Columns / Discourse / February 27, 2013

Then let them eat artisan pistachio ice cream: Compromising democracy in Israel

Several scandals have come up this last week in Israel, putting the legitimacy of the Netanyahu regime in Israel up for further contestation in domestic and international media debates —  the least of which being the $2,700 national ice cream budget Netanyahu has dipped into for his personal indulgence, which surprisingly has become a heated topic in Israeli politics.

Detailed reports have been released on whereabouts of former Mossad agent Ben Zygier (Prisoner X), who allegedly hung himself in Israel’s maximum security Ayalon prison. Much of this criticism has been focused on issues of government transparency and the gag order issued by Israeli government officials in an attempt to cover-up the imprisonment of Zygier, an Australian national accused of disclosing highly confidential Israeli intelligence to Australian agents during a secret operation in Italy.

In response to the criticism beleaguering the Netanyahu government’s restriction of media, the BBC quoted Netanyahu saying:
“We are not like other countries … We are more threatened, more challenged, and therefore we have to ensure the proper activity of our security forces.”

That being said, Netanyahu may be better off focusing his energies on Israel’s health ministry, as reports have come out detailing the forced (temporary) sterilizations of Ethiopian immigrant women, which has led to a 20 percent decline in the Ethiopian-Israeli birth rate, and should incite global human rights concerns.

To add a cherry on top of Netanyahu’s ice cream, all of this is surfacing at the same time the former Minister of Foreign Affairs under Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, faces corruption charges related to bribing the ambassador to Belarus in exchange for information regarding a police investigation into Lieberman dating back to 2008.

Without mentioning the countless abuses towards Arab-Israelis and the ongoing illegal construction of settlements in Palestine, this recent round of scandals is further distancing the Netanyahu-led government from its anointed title of “the Middle East’s only true democracy.”

By favoring the interests of the state over the provision of individual human rights and expression, Netanyahu has continually compromised liberal democracy in the state of Israel. These Machiavellian policies and institutions that perpetually see the state’s authority challenged reflect tactics used by autocratic zealots —  an all too familiar occurrence in the Middle East.

As more international scrutiny is exposing the injustices perpetrated by the Israeli government, more discourse ought to surface on the rigid claims of democracy and freedom in Israel. Greater implications in the Middle East are at stake when the international community accepts these repressive forms of democracy as a beacon of regimes in the region.

The threats and challenges that Netanyahu sees as a hindrance to national security are in fact threats to the existing status quo and legitimacy of the Israeli government. Netanyahu has the choice of reacting to these critiques by ensuring that these breaches of human rights won’t occur again, which would appear to legitimize liberal democracy in Israel, or continue to shrug off these opinions as he has done so ever so frequently in the past.

Firas Suqi

Tags:  arab Ayalon Ben Sygier Israel Israeli Lieberman Netanyahu Palestine

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