Building a real democracy in Israel

Arabs make up one fifth of the population of Israel. They suffer discrimination, victimisation and otherwise lack equal opportunity in a nation which hypocritically poses as a democracy. In reality, Israel is a rich ghetto for an elite that prospers at the expense of the rest of its citizenry. Such a situation is a potent recipe for ongoing agitation for rights and recognition by disadvantaged minorities.

A new paper compiled by 40 leading Arab Israeli academics sees the way forward to true democracy.

From the NY Times:

“They call on the state to recognize Israeli Arab citizens as an indigenous group with collective rights, saying Israel inherently discriminates against non-Jewish citizens in its symbols of state, some core laws, and budget and land allocations.The authors propose a form of government, “consensual democracy,” akin to the Belgian model for Flemish- and French-speakers, involving proportional representation and power-sharing in a central government and autonomy for the Arab community in areas like education, culture and religious affairs.

A 2003 government report acknowledged discrimination by state institutions, and a recent report on poverty published last year by Israel’s National Insurance Institute indicated that 53 percent of the impoverished families in Israel are Arabs.”

The present situation is reviled by the vast majority of Israeli Arabs.

“According to a poll of Arab Israelis by the Yafa Institute, commissioned by the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation, only 14 percent of respondents said they thought Israel should remain a Jewish and democratic state in its current format; 25 percent wanted a Jewish and democratic state that guarantees full equality to its Arab citizens. But some 57 percent said they wanted a change in the character and definition of the state, whether to become a “state for all its citizens, a binational state, or a consensual democracy.”

According to Shawki Khatib, co-author of Future Visions and Department Head of the Government Political Philosophy Department at the School of Political Sciences at the University of Haifa, the document describes three specific areas for change.

“First is the principle of human rights: the document addresses the fundamental rights of the Palestinians in Israel as human beings – to economic and social development, women’s and children’s rights, to live without violence, etc. – and demands their realization. The second principle invokes civil equality: the basic democratic right to equality before the law and the demand to annul laws, structures and symbols that alienate the Palestinian citizens of Israel and ensure Jewish superiority.

… And the third principle is that of the right of communities to self-determination, including the autonomous right to manage specific areas of life such as their own education and cultural and religious affairs.

In order to realize these foundations, the document’s writers demand the implementation in Israel of a consociational system. This would replace the existing liberal system that is exploited automatically by the Jewish majority and that, indeed, constitutes a “tyranny of the majority” in which, in the name of liberal democracy, that majority takes draconian steps against the Palestinian minority and its fundamental rights.”

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