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Photo: Yariv Katz
Boaz Okon
Photo: Yariv Katz
Don’t silence the critics
Boaz Okon endorses High Court’s decision to allow Arab parties to run in elections after all
Democracy is not about silencing the critics. It is in fact the opposite of that.

 

The attempt to curb freedom of opinion and the right to elect and be elected threatens the State’s stability more than the expression of an infuriating opinion. The High Court’s decision Wednesday reinforces these basic perceptions.

 

In light of the ongoing difficulty to understand this, as displayed at the Knesset’s Elections Committee where politicians conduct themselves as public relations professionals and take irresponsible decisions, we would do well to take away their power to disqualify Knesset lists.

 

The debate at the Elections’ Committee was of course enveloped in a kosher and deceptive veil. Nobody would blatantly say that “we don’t want Arabs at the Knesset,” but rather, they argued about the definition of “Jewish and democratic state,” and sought to define what makes a terrorist – as the law allows us to disqualify a Knesset list if one of its objectives is to terminate the existence of Israel as a Jewish democratic state, if it incites to racism, or if it supports the armed struggle of an enemy state or terror group.

 

Very quickly, this law is being translated into an attempt to disqualify Arab candidates because of their support for the notion of a “state of all its citizens” or their support for resistance to the occupation.

 

Everyone is entitled to be elected

However, the phrase “Jewish and democratic state” was not meant to prevent the minority from being represented. Justice Haim Cohen said back in the 1960s that he sees a huge difference between people who work against the very existence of the State and a party that recognizes the State as a political entity, yet wishes to change its regime.

 

Five years ago, when a previous attempt was undertaken to disqualify the Arab lists, former High Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak made it clear that the right to be elected stands at the heart of the democratic system of government, and that it can only be undermined if we are dealing with a party that truly wishes to destroy the country, in practice.

 

It is not enough to argue that theoretically speaking the party undermines the State’s character or assists its enemies; rather, we need to see actual and powerful activity, on the ground, meant to implement such objectives in practice.

 

The result is clear: In a Jewish and democratic state, everyone is entitled to be elected to the Knesset. Jewish democracy does not turn the Jewish people from victims of persecution to persecutors. It merely defends itself against those who reject its essence – those who wish to eliminate the democratic process or reject the idea of equality as expressed in the dictum “love thy friend as thyself,” which summarizes this entire issue.

 

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