Balad-Tajammu party says Israeli protest movement is fighting for ‘a democracy for Jews only’

Jonathan Ofir

Mondoweiss  /  March 24, 2023

The Balad-Tajammu’ party says the current Israeli protest movement is fighting for a fake democracy for Jews only. How sobering it is that this view is considered so radical it is beyond the pale for Israeli politics.

Standing at the furthest left edge of the Israeli political spectrum is the the National Democratic Alliance party (al-Tajammu, or going under the Hebrew acronym, Balad). Since its founding, it has advocated for one democratic state in Palestine. Last week the party published a statement in Hebrew concerning the recent wave of protests that have engulfed Israel in an attempt to influence the mostly Israeli-Jewish public attending the mass demonstrations. 

It is a powerful and profound statement. It goes against the current and calls for a much larger framing of “democracy” than the limited one which the protests seek to preserve. Balad/al-Tajammu’ says the democracy being fought for in these protests amounts to “a procedural democracy that is founded on the concept of Jewish supremacy.” Instead, the protest movement should “present an alternative, democratic, substantive and egalitarian model for all citizens, not a democracy for Jews only.”

Balad/al-Tajammu’ has a tenuous relationship with Israeli democracy itself. The party has often been a target of Zionist attempts to exclude it from elections on the basis of the Knesset Basic Law paragraph 7(a), which states that a party or a candidate for elections may not negate “the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” The Supreme Court has historically prevented these attempts, but this may no longer be the case if the proposed legislation weakening the Supreme Court’s independence is adopted.

Here is the statement in full (as translated by Ofer Neiman):

Only a struggle for the establishment of substantive democracy will stop the judicial coup

Although more than eight weeks have elapsed since the onset of the wave of protests against the government’s judicial coup, apart from small pockets of solidarity, the protest has so far ignored the destructive implications of these moves with respect to the Palestinian citizens, and the deepening of the occupation planned by the government. 

Ignoring the immediate connection between the ongoing violation of the rights of the Palestinian people on both sides of the green line and the judicial coup informs us that it is not for a genuine democracy and substantial citizenship that the masses are currently taking to the streets, but for the preservation of the “Jewish and Democratic” equation, which focuses on a procedural democracy that is founded on the concept of Jewish supremacy.

Israel has always been a state with a very thick Jewish regime and a thin, shallow democracy. The rights of its Palestinian citizens have always been narrow in comparison to those of its Jewish citizens, and usually conditional. Now, the widening cracks in this democratic veneer are also threatening the spaces of liberal rights and the individual liberties of the Jewish public, who have quickly taken to the streets in the name of protecting democracy. It goes without saying that these cracks are all the more threatening to the collective rights of the Palestinian citizens, and are leading to the deepening of the occupation. 

An uprising against the narrowing of the democratic space that is detached from the socio-political processes that have brought us to this point, including a change of elites between secular Zionism and religious-settler Zionism, is no more than an intra-Jewish power struggle for hegemony, which has nothing to do with a real struggle for a democratic regime.

Expecting the Palestinian-Arab public to mobilize for this struggle is more than unfounded; it also amounts to insolence. In addition to the moral flaw, such disregard for the Palestinian citizens by the protest is also devoid of any political wisdom, since one of the main targets on the right-wing government’s target list is the elimination of parliamentary representation for the Arab citizens, and without such representation, the right would be able to secure its rule forever. By doing so, the anti-Bibi camp continues on that same fruitless path, ignoring the substantive violation of the rights of Palestinian citizens, just as they were silent in the past in the face of manifestations of racism and discrimination against the Palestinian citizens and the occupation, and have often even been accomplices to this policy. Among these manifestations of racism and discrimination, one can cite the “Nakba Law”, the Admissions Committees Law, the Citizenship Law, as well as the Nation-State Law, even if faint reservations were voiced as to the latter. 

Thwarting [Justice Minister] Levin’s plan on its own will not ensure a democratic regime and will not blaze the trail leading there. In the face of Levin’s plan, one should present an alternative, democratic, substantive and egalitarian model for all citizens, not a democracy for Jews only. The attempt to turn back the clock, to the days when the mask on the face of the Jewish supremacy regime had a tight fit, is a futile one, since if one does not address the root causes that have led to the rise of the fascist right, Israeli politics is necessarily doomed to arrive at the same point again and again. In order to break free from this frenetic loop one must recognize the structural contradiction between a regime based on the concept of Jewish supremacy and a substantive democratic regime with full civil equality, and choose the latter. There is no other way.

These words speak an obvious truth. If some are “more equal than others” in an alleged democracy, then it’s a fake democracy – not just imperfect, but a fraud. How sobering it is to think that this view is considered so radical in Israeli politics that it is seen as beyond the pale. 

The protest movement must be bewildering to many watching from outside of Israeli society. How a protest that so vociferously chants the slogan “DE-MOC-RA-CY,” is actually opposed to it? 

All of this comes back to Zionism. The Palestinian issue is being ignored because of Zionism. That is the elephant in the room that all Zionists want to keep. Yesterday, Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy’s opinion piece was published under the title “Israelis Know That True Democracy Will Spell the End of Zionism”:

“The greatest threat facing Israel is the democratic threat. There is no greater danger to the regime in Israel than its turning into a democracy.”

Many will dismiss these faults as minor matters, cosmetic issues to be solved at some point in the future after “democracy” is secured. But they are attempting to get back to the good old days. As the Balad/al-Tajammu’ statement says, it is a mask which once had “a tight fit,” and they want it back. For those who see the true face of this Jewish supremacy, the mission is to point out the real face behind the mask.

Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark