August 18, 2019


I'm a rabbi, and I understand Israel is not a democracy (Rabbi Alissa Wise, 8/16/19, (RNS)

It's tempting to see these denials as yet another sign that Israeli democracy is worsening, that the Netanyahu administration is pulling the country ever more to the right. This would be a mistake. The truth is that before Trump, and before Netanyahu, Israel banned Palestinians from travel, putting a true stranglehold on their freedom of movement.

No matter what we might have been told, Israel is not a democracy. The fact is, Israel rules over both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, but only Jews are given full rights.

Since 1967, Israel has imposed severe and debilitating restrictions on the movement of Palestinians inside the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Since 2006, Israel has imposed a suffocating and illegal siege and naval blockade of Gaza, amounting to collective punishment of the territory's population of 1.8 million people, which is a war crime.

The Israeli separation wall near the West Bank town of Bethlehem on June 15, 2016. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum

Beginning in 2002, Israel built a wall around and within the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a move that has been deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice. The wall prevents Palestinians from traveling freely. In many cases, the wall cuts Palestinians off from their farmland and separates them from schools, houses of worship, workplaces and family and friends. In this way, Israel controls Palestinians' access to the world and to their families.

Palestinians are routinely forced to beg for permission to access their homeland and families -- just as Rep. Tlaib was forced to do, before ultimately deciding that, "Visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions meant to humiliate me would break my grandmother's heart. Silencing me with treatment to make me feel less-than is not what she wants for me -- it would kill a piece of me that always stands up against racism and injustice."

Those who insist that Israel is a democracy -- "the only democracy in the Middle East" has been a foundational and ubiquitous mantra for its supporters -- willfully ignore the rights of Palestinians. The myth of Israeli democracy is an essential part of the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship: No self-respecting American would allow themselves or their country to be associated with a nation that is authoritarian, discriminatory, or oppressive, right? But if we believe in democracy, we must believe in it for everyone.

Posted by at August 18, 2019 12:38 AM