From its birth more than 60 years ago, Israel has always presented itself as "an oasis of democracy in a sea of despotism," an outpost of pluralism surrounded by tyranny. While that equality never fully applied to the country's Arab citizens, Israel was, for the most part an open society. But today political rights are under siege by right-wing legislators, militant settlers, and a growing religious divide in the Israeli army, all of which threaten to silence internal opposition to the policies of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Since that may include a war with Iran-and the probable involvement of the U.S. in such a conflict-the move to stifle dissent should be a major concern for Americans.
The U.S. media has reported on growing tensions between Israeli women and the ultra-orthodox Haredim over the latter's demand for sexual segregation of schools, public transport, and public life. But while orthodox Jews spitting on eight-year old girls for being "immodestly dressed" has garnered the headlines, the most serious threats to democratic rights have gone largely unreported, including a host of proposed or enacted laws. Some of these include:
- A law that allows Jewish communities to bar Arab families from living among them. Arabs make up about 20 percent of the population.
- A law that makes it illegal to advocate an academic, cultural or economic boycott of Israel, including settler communities.
- A law that would limit the power of the Supreme Court.
- A law that bars any state institutions, including schools and theaters-from commemorating the "Nakba," or "catastrophe," the term Palestinians use to describe the loss of their lands in the 1948 war that established Israel.
- A law that prohibits Palestinians from living with their Israeli spouses within Israel proper and denies them citizenship.
- A law that drops Arabic as an official language.
- A law that requires anyone obtaining a driver's license to swear loyalty to the state.
- A law that would limit the number of petitions non-governmental organizations, including peace and human rights groups, could file before the Supreme Court.
- A law that forces human rights and peace groups to limit the money they can receive from abroad, and forces them to go through burdensome registration requirements.