August 20, 2019

Democracy for Some – Not for All

Israel’s democracy had several significant victories this past week:

First, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed as the next President of the Supreme Court Asher Dan Grunis, a jurist who respects an independent judiciary. There are those in Israel who do not.

Second, the Knesset is expected to pass overwhelmingly next week a bill against sex trafficking by making it a crime to pay for prostitution. Sex trafficking has reached epidemic proportions in recent years with an estimated 15,000 individuals working in the prostitution industry, of whom 5000 are minors. Violence and abuse are common, and targeting clients will dramatically discourage demand by diminishing supply.

Third, the most serious general labor strike in the last two decades ended yesterday with a victory for the poor with a rise in the minimum wage and more benefits for many contract workers.

Fourth, Israel’s Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein announced that he will decide this spring whether or not to indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on charges of fraud, breach of trust, fraudulent receipt, money-laundering and witness harassment.

And fifth, op-ed articles appear in every newspaper criticizing the government and nation’s leaders attesting to the strength of Israel’s free press.

All the above show how vital is Israel’s democracy, indeed, the only functioning democracy in this part of the world. Not only do Israelis enjoy free elections, but Israel’s democratic institutions are strong. Free elections without democratic institutions are meaningless, as we are seeing in Egypt and Gaza where elections ushered in anti-democratic parties whose goal is to subjugate the population to a new tyranny of the majority.

In every democracy there are flaws, imperfections and abuses. Such is the case in Israel too. The following news release today is unflattering to Israel and the Jewish people.

I believe this report to be generally true based on the work of two Israeli human rights organizations, B’tzelem and Shalom Achshav. Though this report is the product of a UN investigative body, this does not necessarily mean it is anti-Israel propaganda.

The story:

A UN investigation charged that Israel has strategically “Judaized” its housing policies vis a vis Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Bedouin living in the Negev.

The announcement was made yesterday by Raquel Rolnik, Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council, on the right to adequate housing and non-discrimination. Ms. Rolnik, a Brazilian architect and urbanist, recently visited Israel and the West Bank where she met with representatives of the Israeli government, Palestinian Authority and international organizations. She visited Tel Aviv, Haifa, the Negev, Galilee, East Jerusalem, Ramallah, and the Gaza Strip.

Ms. Rolnik said that in the past Israel had an impressive housing record on affordable housing for all its people, but the situation has deteriorated over the last 20 years.

Among her claims is that state land goes for the highest price to maximize profitability, thus forcing Palestinians to move who cannot afford their homes, and that Palestinians and Bedouin suffer from discriminatory practices and land expropriation. She found that Palestinians cannot easily get permits to build or expand their existing homes. As their families grow (it is customary for all the generations in a family to live together in a single dwelling) many resort to adding add onto their homes without permits to accommodate the increased numbers of people.

Tens of thousands of such homes are at risk of being demolished. Ms. Rolnik noted that 70% of the demolitions in Jerusalem are carried out against Palestinians though they make up only 20% of the infractions. Last year Israel demolished 622 Palestinian structures of which 222 were family homes thus displacing 1,094 people.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry called Ms. Rolnik’s statements evidence of profound “misunderstanding of basic realities” and that she needs to “do her homework.”

One of the inherent problems in Israel and the West Bank concerns jurisdiction and authority. One set of law is applied within Israel itself by the civil authority while another set is applied by the military administration within territories taken by Israel after the 1967 Israeli-Arab War.

When all is said and done, how Israel treats its minorities will determine the moral character of the state. In this regard I was happy to learn today of the Knesset’s impending legislation to protect women and girls from the violence and abuse of the sex trafficking industry. We should all be waiting to see improvement in the way Israel treat the Palestinians living within Israeli jurisdiction.

Shalom mi-Y’rushalayim.