On 23 October 2022, ahead of the November elections, Partners for Progressive Israel held a symposium on the subject of Israel’s human rights violations as part of its “Conversations With Israel and Palestine” series. The event was addressed by Zulat’s Executive Director Einat Ovadia, Givat Haviva’s Director of Strategic Planning Mohammad Darawshe, Jerusalem City Councilor Laura Wharton, and moderator Gili Getz. Following are highlights of Einat’s remarks:
“We see a long process, which has been spanning over more than a decade, of delegitimization of Arab society, the Palestinian citizens of Israel, human rights organizations, and self-proclaimed leftists. The upcoming elections are an opportunity to stop the authoritarian trend we have discerned since the beginning of Netanyahu’s second term in 2009. We ask ourselves: What kind of democracy are we talking about anyway? Zulat published a report that asked that very same question, and concluded that there has never been a liberal democracy here. From day one, democratic trends have coexisted alongside authoritarian ones, and have now grown stronger.
“Soldiers break into the homes of Palestinians who are denied the right to decide their own fate, some political parties believe that women are second-class citizens and do not allow them to run for office. The powerful right-wing Kohelet Forum influences decision-makers and pressures Ayelet Shaked not to sign the Istanbul Convention on fighting violence against women.
“The upcoming elections will decide whether we can strengthen and protect democracy, the right to equality, freedom of protest and expression, and the resilience of social organizations. It is feared that one of our parties will not meet the electoral threshold and that Itamar Ben-Gvir’s party, bolstered by Netanyahu, will continue what it started. We sent proposals for reforms to those party leaders who declared their commitment to uphold liberal values, and we hope they will gain positions that will allow them to promote them. In our opinion, Israel needs a constitution, but this is not enough. We have a long way to go, many laws need to be passed to protect human rights and equality.”
In response to a question from the audience about whether Israel is a theocracy, Einat said: “I understand how people who don’t live here ask themselves how we can call Israel a democracy, but it’s not like we don’t have any liberal and democratic foundations. There is a separation of powers, a supreme court, certain freedom of the press, and we are not thrown in jail for voicing our views. At the same time, there are illiberal elements and these can get stronger. We are trying to influence the discourse in Israel to be more pro-human rights, to restore the legitimacy to talk about it without being considered traitors. We work from within civil society to influence the way different narratives are presented, as well as to change the law and policy or else it will be impossible to change the reality in Israel.”