How the Netanyahu gov’t undermines Israeli democracy

Several actions by the current government are intended to deny the opposition its essential freedom of action

One of the basic principles of a democratic regime is that it allows all citizens to participate in it equally. The basic assumption is that the faction currently in power will be removed someday, and that the opponents of the government are allowed the same rights in spreading their ideas. Another basic assumption is that a change of government is a healthy thing; a regime that makes its replacement difficult is already on the way to dictatorship or at the very least an authoritarian regime. In a democratic regime, or at any rate in a society imbued with a democratic ethos, the government does not change the rules mid-game, particularly not in its favor.

This is how we should view the series of bills persecuting the left that have been proposed by the Netanyahu coalition in the last two years. Let’s deal with one of the latest, one that Haaretz notes (Hebrew) will be debated tomorrow by the ministerial legislative committee, which under this government is the fast track for “private” bills (i.e., those not proposed by the government or a party but by MKs without the support of either).

The bill was tabled by Ze’ev Elkin – one of the leaders of the witch hunts – and Zion Finian, both Likud backbenchers. Its name is misleading: “A bill for the amending of the IRS order (promoting settlement).” What it does (you can read it in a Hebrew document form here) is grant up to 35% tax deduction for contributions to the settlements. Its language is opaque: “In the IRS order, in section 9(2), paragraph (b), in the definition of ‘public goal’, ‘promotion of settlements’ will follow ‘education’.”

In plain English, it means that Israel will from now on recognize the promotion of construction in the settlements as a public goal which it exempts from tax. Elkin and Finian argue for their bill thusly:

Among the various public goals, the goals of empowering Zionism and the promotion of Zionist settlements are conspicuous in their absence. In these days, of constant erosion of values in general and the values of Zionism and settlements in particular, those values should be returned to their former glory and put back in their proper place. One of the ways to do so is in giving public institutions acting to realize these goals a tax deduction and recognizing such contributions for tax purposes.

“Constant erosion of values in general and the values of Zionism and settlements in particular”? Just in which parallel universe does Elkin live? Maybe the same one inhabited by Danny Danon, who several days ago was whining (Hebrew) about the nefarious activities of “leftist elements within the government.” But that is the nature of volkist hysteria: it’s always on the verge of annihilation, always – particularly when it actually rules – convinced it is in “constant erosion.”

What Elkin and Finian’s bill is trying to do is to sneak under the radar a critical change in Israel’s attitude to the settlements: now you can receive a tax deduction for building outside Israel. This, in short, is another way of transferring funds from Israel to the occupied territories. The bill is another step in the creeping annexation of the West Bank.

Elkin, who was already exposed as a traitor who informed radical settlers on the movements of IDF forces, is also one of the main proponents of the bills that will deny Israeli left organizations their tax benefits. Here is the world according to Elkin: contributions to human rights organizations, which are clearly affiliated with the left (well, given that the Israeli right is Jehovist and inherently racist, that’s not much of a surprise) will not be tax deductible – and hence, they’ll have a harder time spreading their ideas. On the other hand, organizations acting outside the state of Israel and who actively try to annex Judea to Israel, will. All in the name of “erosion of the values of Zionism and settlement.”

A government is not supposed to make war on its civilians, is not supposed to use the power of the state in order to prevent itself from being replaced. And that’s precisely what Elkin and co. are doing. Here we come to another interesting issue, pointed out to me by Alon Entin, who runs the human rights tool in the Open Knesset website (Hebrew): The law “Obliging full disclosure by organizations supported by a foreign entity”, which the Knesset enacted a year ago, exempts (see article 7 of the law, Hebrew) “national institutes” from this obligation. We are talking about the Jewish Agency, the JNF, and “corporations under their control.”

The Jewish Agency has been, for quite some time, a money funnel for right-wing organizations. Twice, it transferred large amounts of money to Im Tirzu – which disseminates the messages of the Prime Minister’s Office and which in all likelihood received a large donation from a former senior official in Netanyahu’s office. And as Uri Blau exposed yesterday in Haaretz (Hebrew), NGO Monitor – a right-wing attack dog directed at human rights NGOs, which recently set its sights on +972 – has also received a large donation (NIS 570,000, some USD 154,000) through the Jewish Agency. The latter refused to disclose the source of the donation.

So we may – actually, should – suspect that article 7 in the “full disclosure” law, which was not a part of the bill’s original version, was put there so the government could continue to funnel funds to its GONGOs, i.e. organizations which pretend to be NGOs but in reality receive government support, directly or indirectly, in order to further the government’s goals.

Leading the struggle against Israeli democracy. Netanyahu speaking to the Jewish Agency. (Photo: Jewish Agency for Israel, cc by-nd 2.0)
Leading the struggle against Israeli democracy. Netanyahu speaking to the Jewish Agency. (Photo: Jewish Agency for Israel, cc by-nd 2.0)

This is the place to note that while Netanyahu is leading his hounds in baying against “foreign funding” for leftist organizations, Netanyahu’s primaries contributions in January 2012 amounted to NIS 787,329. Tally Schneider exposed (Hebrew) the fact that all of this money, apart from NIS 357, came from foreign donations. That’s how it is on the right: In order to divert attention from the fact that the prime minister is financed by a foreign oligarch like Sheldon Edelson, who not only contributes directly to him but gives him a huge gift in the form of his own paper, Israel Hayom, they make a huge noise about the (much smaller) donations received by the left – and change the rules of the game while they’re at it.

At the same time, Netanyahu’s office is compensating Israel Hayom’s “journalists” directly: It was caught paying Dror Eydar for “writing speeches and lectures.” This is the second time this week the Prime Minister’s Office was caught paying an Israeli journalist.

What we see here is an offensive by a multi-headed hydra against Israeli democracy. One head snuffs out the contributions to organizations opposed to the government; another  makes the government’s main goal – promoting the creeping annexation of the West Bank – tax deductible; a third sends large sums of money to so-called NGOs who, lo and behold, somehow always have a connection to a senior Netanyahu supporter; a fourth head denies the option of criticizing these money transfers by exempting the semi-governmental organizations who transfer them from full disclosure; a fifth is people who are supposed to be independent journalists, who work for the Prime Minister’s office without bothering to supply their readers with full disclosure.

The goal of this settler-capital complex is to keep Netanyahu in office by waging unceasing psychological warfare against the Israeli public. When public funds are used to delude the public, when the sins of the dear leader himself (the fact that he is funded by foreigners hostile to Israeli democracy) are projected as the sins of the opposition whose hands the prime minister tries to bind, as he controls more and more of the media – When all that happens, we are no longer in a democracy, but hurtling towards Putinism.