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Disabled protestors outside Knesset
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ACRI President Sami Michael
Photo: Hagai Aharon

Say no to the tyranny of the majority

Op-ed: All over the world, we Jews are obsessed with interpreting democracy as a shield and wall for minorities, crying out whenever we suffer as a religious minority; in Israel, however, we seem to have forsaken a decent interpretation of democracy.

In the spring of 1949, when I arrived in Israel, I encountered a lively country, shining with the light of social optimism. Man and his rights, it was written almost everywhere, are the state's top priority. He was called "the new Jew." I objected to that term, I greatly disagreed with the opinions of political leaders at the time, but I respected their modest lifestyle.

 

 

In the 21st century, in a state that has raised the banner of democratic values and shared responsibility, the coalition chairman declares the Petah Tikva protest unconstitutional and anti-democratic. The police obey and act accordingly.

 

Like in dark regimes, the police set up roadblocks and caught key activists on their way to the protest, as if they were criminals seeking to harm their state. In the disabled people's protest, in which they bitterly cried out for a dignified human existence, they were fined by the police and blocked with spikes, as if their physical restrictions weren’t enough. When the government attacked the media, who are merely doing their job, it was as if the police had received a command from above to violate freedom of press and the public’s right to know.

 

Anti-corruption protest in Tel Aviv, Saturday evening (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
Anti-corruption protest in Tel Aviv, Saturday evening (Photo: Motti Kimchi)

 

The worldview that sees the meaning of democracy in the tyranny of the majority is gaining in strength, although that majority is actually marginal and fragile. However, democracy is first and foremost a shield and wall for an ideological, ethnic, religious and androcentric minority.

 

All over the world, we Jews are obsessed with this interpretation of democracy. We cry out, rightfully, when we suffer as members of a religious minority. In Israel, we seem to have forsaken a decent interpretation of democracy.

 

Israel’s Arab population has been severely harmed by discrimination in different areas and by eccentric and discriminating legislation initiatives. Instead of encouraging a tendency for welcomed cooperation between the different parts of the population and opening our arms to a minority that makes up about one-quarter of the state’s population, we are encircling it with a racist wall of suspicion, alienation and exclusion.

 

Last week, we were exposed to a dramatic discovery: The situation of Israel’s poor improved this year. Given that the paupers’ standard of living is measured according to the economic situation of the middle class, and given the fact that business moguls and huge corporations have nearly crushed that class, we were informed that the paupers’ fate had relatively improved

 

Which means that in our slums today hunger no longer bites, the cold no longer freezes, diseases no longer kill. Whoever says otherwise will suffer the same fate as Breaking the Silence: Denial and ostracism. In other words, when a person has no shoes and he complains about being barefoot, he is risking being charged with defamation of the state we longed for 2,000 years.

 

In our slums today hunger no longer bites, the cold no longer freezes, diseases no longer kill (Photo: Eran Granot)
In our slums today hunger no longer bites, the cold no longer freezes, diseases no longer kill (Photo: Eran Granot)

 

It’s so sad that the longed-for state has deteriorated to become the poorest state among OECD countries. Israeli society is not a lazy society; 60 percent of poor families are working families. In the longed-for state, the poverty rate of children in Israel is among the highest in developed countries. The pay gaps between men and women are really outrageous. The capital and peripheries of the longed-for state are groaning under poverty. A considerable gap has been discovered between life expectancy in the center of the country and in the periphery. Unfortunately, the state has turned its back on the welfare policy and has allotted the poor a short life span.

 

We live in an era in which the state shirks its responsibility for social solidarity, alarming poverty rates, robbing the public coffers, exploitation of citizens by private corporations, an erosion in the values of democracy, lashing out at the Supreme Court, clipping the wings of humane organizations by imposing bans, inciting against them and imposing sanctions on them, firing employees whose political views don’t match the majority’s views, as well as inciting and terrorizing the government’s critics.

 

I admit that, as an author, I fear the schemes being devised against the freedom of intellectual work in the country. Intellectuals, even the boldest ones among them, are not made of the same stuff that creates adventurers blessed with iron-clad nerves. An artist isn’t supposed to create in a climate of a boycott, ostracism and threats.

 

One day, the next generations will ask why our days were spiritually dry. None of the commissars will stand up to address this heavy accusation. Intimidation, threats to cut budgets, attacks on artists who refuse to toe the line—all this could paralyze the spiritual work, which is the air that every culture breathes, and the air the Jewish people have breathed throughout the generations, all over the world.

 

Author Sami Michael is the president of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

 


פרסום ראשון: 12.11.17, 10:37
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