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On Israel's 'Phony' Fight For Democracy

Praise in the West has been heaped on the popular protests in Israel that have halted undemocratic judicial reform proposed by the Netanyahu government. But this supposedly noble fight for democracy doesn't apply to 20% of its citizens, not to mention the policies carried out in the Occupied Territories.

Photo of ​A protestor holding a sign against the Israeli occupation in the West Bank during a demonstration against the judicial reform in Tel Aviv, Israel, in March 2023.

A protestor holds a sign against the Israeli occupation in the West Bank during a demonstration last month against the judicial reform in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Catherine Cornet


Protests against proposed justice system reforms have rocked Israel for weeks . Opposition to the reforms proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government — the most right-wing, xenophobic government in Israel's history — have been described in newspapers around the world as an example of people fighting to defend their democracy.

But for many Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, who have largely chosen not to participate in the protests, these are not demonstrations for democracy.

Palestinians, who make up 20% of Israel's population, have stayed home during the anti-government demonstrations because “the protesters are not calling for democracy for all citizens of the country, but only for the Jewish ones, thus perpetuating inequality and occupation," Ibrahim Husseini writes in Al-Araby Al-Jadid .

“Even before the current government of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel was a phony, reprehensible and completely anomalous democracy," the Balad party, a nationalist, left-wing Arab political party in Israel, wrote in a statement .

Today’s paradox, argues Marwan Barghouti — a leading figure in the Palestinian opposition who is still in an Israeli prison — writes that Israel’s slogan of “Jewish and democratic state […] not only excludes Palestinian Arabs, but outlaws all political positions that oppose the current fascist system of government. Some religious Zionists have even called for the arrest of opposition leaders.”

Undemocratic ideologies

Palestinian activist Mohammed el-Kurd, a figure in the resistance to the Israeli settler evictions of Palestinians living in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, added a popcorn emoji to a Twitter post in which he likens the demonstrations to theater: "The Israeli protests aren’t about “judicial reforms,” but rather the climax in a long struggle between liberal Zionists & religious Zionists over the public face of their regime. Is 'Israel' a racist, expansionist settler-colony in Democracy’s clothing ? Or merely a naked one?"

Anything that happens in the orbit of colonialism cannot be democratic.

The Israeli protesters’ failure to pay attention to Palestinians Israelis, as well as those living in the occupied territories, hides “a deeper set of forces at play. The millions of Palestinians living de facto under Israeli military control are denied many of the same rights accorded to their Israeli neighbors. Their very existence invalidates any substantive debate about Israeli democracy," Basil Darwish writes in Arabi21 .

In Arab48 , researcher Ali Mawasy rejects the “Jews-only democracy” definition, writing that: “If democracy is when every citizen, regardless of his or her religion, sect, race or gender, enjoys the right to participate in public affairs, then this does not apply to Israel as long as the state enforces a system of ethnic-religious apartheid.” Mawasy concludes that “Colonialism is neither dictatorship nor democracy. It is a violent power based in its essence on subjugation, exclusion and exploitation; therefore, anything that happens in the orbit of colonialism cannot be democratic.”

Photo of \u200bIsraeli anti government protestors waving flags during an anti Judicial reform protest in Tel Aviv in March 2023.

Israeli anti government protestors wave flags during an anti Judicial reform protest in Tel Aviv in March 2023.

Eyal Warshavsky via Zuma Press

A history of violence

Palestinians are more concerned about the latest decisions of Israel's far-right government. In Al-Quds Al-Arabi , journalist Wadiya Awwada argues that the agreement between Netanyahu and his national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir is a far greater concern.

In exchange for Ben Gvir's support of the temporary suspension of judicial reform, Netanyahu offered the right-wing extremist the “formation of a national guard under his command, basically armed militias, a private army.” These militias represent a terrible danger to Palestinians living in mixed Israeli-Palestinian cities or in the occupied territories, who will be at the mercy of “a legal armed gang obeying a minister already convicted of terrorism,” Balad argues.

In the face of danger posed by this far-right government, “It is indeed rare, unfortunately, to find an Israeli voice linking the current crisis to the policies of occupation, illegal settlements and extreme violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, Jerusalem or the Gaza Strip,” Al-Quds Al-Arabi 's editorial board writes. “Neither the dismissed Likud defense minister nor opposition leader Yair Lapid really disagree with Benjamin Netanyahu on the occupation.”

In a new report , Amnesty International highlights how double standards and inadequate responses to human rights violations around the world have fueled impunity and instability.

Amnesty notes that for Palestinians in the occupied territories, 2022 was one of the deadliest years since the United Nations began recording casualty numbers in 2006. Last year, 151 Palestinians were killed, including dozens of children.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

After Abbas: Here Are The Three Frontrunners To Be The Next Palestinian Leader

Israel and the West have often asked: Where is the Palestinian Mandela? The divided regimes between Gaza and the West Bank continues to make it difficult to imagine the future Palestinian leader. Still, these three names are worth considering.

Abbas is 88, and has been the leading Palestinian political figure since 2005

Thaer Ganaim/APA Images via ZUMA
Elias Kassem

Updated Dec. 5, 2023 at 12:05 a.m.

Israel has set two goals for its Gaza war: destroying Hamas and releasing hostages.

But it has no answer to, nor is even asking the question: What comes next?

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the return of the current Palestinian Authority to govern post-war Gaza. That stance seems opposed to the U.S. Administration’s call to revitalize the Palestinian Authority (PA) to assume power in the coastal enclave.

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here .

But neither Israel nor the U.S. put a detailed plan for a governing body in post-war Gaza, let alone offering a vision for a bonafide Palestinian state that would also encompass the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers much of the occupied West Bank, was created in1994 as part of the Oslo Accords peace agreement. It’s now led by President Mahmoud Abbas, who succeeded Yasser Arafat in 2005. Over the past few years, the question of who would succeed Abbas, now 88 years old, has largely dominated internal Palestinian politics.

But that question has gained new urgency — and was fundamentally altered — with the war in Gaza.

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