Israel's democracy needs your help: new laws are gnawing away at the rights of Israel's Arab citizens.

Author:Gorenberg, Gershom

One bill in the Knesset is aimed at keeping human rights groups from filing suit before Israel's Supreme Court. Another would bar mosques from using loud-speakers for the call to prayer; the supposed ban on noise pollution says nothing of church bells, sirens announcing the beginning of the Sabbath or music blasting out of clubs. Yet another bill aims at hobbling the press by drastically increasing what courts can award in libel suits, without requiring plaintiffs to prove they've suffered damages.

These are only a few examples. A growing tide of anti-democratic legislation has been flooding the Knesset since the start of its current term in 2009. Each Knesset member who submits a new bill aimed against the Supreme Court, free speech, political dissent or the rights of the Arab minority provokes other legislators to translate their own dark fantasies into legal language.

This misuse by rightist parties of their parliamentary majority undermines Israel's promise of "complete equality of social and political rights," as stated in its declaration of independence. For Israelis committed to an open society, it is ominous that Knesset members could even propose such changes. The offensive also threatens an essential element of Israeli security: its alliance with the United States. And it presents a challenge to American Jews.

Israel's democracy has always been flawed, especially in its treatment of its Arab citizens. But significant progress over the years has included stronger judicial review of government and Knesset decisions, greater press freedom and the growth of civil organizations independent of the government and political parties. The present Knesset, though, seems intent on a great leap backward.

The reasons can be traced from the failure to make hard political decisions after the Six-Day War, to the occupation of the West Bank that has lasted since then, and to the government-backed settlement enterprise. Inside Israel, the government is at least formally accountable to both Jewish and Arab citizens. In the West Bank, however, two ethnic groups--Jews and Palestinians--struggle for control, and the state is aligned with one side. Over the years, Israeli groups have reported on government violations of the law and human rights resulting from state support of the settlements. Legal challenges have led to Supreme Court decisions against government actions. And the Israeli media have reported on all of this.

The right's current legislative...

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