27 January 2003

Free Speech in Israel

Today is election day in Israel. No, it is not a farce like the Iraqi elections with 100% of the population voting for Saddam Hussein. We were all on the edge of our seats wondering who was going to win that election.

Israel has a parliamentary system of government. The governing body is called the Knesset in which 120 members conduct business. There are 28 parties that fight each other every election for these seats. These include Liberals, Conservatives, Arabs, Greens, Marxists and Communists. There's even a party devoted to the legalization of marijana.

It needs to be remembered that while Israel is a democracy, it was created with a Jewish character as well. Paragraph 7a of the Basic Law in Israel gives a framework for the establishment of political parties. "The Knesset expressly disqualifies the candidacies of parties and individuals who negate Israel's right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state; engage in racist incitement; or support an enemy state or terror organization's armed struggle against the state."

In America we can understand this concept by looking at the oath of office for Congressional Representatives and Senators. "I, (fill in the name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same..." It is clear that in both countries only loyal citizens are wanted in government.

Last month there was some controversy when two Arab ministers were banned temporarily from running for Knesset office. These two Arab ministers, Ahmed Tibi and Azmi Bishara were disqualified from running for office based on Paragraph 7a stated above.

In one case, we find Minister Ahmed Tibi to be an advisor to Yasser Arafat, whose terrorist connections have been well documented. In addition to being an advisor he has been vocal in his praise of the violence against Jewish Israelis.

Minister Azmi Bishara seems to be even busier than Ahmed Tibi. He traveled to Syria, a well known terrorist nation committed to the destruction of Israel. On television, standing next to the President of Syria, Bashar Assad and the head of Hizbullah (a terrorist organization) praised Hizbullah and called on the Palestinian Arabs of Israel to continue to fight Israel and kill Jews. In June 2000, when Israel withdrew from Lebanon Bishara went to a celebration in northern Israel and told the cheering Israeli-Arab crowd: "Hizbullah has won...Hizbullah has every right to be proud of its achievement and to humiliate Israel."

The Central Election Committee, made up of representatives of the other Knesset parties decided to ban Tibi and Bishara from running in todays election based on Paragraph 7a. However, their decision was overturned when Israel's Supreme Court took on the case. Tibi and Bishara are free to run.

In the 1980s, there was a Jewish party that was banned from running. The party name was Kach, and the party leader was Rabbi Meir Kahane. Kahane's party was also banned based on Paragraph 7a that he spread "racist incitement". In actuality, his platform was one of a Jewish democracy and the policy of population exchange. The idea was since Israel had taken in the Jewish refugees that had been thrown out of the Arab countries in the 1940s and 1950s, it was time to return to the Arab countries the Arabs that lived in Israel. He did not promote violence against Arabs and even predicted the violence we are witness to today. The Israeli Supreme Court never overturned this decision.

The Jerusalem Post, a centrist Israeli newspaper, made an interesting observation based on these cases. "Unlike a growing number of Arab legislators, the Jewish far-right's aim is anything but the Jewish state's demise...A democracy is not supposed to be a suicide pact." What can be seen here is that those who are committed to the destruction of the state are allowed to run, while the other who believes in a democratic state is not. What can be seen is that the far-left is allowed free speech, and the far-right is not.

Having a difference of opinion and calling for the destruction of the state that you are meant to uphold as a legislator are very different things. Will the loyal citizens of Israel please stand up?

To learn more about Israeli elections and to vote in a mock election, check out the website: www.israelvotes2003.com

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