Public demands social justice, gov’t prefers to attack democracy

UPDATE: Since this post was published on Sunday morning, a ministerial committee approved two bill proposals that seek to limit the funding of human rights organizations. Read more here.

After a summer featuring hundreds of thousands of Israelis demonstrating in the streets for social justice legislation, the Knesset is now finally back from recess. But social justice legislation isn’t on the agenda. In its stead, the coalition has gone back to promoting its wave of anti-democratic legislation. Is this coalition government out of touch with the people’s will?

By Hagai El-Ad

Right up until the eve of the summer social justice protests, the coalition government was diligently at work promoting a wave of anti-democratic legislation: the Boycott Law, the Acceptance to Communities Law, the Nakba Law, and the initiative to establish parliamentary inquiry committees into the work of Israeli human rights organizations. It seemed that almost daily, the Knesset was setting new lows of extreme nationalism, racism, and a dangerous willingness to tamper with the rules of the democratic game.

That pre-summer anti-democratic agenda was unacceptable, whether it had the public’s support or not. In a meaningful democracy, one does not vote on the fundamental principles, nor are they subject to the tyranny of the majority. Still, to what extent this agenda actually enjoyed the public’s support is a question that has yet to be answered.

But then, just as the Knesset went into recess, Israel’s social justice summer began. Protests swept up hundreds of thousands of Israelis for months. In contrast with the legislative agenda that preceded the summer, these demonstrations were not in support of the pursuit of imaginary domestic enemies, nor had those hundreds of thousands jumped on board racist legislation. Rather, these were Israelis for social justice, for advancing equality for everyone who lives here, in health, education, housing, employment. Israelis spoke in a clear voice, calling for social justice legislation, and for our legislators to be occupied with solving the real problems that afflict our lives here, rather than waste their time, at our expense, on promoting legislation that undermines the democratic foundations of our complex lives here.

The summer passed, the Knesset’s recess was finally over. Hardly a week or two passed. Has the Knesset opted to now devote its time to what had preoccupied the public all summer, or rather return to anti-democratic-business-as-usual?

So far, the answer is quite clear, and it is a slap in the public’s face. Social legislation? The coalition votes against. Anti-democratic legislation? The coalition is vigorously pursuing this agenda, as if the summer never happened.

A week ago, the coalition thwarted all social bills proposed in the plenum, including Basic Law: Social Rights. The demands that the public voiced over the summer were bluntly rejected. In contrast, anti-democratic bills are promoted and supported: threats to the Supreme Court’s independence; legislation limiting freedom of expression described by the  Speaker of the Knesset as a “constitutional onslaught from within the Knesset”; initiatives supported by the Prime Minister to silence human rights organizations; and more.

This is the price of such a government, a price paid by all Israelis: continuing to shoulder the unfair costs of bad socioeconomic policies, now along with the additional costs of the undoing of our democracy.

Hagai El-Ad is the Executive Director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel