Israel is trying to deport Human Rights Watch’s Omar Shakir, claiming democratic states have every right to defend themselves. The only problem? Israel is neither democratic nor acting in self-defense.
By Hagai El-Ad
At the heart of the Jerusalem District Court’s recent ruling to authorize the deportation of Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director of Human Rights Watch, one can find the self-victimizing lie that views Israel as a “defensive democracy.”
The ruling, handed down by Judge Tamar Bazak-Rappaport, did not reinvent the wheel; she is only following the path paved by the Knesset members who legislated, the attorneys who defended, and the Supreme Court justices who made this all possible. Yet, as a glimpse into bankruptcy, self-righteousness and whining of Israel in 2019, the ruling is well worth reading.
The ruling is based on two items of legislation, as per Bazak-Rappaport: “The Entry into Israel Law refers to the definition of a boycott of the State of Israel in the Prevention of Boycott Law, which indicates the connection between the two legislative texts, which are based on the doctrine of ‘defensive democracy,’ and the right of the state to defend itself and protect its citizens.”
And what is the state defending itself from? From “a political-diplomatic boycott by non-state actors who wish to undermine the foundations of the existence of the state in question.”
But Israel is not a democracy, it is not defending itself, and the risk to the foundations of its existence stems from the moral decay it is engulfed in — not from “non-state actors.”
Israel is not a democracy, as these elections proved once again. Democracy is the rule of the people, not the rule of one people over another. When the Yesha Council — the umbrella organization of municipal councils of Jewish settlements in the West Bank — recently highlighted the polling data on the settler vote, it made a point of celebrating the fact that “the residents of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley placed their voting envelopes in ballot boxes placed inside the settlements.”
Except it was not “the residents” who did so, rather only Jewish citizens. Millions of residents, subjects, non-citizen Palestinians — whose lives are determined by the very same regime – do not get to vote. No one takes them into account. Calling this a “democracy” is a falsehood divorced from reality.
Israel is not defending itself. How much cynicism and indifference is needed to describe the constant violence Israel perpetrates against the Palestinians whose lives it controls as “defense?” Israel is not defending itself when its soldiers kill Palestinian youths by shooting them from a distance in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel is not defending itself when it demolishes Palestinian homes, claiming it is only enforcing the law, after carefully creating a reality in which obtaining a building permit for Palestinians is an imaginary option.
Israel is not defending itself when its settlers, in conjunction with the army, raid Palestinian villages in the West Bank. Israel is not defending itself when it externally controls the largest open air prison in the world in the Gaza Strip. And Israel is not defending itself when it controls — with absolute arbitrariness — every aspect of Palestinian life. Control, dispossession, violence, and tyranny are not “defensive”: they are part of an organized, ongoing aggression.
Israel’s doctrine of “defensive democracy” is a lie, devoid of any intellectual integrity. Israel is carrying out a large-scale, violent national project, and the government seeks not only to protect this despotic project from criticism, it also refuses to pay any price for its cultivation. The Palestinians foot the bill; this is their exclusive domain. To achieve this, the state not only administers a tyrannical regime on the other side of the Green Line, it also legislates tyrannical laws. These laws have no moral validity and they have nothing to do with “defensive democracy.”
Yet Israel understands that for the sake of propaganda, it is worthwhile to continue holding on to this label of “democracy,” since it affords it economic, diplomatic, and public relations benefits. And it is precisely this brand that makes it easy to reject Israel’s comparison to countries such as Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, Iran, or Venezuela, which have also prevented access to Human Rights Watch.
Bazak-Rappaport’s ruling is effectively a propaganda document based on previous propaganda documents in the form of High Court rulings. This is neither law nor justice — it is hasbara.
So, memorize this from now on: Israel is a democracy. A defensive one. We are the victims. The boycott seeks to destroy us. The Europeans are anti-Semites. The Palestinians are terrorists. Leftists are traitors. There is no occupation. The decision of the interior minister to deport Shakir is reasonable under the circumstances. The petitioner must leave Israel. Who’s next?
Hagai El-Ad is the executive director of B’Tselem. Translated from Hebrew by Yoni Molad for Middle East News Service, Melbourne, Australia.