The ongoing delegitimization campaign against Israel has recently started featuring a bizarre new argument: Israel isn’t really a democracy, because its Arab citizens lack basic civil rights. Good examples include last month’s New York Times column by Ahmad Tibi and today’s Jerusalem Post column by Ray Hanania.
Tibi urged the international community to demand that “in any political agreement, Israel would be required to grant full political and civil equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel. American mediators such as George Mitchell and Dennis Ross, rather than pushing the supremacist notion of a Jewish state, should be pressing Israel to provide equal rights and fair treatment to the Palestinian minority in its midst.” The obvious conclusion is that currently, Israeli Arabs lack civil rights.
That conclusion is somewhat marred by the final line: “Ahmad Tibi, an Arab Israeli, is deputy speaker of the Israeli Parliament.” Neither Tibi nor the Times bothers explaining how a country that denies its Arab citizens “political and civil equality” has an Arab as deputy speaker of its parliament — let alone one who uses this prestigious position mainly to slander his country.
But anyone who didn’t read this tagline, or missed its implications, would come away thinking that Israeli Arabs don’t enjoy “political and civil equality.”
Then there’s Hanania, a self-proclaimed “award-winning columnist,” peace activist, and Chicago radio talk-show host.
“Criticism is a hallmark of true democracies,” he proclaims. “The more Israel tries to silence Arab critics, the more it exposes the limits of its democracy.” Specifically, “the backlash against Arabs citizens challenging Israeli policies started with Azmi Bishara, a Knesset member who was very critical.” Now Israel is persecuting the equally critical MK Haneen Zoabi: “Jewish Knesset members have called for her to be prosecuted and stripped of the immunity that Knesset members enjoy … Zoabi symbolizes a crack that continues to grow in the wall of Israel’s claim to the ‘only democracy in the Middle East.’”
In reality, the “backlash” wasn’t against these MKs’ views but their actions. Bishara was indicted for passing information to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War. Zoabi’s potential indictment (should Israel’s independent prosecution decide to file one) is for trying to run her own country’s blockade of an enemy with which it’s at war. In short, both allegedly tried to aid an enemy during wartime. That’s not voicing “criticism”; it’s a crime in every democracy on the planet.
Yet Hanania implies that Zoabi’s presence on May’s Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza was a mere peaceful protest, while the charges against Bishara were simply trumped up, a crude attempt to silence a critical voice. And uninformed readers might well believe him. They wouldn’t know, for instance, that Bishara himself was acquitted on unrelated charges just a year earlier — meaning he preferred flight and exile to standing trial, not because “critical” Arabs stand no chance in Israeli courts, but because this time the evidence against him was solid.
It’s hard to believe a slander as demonstrably false as that Israeli Arabs lack civil rights could gain traction. But clearly, it has. Otherwise, two such eminently mainstream newspapers wouldn’t have printed it.