Gisha is one of my favorite Israeli NGOs — an agency founded by Israeli Jewish lawyers who go to court to uphold Israel’s obligations for freedom of movement under international and Israeli law. It’s the cutting edge of legal work and I was privileged to meet their director Sari Bashi recently. The accounts she gave of Israeli judges making rulings that acknowledged multiple legal grounds for changing policies related to the Gaza seige or irrelevant checkpoints, then wholly ignoring them, made us listening continue to worry that Israel was ruling by might without any care for rule of law.
Very seriously, I’ve heard from several concerned Israelis that Israeli youth score lower and lower on support for democratic principles (wish I could provide a link or statistic for that). Add to this Avigdor Lieberman’s support for loyalty oaths and Arab citizen “transfer,” I can’t help but see big, fat red flags myself. Adherance to law within a society under a seige mentality predictably deteriorates. (No, not the Gazans, the Israelis, although that’s a good point…) I agree that government there already operates as “bureaucratic feifdoms,” in the words of my former Israeli professor, if the Sasson Report has anything to say about Israeli government agencies doing whatever they want against orders of the administration. It shows up also in Israel’s careless breaking of property ownership laws in the construction of settlements — does no one in the government care in Israel?
But if these red flags are any canary in the mine, the youth reports indicate it will continue to worsen as that generation grows older. The rule of law shoots to the central assumption of Zionism (if you care about Zionism) that human rights and democracy are the proper methods for self-liberation. As Haaretz said about the publishing of ACRI’s 2008 civil and human rights in Israel report, “any infringement on human rights is for all intents and purposes an infringement on the rationale for the state’s existence.” But we’re not talking ignoring vague rights in tenuous international charters; we’re talking laws that Israel itself made.
American Jews who see Israeli government as a mirror of American government (remarkably capable, responsive to public concerns, and bound by active citizen politics — relatively speaking) have no idea how haphazard, uncoordinated and incestuous Israeli governance is. Even in insider comedy memoirs, it’s clear that Meditnat Yisrael (State of Israel) is not a paragon of democratic efficiency or purity. As soon as I understood that Israel was not America, that Israelis weren’t American Jews, that democracy here isn’t democracy there, and that civil rights are even less a concern over there than here, I finally understood society there so much more. The only response is getting a little more involved in supporting Israeli supporters of democracy and improved education in Israel.
Forward the Gisha video to your friends and read more about Gisha’s work.