The remains of Israeli democracy 2009

This has been a terrible year for Israeli democracy. Already fundamentally flawed — more than three million stateless and right-less Palestinians under effective Israeli control for42 years;institutionalized discrimination against an “enfranchised” Arab minoritysevere restrictions on religious freedom — what is left is being undermined. The freedom of expression and association of Israeli citizens has driven an extraordinarily open public debate for a country at war. Since the the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, however, these rights have been constantly questioned by the security establishment and right-wing partisans . The Gaza war accelerated the process exponentially. Dissent was systematically silenced and the domestic media debate was all but monolithic.

The Netanyahu government is poised to deliver coup de grâce. The combination of Lieberman putinism and Shas chauvinism is enough to turn every day into a rearguard action to defend another threatened freedom. But another development presents a much more fundamental threat. In an ironic twist, just as the neoconservatives exited DC, they took office in Jerusalem. The Prime Minister’s Office is staffed by movement ideologues (many of whom are alumni of Adelson’s Shalem Center.) They are working towards a restructuring of the Israeli public sphere and are working closely on this effort with partners formally outside the government — Dore Gold of the JCPAGerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor and Gonen Ginat of Adelson’s Israel Hayom, for example.

One major vector is the Ron Dermer initiated campaign to suppress Israeli human rights NGOs, currently led by Steinberg. Over the past two weeks, with everyone else focused on the settlement freeze, I have bored Coteret readers with daily accounts of a last-ditch defense waged by progressive civil society groups.

A border-less Israel has been in a perpetual internal security crisis at least since 1967. It does not have a constitution or a real tradition of pluralistic democracy. Bouncing back may be much more difficult than it was in for post-Bush US.

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