centers in poor communities throughout Israel to help Jews and Arabs alike. Its founder, Sari Revkin, says:

The needs of underprivileged Israelis grow monthly, yet the government "seems to sink back into silence. (As a result, we’ve) been put in the position of doing what the government should be doing, knowing that if we turn people away they will retrench into themselves. Three thousand new people a month come (to us) for help."

Holon-Bat Yam charity manager, Moshe Traube, agrees saying: "Here the rich get richer and poor get poorer. Everyone has to struggle for him or herself alone." Israel’s eroded healthcare highlights the problem.

Healthcare in Israel

Israel’s 1994 National Health Insurance Law was supposed to guarantee quality care for all Israelis when enacted. That was then. This is now after succeeding governments assured unequal access through inadequate funding, privatized services, and the steady erosion in the extent and quality of services. It’s caused the poor and middle class to be increasingly crowded out due to an inability to pay for what use to be free or low cost.

Two healthcare systems are now the norm, as in America, differing markedly in quality – one for the privileged and another for most others. Hospitals are also affected by budget cuts, public ones the most. It shows up in underfunding, overcrowding, early patient releases, less treatment, more illnesses, and fewer staff to handle greater needs. Those who can pay, get everything. For those who can’t, it’s a disturbing story of unmet needs and an increasingly deplorable situation.

Employment Affected

It also affects employment with weakened unions and labor protections, subcontracted part-time jobs replacing higher-payer full-time ones, fewer benefits, illegal overtime, firings without severance, unpaid leave, illegal deductions and fines, and other assaults on working Israelis, Jewish ones. Israeli Arabs have no rights afforded Jews and are treated like nonpersons, even though they’re citizens, have passports and IDs, and can vote in elections.

Education As Well

It’s no different in education under a segregated system based ethnicity, religion and class, and since the 1970s, increasingly impacted by market forces, the result of budget cuts creating fewer public choices and more private ones based on the ability to pay. Those who can’t lose out, especially for higher education with rising tuition fees and expenses, putting it out of the reach of growing numbers.

Israeli Values – Zionism or Exclusion

In November, the Mitzpeh Aviv community, under the jurisdiction of the Galilee Misgav Regional Council, passed an amendment to its internal bylaws, stipulating that land allocation be conditional on residents’ placing the "highest priorities (on) Zionist values and the values of the state as a Jewish and democratic state."

Then on December 10, a new Knesset bill passed its preliminary reading by a large majority after the Ministerial Committee on Legislation adopted it. It aims to "preserv(e) the ability to realize the Zionist vision in practice" throughout Israel by imposing a "loyalty" condition on persons seeking residency applications in Jewish communities.

The bill affects Jews primarily as almost no Arabs live in Jewish areas. However, it entrenches racism and discrimination against non-Jews by letting communities choose their own residents. Mitzpeh Aviv isn’t the first town to do it, as earlier, Manof and Yuvalim (also under the Misfav Regional Council’s jurisdiction) enacted similar amendments. Others throughout the country will follow, and they cover more than housing.

For example, the Ministry of Education wants Arab candidates for senior positions to demonstrate a "positive attitude" toward Israeli values. The chilling conclusion is a nation increasingly following Avigdor Lieberman’s vision – the foreign minister and deputy prime minister who demands loyalty as a condition for citizenship at the expense of democratic freedom, and for Arabs he wants none.

Yet in November 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court (in the Qa’adan case) ruled that an Arab family be allowed to rent a home from the Jewish Moshav Nevatim family despite his racist objections. It held that Jews and Arab citizens be treated equally in all matters pertaining to the allocation of land and housing. Nonetheless, Israeli politicians and IDF commanders have a long history of ignoring unfavorable rulings and getting away with it, so it’s doubtful this one will stick.

Declaring loyalty, however, is troublesome. How to do it is the issue – by renouncing Islam; converting to Judaism; accepting second class citizen status; racist insults and assaults; or perhaps staying silent or going along with denying Arabs the same rights as Jews?

Civilized societies accept all their citizens as equals, or are supposed to. Israel increasingly rejects that standard, even for most Jews.

Overall, the conclusion is clear. Arabs never had rights in Israel, but increasingly, social benefits, human rights, and essential ones are denied Jews in a society no longer caring. The result is a nation looking more like America that looks more like a banana republic under a president, congress, and corporate community eroding its few remaining freedoms on the way to ending them all.

– Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He contributed this article to

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