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Colonialism Inverted: Israel’s War Against Liberal Democracy

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A spate of draconic new laws, policies and regulations reinforced by incitement campaigns against the Palestinian citizens of Israel and, increasingly, Jewish liberals is leading very quickly to an inversion of Israel’s colonial project. If, in the past, one could say that Israel is colonizing the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, today the governing strategies developed and deployed by Israel in these occupied areas have infiltrated and colonized the pre-1967 Jewish State as well. Indeed, the colonial leviathan is recoiling inward.

The initial assault against the veneer of liberal democracy included the current government’s proposal of a new bill obligating human rights practitioners whose organizations receive foreign funding to wear tags when they participate in meetings at the Knesset or in other public venues.  Then came the incitement campaign against the combat soldier group Breaking the Silence and other human rights organizations, which have since become routine in the political landscape.  This was followed by the barring of a novel about a love affair between a Jewish woman and a Palestinian man from Israel’s high school curriculum, reportedly over concerns that it could encourage intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews.  Finally, the civics curriculum in high schools is currently being revamped, and some of the basic concepts dealing with democracy are being removed only to be replaced with material that highlights Jewish identity and history.

As it turns out, however, this was only the siftah.  The proposed “Loyalty in Culture” bill, which declares that the state will only fund art that is uncritical of the Zionist project, could have been lifted directly from Stalin’s Soviet Union. Drafted by Minister of Culture Miri Regev, the bill defines disloyal art as: “Denying the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state… support for an armed struggle or terror act by a hostile country or terror organization against the State of Israel; marking Independence Day as a day of mourning; an act of vandalism or physical degradation that dishonors the country’s flag or state emblem.”

According to film director Uri Rosenwaks, who until recently served as the Chairman of the Israeli Documentary Filmmakers Forum, “The lawmakers have managed to portray authors and artists who deal with issues such as human rights, occupation, and democracy as traitors. The twisted irony is that Miri Regev and other ministers are hoping that these very artists will criticize the new laws and regulations, because clamping down on anyone who is critical of Israeli policies gives these ministers credit among their constituency. The most dangerous thing that is currently happening is that criticism itself is increasingly being perceived as illegitimate.”

This move against artists is, however, parveh when compared to the hatred being directed toward Palestinian citizens of Israel, and particularly their representatives.  It is quite rare for a day to pass without one inciting remark or another by politicians and political commentators against Israel’s minority, which constitutes 20 percent of the demos. Member of Knesset Hanin Zoabi is presented in Israeli media outlets as nothing less than Satan, while her colleagues in the Joint List are routinely characterized as terrorists, a fifth column, or traitors. The racism is so overt, frightening, and without shame that my Palestinian friends in Beer-Sheva have stopped turning on the television.

Indeed, on Monday, the Knesset Constitution Committee gave preliminary approval for the “Suspension Law,” which bestows upon (Jewish) Knesset Members the authority to judge whether the ideology of their (Palestinian) colleagues is kosher. And while the bill’s title uses the word suspension, it actually authorizes the Knesset to oust representatives whose behavior is “inappropriate”; namely, “negating the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; inciting to racism; and supporting armed struggle by a hostile state or a terrorist organization against the State of Israel.”

Expressing any kind of support for Palestinian resistance in the West Bank and Gaza will serve as sufficient grounds for expulsion from the Knesset. The message is clear: if once formal (as opposed to real) equality was sanctioned and presented as desirable within pre-1967 Israel, today even formal equality is passé. The goal, as a Ha’aretz’s editorial claims, is “a Knesset without Arabs.”

And what about the Palestinian citizens inside Israel?

I recently drove to the Bedouin village Um al-Hiran, which is destined to be destroyed and replaced by a Jewish settlement called Hiran. Residents of Um-al-Hiram are, of course citizens of Israel. A few kilometers from Um al-Hiran, in the middle of a Jewish National Fund forest, about thirty religious families have been living in a makeshift gated community waiting patiently for the government to expel the Bedouin families from their homes.

During a recent visit to this makeshift Jewish community, I saw houses scattered around a playground and a nice kindergarten with joyful paintings on the exterior wall.  Needless to say, this bucolic setting was both unnerving and surrealistic. On the web I found this picture of the people who are destined to dispossess the residents of Um Al-Hiran. They are all smiling, happy; they are West Bank settlers who have returned to Israel to colonize Bedouin land.   The rooster has come back home to roost.

This article appeared in Al Jazeera.

Neve Gordon is a Leverhulme Visiting Professor in the Department of Politics and International Studies and the co-author of The Human Right to Dominate.

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