Is Democracy Obsolete?

The Democracy Index Study 2016 stated that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. And yet, as Rosa Drucker, a member of American Jewish group IfNotNow, mentioned during a press conference, Palestinians are denied proper medical care, education, economic opportunity, and freedom of movement.

There’s another name for this selective democracy; it’s called systemic discrimination. That is what resulted in Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib being banned from entering Israel on a diplomatic visit.

“What we saw this week demonstrates Israel’s desperation to hide the realities of the occupation from us,” said Drucker. I mention this because it’s important to note that Anti-Semitism – despite the right’s incessant attempt to convince itsel – is not the same as being against the inhumanity shown by Israel to Palestine.

“I’ve never seen anyone who has gone and seen for themselves, and not be transformed by that experience,” said journalist Peter Beinart in an interview on CNN. Beinart also preaches at his synagogue and is a highly devoted Jew who has been to Israel, and seen Palestine.

Omar and Tlaib’s visit was organised by the Palestinian group called Miftah, whose leader is Hanan Ashrawi, a politician who once delegated Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. According to Ruth Margalit in The New Yorker, Miftah has previously shown disdain towards Israel. It’s understandable why the government felt uneasy about the visit.

Margalit also stated that Israel passed a law in 2017 that allows the government to refuse admittance to people who support the boycotting of the state. Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, told The New Yorker it was a moral stance, and the government had no choice but to ban the congresswomen. However, opposing leaders in the state pointed out that the interior minister has the right to make exceptions.

“A democratic country can’t deny entry to elected officials of a friendly democracy,” said Tamar Zandberg, of the leftist Meretz Party, in a statement.

The point that should be stressed here is that the law has rarely, if ever, been used against Americans. It shows that the Israeli state doesn’t really see the American in Omar and Tlaib. Sound familiar? American Palestinians, such as Tlaib’s family, have been put through agonising treatment with several check-points which other Americans don’t undergo. Tlaib recalled in her speech at the press conference, the humiliation her parents went through when she was younger. Treating someone differently because of their ethnicity, despite equal citizenship and rights, is racist.

Even though the visit was organised by Miftah, Omar and Tlaib were supposed to meet with Aida Touma-Sliman, a representative of the Joint List, a political alliance between the main Arab-dominated Parties in Israel— Balad, Hadash, Ta’al, and United Arab List. The Joint List does not support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (B.D.S) movement.

The trip was titled “Delegation to Palestine,” and it was a call to the state for transparency on their treatment of Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu stated there would be no meeting with members of the Israeli Parliament as a reason for his decision on the ban. In that case, shouldn’t all democratic visits who have previously only met with one side also be forced to meet with both? Or is this just another attempt at having control over what is seen and what isn’t?

Margalit wrote in her article in The New Yorker about meeting with Touma-Sliman; she was supposed to “draw parallels between the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians and its own Arab citizens and President Trump’s treatment of immigrants.”

This visit would have shone the light on infringements of international human rights. Those raging about ICE and the situation in the U.S. should be aware of the similarities in Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

When Israel gave Tlaib permission to enter the state under humanitarian pretences, she refused because of all the restrictions— restrictions that involved going against her moral beliefs. Unable to see her grandmother, unable to see Palestine, unable to expose atrocities; that’s the agenda.

Some challenged Tlaib’s genuine regret in not being able to see her grandmother, stating that had she really wanted to see her, she would’ve abided by the restrictions set by the Israeli government. Tlaib’s response was simple. A Tweet. A quote from Desmond Tutu:
“I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.” Israel doesn’t even have appetizers for Palestinians, and that is no mere opinion.

There is a reason all these opposing voices are dubbed terrorists or anti-semitic without a second thought. History is written by the victors, and, so far, those who haven’t seen believe self-proclaimed heroes. This is a worldwide story, where discrimination, racism, and political gain are the major themes — the only difference is that some characters look like you, while others look like me.


Graphic by Victoria Blair


Understanding the historical background of Israel

Two professors discuss their new book Politics in Israel: Governing a Complex Society

Speakers Harold Waller and Brent Sasley discussed the historical and sociological developments in Israel in a lecture last week. The major ideas presented during the event came from their book, Politics in Israel: Governing a Complex Society, which was released on Feb. 3.

Professors Harold Waller (left) and Brent Sasley (right). Photo by Alex Hutchins.

Waller, a political science professor at McGill University, said he had the idea to write the book in his early years of teaching in the political science department. Waller said the books he used to teach with were focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict and Israel-Palestinian issues, but lacked context of zionism. Zionism is a national revival movement which focuses on the re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel (area).

“I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the books that I had used,” said Waller. “They didn’t have all of the material that needed to be in a book like this, and they had excess material that detracted from the main points of my teaching.”

Waller contacted Sasley, an associate professor at University of Texas at Arlington, since they both taught similar classes and both wanted to address issues surrounding zionism. This encouraged them to write their own book, said Waller.

“What we really are trying to achieve is to enable readers to comprehend Israel on its own, and not simply as a major actor in the conflict of the Middle East,” Waller said.

He also debunked some common myths about Israel during his talk. Waller said many of his former students often categorized Israel as a state about the Jewish religion, when in fact “Israel forces a Jewish state, but it is not a state about the Jewish religion—[it’s about] Jewish peoplehood.”

Sasley said Israel has never been a liberal democracy the way Canada is. “That liberal democracy never really took place in Israel—it’s still heavily collectivist,” Sasley said.

Sasley emphasized that, in English-speaking countries, an important problem Israeli students face is trying to explain what it means to be Jewish and democratic at the same time. “Most students grew up in a democracy where you give your loyalty to a set of institutions, ideas and to a sense of citizenship,” he said. Sasley said their book elaborates on the difference between the religious meaning and ethno-meaning of what it means to be Jewish.

Both Sasley and Waller hope their book will be useful for courses taught outside of North America, in order to provide a different perspective on the politics in Israel. “I believe that any person who wants to be well-informed should understand how the politics operate and how decisions are made in the Israeli government,” Waller said.

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