A BAD DAY FOR DEMOCRACY

"Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

Winston Churchill's immortal words from 1947 provide just a bit of comfort today, after yesterday's elections in Israel produced a significant shift to the right, including substantial gains for Avigdor Leiberman's party, "Yisrael Beiteinu" ("Israel is our Home"). Israel undoubtedly has the most robust democracy in the Middle East, with a remarkably free press, a public culture of rigorously open debate, and a dynamic and well-developed civil society sector.

But yesterday's elections brought a dramatic increase in Knesset representation for the party of Avigdor Leiberman, who ran a campaign focused on an attack on the civil rights of Israeli Arabs (or, as such people often choose to refer to themselves, "Palestinian citizens of Israel"). Leiberman has made no secret of his plan to "transfer" Israeli Arabs, by declaring parts of Israel with large Palestinian Arab populations to be part of Palestine, in a two-state solution to the conflict. Those remaining in Israel would be given the choice of moving to other parts of Israel or remaining in Israel as permanent residents, without citizenship rights. In the final days of the campaign, Leiberman actively used the provocative and demagogic campaign slogan, "No loyalty – no citizenship." This suggests that Palestinian Arabs would be forced to take a loyalty oath if they wanted to retain their Israeli citizenship, in violation of basic rights of free speech so essential to democratic societies.

Lieberman's platform represents an unconscionable announcement to Palestinian citizens of Israel that they are suspect, unwelcome, and undeserving of the equal rights unequivocally promised them in Israel's Declaration of Independence. The new level of acceptance of Leiberman's racist views in Israel should be a national source of shame, and an urgent wake-up call to all those who care about Israel and care about democracy.



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