Democracy under siege?

Gaza might not be the only thing under siege in the Middle East. Israeli democracy has taken a fair number of hits recently. A Zionist student organization, Im Tirtzu, partly bankrolled by the Christian Dispensationalist-Zionist (and non-pal to Catholics) John Hagee, has issued an inflammatory report condemning independent Israeli human rights organizations (and the Israeli agency responsible for some of their funding) for their “unpatriotic” assistance to the United Nations. A U.N. special reporting team last year investigated the behavior of the Israel Defense Forces during the Gaza incursion that began in late December 2008. Three brutal weeks later, Gaza’s infrastructure was in ruins and 1,400 were dead. Last September the controversial Goldstone report, the outcome of that investigation, suggested both Hamas and the IDF had probably committed human rights violations and war crimes in that spasm of violence. Israeli human rights groups had provided testimony and other assistance to Goldstone and his investigators. Now Israeli politicians are calling for, not an independent investigation of Goldstone’s allegations, but a witch-hunt of the human rights organizations which assisted the UN in a clear attempt to silence their critical, and critically necessary, voice within Israel.

In recent weeks two well known Israeli human rights advocates have been arrested or detained and interrogated by Israeli police because of their activities, and 13 Israeli human rights organizations have sent an urgent letter to the president, the Knesset speaker and the prime minister, protesting an “increasing and systematic campaign against human rights organizations” in Israel.

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This dangerous environment has been years in the making and is complemented by a rising hard-right sentiment within the Israeli government and its political parties, the too-powerful illegal settlers movement and a growing tolerance for religious extremism within the IDF rank and file. Taken as a whole the confluence of such potent culture shifts surely endangers what’s left of the peace process, continues a process of dehumanizing Palestinians and now finally, predictably, threatens the viability of Israel democracy itself. These trends require careful attention now before they unleash volatile forces that could prove impossible to contain in the future.

Kevin Clarke

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