Following is Zulat President Zehava Galon’s opening speech in Zulat’s conference that took place in Einav Center, Tel Aviv. May 14th 2023: “From Borderline Authoritarian State to Dictatorship?”
This conference takes place in a critical moment. Last week’s Operation “Shield and Arrow” fit perfectly into Netanyahu’s plan to put to sleep the protest against the regime coup. Everybody knows from previous rounds of fighting that bombings and dead women and children will not bring true security in the long run. And, it is hard to avoid the feeling that the only security that might be achieved as a result of the current operation is security for Netanyahu’s coalition.
We are talking about a corrupt, nationalist, and racist coalition, adjectives that sum up Prime Minister Netanyahu’s third stint in power, after his victory in the November 2022 election. It is a coalition that stirs provocations and enacts anti-democratic laws to spare Netanyahu from going to jail and ensure his political survival, in conjunction with a deliberate move to crush democracy.
This comes as no surprise, as the early signs were already evident during Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister, and more so during his second tenure. Pseudo Democracy, a report about the state of the regime in Israel published by Zulat in June 2022, showed that Israel had never been a model of liberal democracy, and that the authoritarian aspects of the regime strengthened significantly during Netanyahu’s premierships. Slowly but surely, from 1996 to 2021, he degraded the country down the Democratic Index by means of legislation and policies, by weakening the status of Basic Laws, downgrading the Knesset’s authority and its ability to restrain the government and the man heading it, enforcing a biennial budget, expanding the use of the Economic Arrangements Law, legislating the Boycott, Nakba, Flag, and Nationality Laws, violating the freedom of the press, trying to prevent the participation of Arab citizens in elections, and banning civil society organizations from schools. Netanyahu transformed Israel from a democracy into a borderline authoritarian state.
Yariv Levin, Bezalel Smotrich, Simcha Rotman, Itamar Ben-Gvir, Aryeh Deri, and Moshe Gafni envision a future that will totally change Israel. Their vision is to promote Jewish supremacy, annex the Occupied Territories, transfer the Palestinians, perpetuate the ignorance and illiteracy of the ultra-Orthodox public, politicize the Israel Police, promote a religious social order, and push women, LGBTQs, and minorities back to the 1950s. Presiding over all these is Kohelet Forum, an ultra-conservative research institute that is vigorously pushing for the obliteration of liberal democracy in Israel by drafting plans for the government for the establishment of a religious-nationalist state with a conservative economic policy.
The huge heartrending demonstrations that have been going on for 18 weeks in Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street and throughout the country, coupled with the international pressure on the government, put off the regime coup legislation and prompted “conciliation talks” at the Presidential Residence. Though there’s no doubting President Yitzhak Herzog’s sincere intentions, these talks are futile. I don’t understand why the opposition continues to participate after Justice Minister Levin’s declaration at the hate-mongering right-wing demonstration in Jerusalem that he intends to go ahead with the legislation, to the cheers of the crowds chanting “We Don’t Want No Compromise.”
Let it be clear: This government does not only plan to change the democratic rules of the game, but to abolish them altogether; it seeks a regime coup that will culminate in an apartheid revolution in the Territories. Levin, Rotman, and their friends want to establish a full authoritarian regime in Israel, and make it irreversible. This regime will be headed by a ruler for life and by a ruling party surrounded by satellite parties under its command.
I think the massive civil resistance to this government’s moves should be seen as an opportunity for the peace and equality-seeking democratic camp. From now on, the struggle should focus not only on preserving what we have, blocking the government’s attempts to abolish the independence of the judicial system, and repelling the violation of human and civil rights. The struggle should also produce a new agenda and a new social contract based on the recognition that justice and equality, like freedom and truth, are indivisible and that it is our duty to recognize and show solidarity toward other people’s rights.
Such an agenda will call for changing reality. It will make clear to the public that the meaning of a halachic state is that Israel as we know it will no longer be; that the promotion of a policy of Jewish supremacy, apartheid, and continued rule over millions of people will turn Israel into a pariah in the eyes of the world; that the recurrent bouts of fighting and bombings in Gaza, discrimination of the Arab population, and apathy toward the mind-boggling murders of Arab citizens cannot go on; that we must improve the conditions in outlying areas, protect women and LGBTQ rights, and safeguard a free media; that our economy must not be allowed to collapse. Our new agenda should emphasize that all rights are interlocked, and that freedoms can hardly be exercised if universal, private, collective, and basic social rights are not protected.
The crowds at the demonstrations chant “”Shame, Shame, Shame, Constitution, Constitution, Constitution.” Indeed, in the face of the planned regime coup, this sounds tempting. However, a constitution calls for broad agreement on the basic questions of our national identity, and I don’t see the feasibility for it at the moment. After all, if there is something worse than the absence of a constitution, it is a bad constitution that might entrench racist, unequal, or undemocratic norms – and we’ve seen this happening before.
And, since we think it is wrong to impose a constitution from the top down, Zulat proposes a series of gradual steps to protect our freedoms. We have in our arsenal a number of Basic Laws to protect human rights, the right to equality, social equality, equality of opportunity, equality between Jews and Arabs, the right to freedom of expression and freedom of religion and from religion. In a suitable political constellation, these Basic Laws could be legislated and serve as the foundation of a pluralistic and egalitarian constitution, in the spirit of the principles of the Declaration of Independence, whose status would be stable and secure.
Such a new agenda requires enshrining in legislation all the components of democracy and the human rights of all the country’s citizens, residents, and subjects that take into account national, gender, and ethnic aspects, or else the regime in the State of Israel will remain rickety and hinge on the personal democratic or authoritarian values of the government’s members and its leader.
When I look at the demonstrators, at the people who are coming out to fight for the face of our country, for the enactment of a constitution, for equality, justice, and democracy, for Jewish-Arab reconciliation and partnership, and for ending the occupation, I say: We are powerful and we have started using our power! Some things cannot be stopped with talks in the parliament.
The fascists and dictators may be smiling now, but they don’t know what’s awaiting them!