Israeli law to silence critics of its human rights violations

Israeli law to silence critics of its human rights violations

The Israeli Supreme Court refused this week to block a 2016 law that allows 90 members of Israel’s 120-member Knesset to remove other members if they engage in “racism” or “incite terrorism.”

Proponents of the law, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, cited numerous instances when Arab Knesset members met with the families of Palestinians accused of crimes, including one in 2016 that provoked the law. At that time, three Arab Knesset members visited the families of Palestinians accused of violence and, according to the biased Israeli news media, expressed condolences, observed a minute of silence, and offered support for “terrorism.”

The Arab Knesset members said they listened to the family’s complain about anti-Arab racism and discrimination. The families were also trying to recover the bodies of their slain relatives.

The intent of the new law is clear: To undermine and reduce the voices of non-Jews who speak out against Israel’s human rights violations. Getting 90 members of the Israeli Knesset to vote against an outspoken Arab member is not so far-fetched considering that only 18 members of the current Knesset are Arab.

The new Knesset law is a fundamental contradiction of Israel’s claims to be a “democracy” and undermines protections against minorities while increasing the powers of the majority — a classic foundation of apartheid.

Israel’s Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, who was joined by eight other judges, wrote in the verdict that the law “seriously infringes basic rights.” But she and the other Supreme Court members supported it anyway.

Hayut is not the only official defending the law. Nearly every major Israeli publication has justified the law while demonizing the Arab Knesset members who oppose the occupation and criticize Israel’s policies.

One of the leading Palestinian critics of Israel’s occupation and human rights violations is Ahmad Tibi, a deputy speaker of the Knesset, who could be targeted by Israel’s anti-democracy laws. Tibi said the law was written specifically to target non-Jewish members who speak out against the occupation and are intolerant of Israel’s civil rights abuses, including against Israel’s Palestinian “citizens.”

“This is obviously a law aimed at targeting the Arab MKs. No Israeli Jewish MKs will be targeted,” Tibi told Arab News. “They are concentrating and putting all their efforts to catch Arab MKs who are talking about the occupation, trying to accuse one of us of supporting terror. It is aimed to kick out — in an anti-Democratic way — elected Arab parliament members.”

Tibi said that, while the law highlights allegations against Arab Knesset members, it does not target Jewish Knesset members who support Israeli Jews who engage in violence, killing or racist anti-Arab rhetoric. “A lot of Jewish MKs are using racist words, declarations against Arabs, and against Palestinians. Not one of them will be brought and kicked out of the Knesset because of racist remarks under this law,” Tibi added.

Without objective news media coverage in Israel or in the US, Israel can get away with injustices, defend its human rights violations, and protect Jewish Israelis who are guilty of committing racism and violence against Christian and Muslim civilians.

Ray Hanania

Usually, only Palestinian citizens of Israel are accused of racism and terrorism, while Jewish Israelis are protected and rarely punished, except when the crimes can’t be denied, such as when they are filmed. But Israel is considering another law that would make it illegal to film the actions of Israeli soldiers, including when they commit crimes.

Earlier this month, Elor Azaria, an Israeli soldier, was released from prison after only serving nine months for shooting dead a Palestinian civilian. The victim, Abdul Fatah Al-Sharif, was seriously wounded when soldiers alleged he had attacked their colleagues. As he was lying on the ground, Azaria had walked up to Al-Sharif and shot him in the head.

The only reason Azaria was charged was that a member of the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem had filmed him killing the helpless, injured Palestinian victim. The video went viral, creating an uproar not even Israel’s corrupt judicial system could ignore.

Azaria was sentenced to 18 months for manslaughter, far less than prison sentences handed down to Palestinians accused of crimes. Although Israeli President Reuven Rivlin rejected calls to pardon him, numerous other Israeli officials defended Azaria, including Netanyahu, and the military reduced his jail time to only nine months.

Tibi said Israel’s Supreme Court legitimizes human rights abuses against non-Jews, not just in the Occupied Territories, but also Palestinian citizens of Israel. “I think the Supreme Court again failed in supporting minority and equal rights for all. Without the support of the Israeli Supreme Court for the last decades in all of the atrocities of occupation, like the assassinations, settlement, confiscation of land and deportations, the occupation cannot continue,” Tibi said. “They are legitimizing these atrocities in these kinds of motions.”

Without objective news media coverage in Israel or in the US, Israel can get away with injustices, defend its human rights violations, and protect Jewish Israelis who are guilty of committing racism and violence against Christian and Muslim civilians.

And, without an outcry from the Israeli and American news media, the Israeli Supreme Court felt no pressure to apply the international rule of law to their country’s many transgressions. The Israeli and American media should be leading the charge in exposing these legislative moves to undermine the rule of law, but they seem to only speak out when Palestinians commit crimes. If the Israeli and US media found the courage to confront Israel’s human rights violations, we would not only have democracy in Israel, we might also have peace.

The more radical Israel’s government becomes, the less likely it is that we can bring violence on both sides to an end, or achieve peace.

  • Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist and the author of several books including “Yalla! Fight Back.” His personal website is Twitter: @RayHanania
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view