The myth of Israeli democracy

Johann Hari interviews Gideon Levy: “the most hated man in Israel — and perhaps the most heroic.”

Any conversation about the region is now dominated by a string of propaganda myths, [Levy] says, and perhaps the most basic is the belief that Israel is a democracy. “Today we have three kinds of people living under Israeli rule,” he explains. “We have Jewish Israelis, who have full democracy and have full civil rights. We have the Israeli Arabs, who have Israeli citizenship but are severely discriminated against. And we have the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, who live without any civil rights, and without any human rights. Is that a democracy?”

He sits back and asks in a low tone, as if talking about a terminally ill friend: “How can you say it is a democracy when, in 62 years, there was not one single Arab village established? I don’t have to tell you how many Jewish towns and villages were established. Not one Arab village. How can you say it’s a democracy when research has shown repeatedly that Jews and Arabs get different punishments for the same crime? How can you say it’s a democracy when a Palestinian student can hardly rent an apartment in Tel Aviv, because when they hear his accent or his name almost nobody will rent to him? How can you say Israel is a democracy when? Jerusalem invests 577 shekels a year in a pupil in [Palestinian] East Jerusalem and 2372 shekels a year in a pupil from [Jewish] West Jerusalem. Four times less, only because of the child’s ethnicity! Every part of our society is racist.”

“I want to be proud of my country,” he says. “I am an Israeli patriot. I want us to do the right thing.” So this requires him to point out that Palestinian violence is – in truth – much more limited than Israeli violence, and usually a reaction to it. “The first twenty years of the occupation passed quietly, and we did not lift a finger to end it. Instead, under cover of the quiet, we built the enormous, criminal settlement enterprise,” where Palestinian land is seized by Jewish religious fundamentalists who claim it was given to them by God. Only then – after a long period of theft, and after their attempts at peaceful resistance were met with brutal violence – did the Palestinians become violent themselves. “What would happen if the Palestinians had not fired Qassams [the rockets shot at Southern Israel, including civilian towns]? Would Israel have lifted the economic siege? Nonsense. If the Gazans were sitting quietly, as Israel expects them to do, their case would disappear from the agenda. Nobody would give any thought to the fate of the people of Gaza if they had not behaved violently.”

He unequivocally condemns the firing of rockets at Israeli civilians, but adds: “The Qassams have a context. They are almost always fired after an IDF assassination operation, and there have been many of these.” Yet the Israeli attitude is that “we are allowed to bomb anything we want but they are not allowed to launch Qassams.” It is a view summarised by Haim Ramon, the justice minister at time of Second Lebanon War: “We are allowed to destroy everything.”

Read the complete interview.

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6 thoughts on “The myth of Israeli democracy

  1. Colm O' Toole

    Wow that was a mighty good interview by Johann Hari (always a great journalist in his own right). Of course reading some of Levy’s predictions is enough to cause you to despair at the state of affairs in Israel.

  2. Christopher Hoare

    A very moving testament.

    This should be nailed to the doors of all the Western governments and their leaders who have cowardly allowed this to continue for so long. It is only America’s allies that can stand firm with a US president to bolster his courage enough to do What Levy suggests. There is no hope that the moral courage could come from within the US, any more than it could come from within Israel.
    When the so-called peace talks falter, or when they produce a success where Israel alone benefits it is America’s friends who should speak out to condemn the falsity.

  3. eddy mason

    It has sometimes appeared in the past that Gideon Levy is the only hero Israel has. Now it has been confirmed; problem is now I’m turning pessimistic again regarding seeing a just outcome in my lifetime.
    As Gideon has said, perhaps the only hope is for the corrupt Israeli regime to self-destruct from the inside out and leave nothing credible for the USA to support.

  4. John Somebody

    But there’s a much more obvious reason to accept that Israeli “democracy is a myth. One that does not need any production of more evidence, than is already perfectly well established. And that is that the blatant fact that Israelis could not win elections without an artificially created majority. To claim that ant zionist part wins any election with such an aertificial majority, is to say that electoral fraud, is democratic. IT’S NOT. And to say that such a majority, created with ethnic “cleansing”, which could not happen without a few massacres along the way, is to say, therefore, that murder, is democratic. And as racially motivated murder, is genocide, (according to the definition provided by the International Courts of Justice), then that must be to claim that genocide, is a democratic way to win elections. Lets get a little more real, please.

  5. Nasser

    Only few people like Gideon Levy make one believe that not everybody in Israel is rotten like those who can (for example) order, approve and attack an aid ship bound to Gaza. The cimes of Israel and their coward “western” allies include the shame they cause to the true human beings like Gideon by witnessing those crimes in the name of their religion, their dream of a safe homeland and their holy desire of living side by side with other cultures and faiths in peace and harmony.
    Gideon: if not you, surely your decendants will be able to do so. So much injustice will never prevail on our God’s earth.
    Greetings from your Muslim brother

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