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Anti-Democratic developments on the Israeli parliamentary scene

by Reuven Kaminer Thursday, Jun. 27, 2002 at 10:40 PM

Dear friends, It is our sad duty to bring to your attention a set of very serious and dangerous developments on the Israeli parliamentary scene. The ruling coalition, headed by the Likud and the Labor Party, has given its support to a set of recently adopted draconic measures. These new laws are cynically aimed at canceling the representation our faction, the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality and that of the Arab lists, which together hold ten seats in the 120 member Israeli Knesset.

It will come as no surprise to our friends and to enlightened public opinion abroad that the sordid method adopted by the ruling coalition and its right wing allies to this end is to redefine legitimate political positions and arguments as acts of terror or acts condoning or assisting terror.

Israel already has on the books a very wide ranging set of laws pertaining to terror, most of which have been adopted with little or no change from the period of the colonial British Mandate. This, previously existing 'anti-terror' legislation, has been described by distinguished jurists and civil rights organizations as a blot on Israeli

democracy. Now, in the wake of new crises and contradictions in the Israeli political arena, further dangerous steps have been taken by the Sharon-Peres government to eliminate the parliamentary representation of Israel's Palestinian Arab population, a fifth of the total Israeli population, and of left peace lovers, including Communists.

This step came in the form of four anti-democratic laws adopted on May 15, 2002 by the Knesset.

The first of the new laws is general in nature and comes in the form of an amendment to Article 144 of the Criminal Code and a change in the Ordinance for the Prevention of Terror (1948).

The amendment, in addition to the ban on calls for acts of violence or terror, also prohibits 'words of admiration, sympathy or encouragement, support for or identification with such acts.'

This amendment involves a serious restriction of the right to free speech and will affect the activity of elected representatives, journalists and citizens.

Furthermore, the amendment also expands the circumstances for prosecution. Previously, according to the Supreme Court deccision, it was necessary that such a call would 'almost certainly' result in an act of terror violence. But with the new wording it is sufficient that there is a 'real possibility' that the call would have such an effect.

The new law, therefore, widens the grounds for the prosecution of whosoever supports and identifies with the struggle of the Palestinian people against occupation and whosoever supports Palestinian resistance to incursions by the IDF into Palestinian held territory. The law is especially though not exclusively aimed at the Arab community, where such positions and opinions are almost universal. It is also aimed against broad sections of the Israeli peace movement, which wage a consistent political struggle against the occupation and its effects.

In short, declarations well within the framework of free speech and genuine discourse that would not have been illegal or would have not supported prosecution in the past, have now become dangerous and a possible basis for prosecution.

Parliamentary Applications On the basis of the change in the Criminal Code, the legislature proceeded to apply the new measure to the Knesset in a new set ofacts.

a) Change in the Basic Law - Knesset

The Basic Law for the Knesset elections previously provided that a list might be banned if it negates the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, or if it supports racism (Article 7). The new amendment allows for banning a list that expresses either explicitly or implicitly 'support for armed struggle by an enemy state or a terrorist organization against the state of Israel'.

The definition and the interpretation of the aforementioned, highly sensitive categories is, of course, in the hands of the government, which has the majority in the Central Elections Committee. A third of this body can initiate a motion to ban a list or a party, and a decision by the Committee to ban a list is subject to approval by the High Court of Justice.

b) Change in the Law of Political Parties

The Law of Political Parties is amended to ban the registration of any party that expresses either explicitly or implicitly 'support for armed struggle by an enemy state or a terrorist organization against the state of Israel.'

c) Change in the Election Law

The Election Law is amended so that the Declaration of Agreement to be a Candidate is amended to include a binding commitment to desist from violating any prohibition in the aforementioned Article 7 of the Basic Law of the Knesset. An additional amendment enables a third of the members of the Central Elections Committee to initiate the ban on any single candidate, with a ban by the Committee subject to approval by the High Court of Justice.

The Political Background

These laws are part of an attempt by the political establishment to impose anti-democratic restrictions on public debate and on the criticism of current Israeli policies. This attempt is implemented by criminalizing perfectly open, valid and legitimate views, including views widely held by at least a fifth of Israeli citizens, both Arabs and Jews. There are widely held views among a large section of the public, that the occupation is illegal and detrimental to Israeli interests, and that resistance to the occupation is both natural and inevitable. The new laws convert these opinions and positions into a criminal act under Israeli law. During the debate on the laws, the right wing legislators openly asserted that the law is aimed at the Arab and Jewish Left members of the Knesset.

MK Muhammed Baraka (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality - DFPE) defined the new laws as the basis for Israeli Apartheid. The plan is to block the way to the Knesset for those Arabs and Jews, who for their firm support of the struggle against Israeli occupation are accused of 'supporting violence and terror'. It should be marked, that it will be the right-wing Knesset members who will decide as to how to define the categories of 'supporting violence and trrror'. Baraka stressed that no anti-democratic law will cause the DFPE to hesitate in its support for the just struggle of the Palestinian people against the occupation and for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

MK Issam Mahul (DFPE) declared, that the aim of the laws is the ethnic cleansing of the Knesset and the political transfer of the Arab population to outside the boundaries of Israeli democracy and its

political and party discourse.

MK Tamar Gozansky (DFPE) noted, that the battle against the changes in the law is aimed at saving Israeli society from falling into the black hole of suppression of free speech and organization and all democratic

institutions. It has become clear, that the government cannot maintain an external occupation regime against the Palestinians without an internal occupation regime against democracy.

Friends,

The members of the Parliamentary faction of the DFPE in the Israeli Knesset, all of them also members of the leadership of the Communist Party of Israel, request that you alert democratic parliamentarians and the media in your country, and everywhere possible, to the dire consequences of this new anti-democratic legislation.

It is our firm belief that protests and criticism from abroad can be very effective in either repealing these acts or neutralizing their effect. We are, of course, willing to answer any questions or comments that you have.

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