Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Rare Voice for True Democracy from the Israeli Government

The speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, has spoken out against recently enacted Israeli laws that discriminate against Arab Israelis.

Hard-liners in parliament have passed a series of laws in the past year that were seen as anti-Arab. One law requires non-Jewish immigrants to take a loyalty oath. The law does not apply to Jewish immigrants, who automatically receive citizenship under Israel's "Law of Return."
Earlier this month, parliament passed a law that would punish Israelis who call for boycotts of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Critics said the law, which allows those targeted by boycotts to sue for damages, infringed on the right to free speech. Opponents have already challenged the law in the Supreme Court. . .

Rivlin did not get into details on the specifics of the various bills, but said Israel must find the proper balance between being the Jewish state and being a democracy that respects everyone's rights."You can't have Israel as a Jewish country without it being a democratic country," he said. "It has to be a democratic state."
Rivlin lamented the charged atmosphere that often pervades the parliament. Debate between Arab and Jewish lawmakers sometimes devolves into nationalistic rhetoric. Last week, parliament revoked some privileges of an Arab lawmaker who joined a pro-Palestinian flotilla last year that tried to breach Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Of course, he's a member of the Likud, so as far he's concerned, the West Bank belongs to Israel. Nonetheless, that he expresses concern for the rights of Israel's Arab citizens, and for the future of Israel as a democracy (if that is indeed what Israel can still claim to be), is refreshing - if not altogether reassuring - at a time when anti-Arab sentiment among the general Israeli population is at perhaps an all-time high.

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