We need to end colonialism, not defend ‘Jewish democracy’

One Democratic State Campaign  /  February 26, 2023

The current protest movement in Israel is an internal Zionist dispute that seeks to preserve “democracy” without challenging Jewish settler colonialism, apartheid, and Jewish supremacy over Palestinians.

Editor’s Note: The One Democratic State Campaign released this statement on February 21, 2023. Mondoweiss occasionally publishes press releases and statements from organizations in an effort to draw attention to overlooked issues.

The Alternative: Building a Movement of Liberation Against a Colonial Regime, not Demonstrating to Defend “Jewish Democracy”

February 21, 2023

Since Israel’s Minister of Justice, Yariv Levin, announced sweeping “reforms” in Israel’s judicial system, intended to nullify the power of the Supreme Court to declare laws unconstitutional and to pack the judiciary with political appointees, a regime based on settler colonialism, apartheid and Jewish supremacy over Palestinians has been debating how to preserve itself as “a democracy”. A growing protest movement has arisen calling for civil disobedience, including “militant” statements of defiance by former senior political, security and military officials.

No one can predict how this confrontation will end. It is clear, however, that it represents solely an internal Zionist dispute. The protests never reference the other side of Israeli “democracy”: the exclusion of Arab [Palestinian] citizens, who the “opposition” leaders make clear are neither welcome to join the protests nor are even considered a legitimate part of the political system. On the contrary. The leadership of the opposition believes that conspicuous participation of Palestinians in the demonstrations might actually harm their struggle against the government, since it gives the ruling coalition of Netanyahu, Ben Gvir and Smotrich a pretext for smearing the protests as “anti-Zionist”. And, needless to say, those who struggle to “preserve democracy”, the Zionist “liberals”, have never even pretended to recognize the national and democratic rights of the Palestinians living under a cruel regime of colonial apartheid in the 1967 Occupied Territories, the refugee camps and the Exile. 

Regardless whether the coalition and the opposition in Israel reach a settlement or whether the rifts that have developed within the state and the settler society will remain incurable, our Palestinian people continue their struggle and their legendary steadfastness. Nonetheless, given the political realities, a debate has arisen within the political elite of the 1948 Palestinians over how to best respond to the events. Leaders of some Arab [Palestinian] political parties and a handful of activists do call for participation in the demonstrations of the Zionist opposition. The overwhelming majority of our people, however, refrain from participating, realizing the moral contradiction and political harm that such participation entails.

We are not observing a class struggle. The colonial project and the privileges it provides to the settler society prevent the development of class consciousness. Nor is it a struggle over the solutions required to end the crimes of occupation, colonialism and apartheid or to end the suffering of the Palestinian people. Rather, we are witnessing merely a struggle over who shapes and controls the apartheid system, all with the aim of preserving Jewish supremacy and colonial rule. And, for Palestinians, it matters little who does control the court system. Whether liberal or conservative Zionists, the Israeli courts, from the lowest to the highest, will continue to legitimize and enforce the crimes of expulsion, massacres, and ethnic cleansing, all of which are essential to preserving the Israeli state apparatus’ control over the Palestinian majority between the River and the Sea. 

For all these reasons, Palestinian citizens refuse to participate in demonstrations aimed at protecting “Jewish democracy”. Palestinians and the Jews who oppose apartheid and settler colonialism must continue building a united resistance movement; they must not get distracted by “protests” that only legitimize a fake democracy and in fact strengthen its repressive system of colonization and control. A genuine movement of liberation requires a long-term resistance strategy, a national and human liberation vision. It should unite those who live in Palestine and those who were expelled by the Zionist movement and its embodiment, the state of Israel. This movement should pose a clear alternative: building a single democratic state in historic Palestine on the ruins of the apartheid regime and its criminal offshoots.

This is the real alternative to participating in a protest movement intended to preserve a racist colonial regime. It is a realistic alternative, demanding long, hard struggle. But it leads us in the right political direction, unlike protests that only offer cosmetic improvements to an unjust and violent system of oppression. This goal can only be achieved by a Palestinian national, democratic movement, after rebuilding itself, recovering its liberating, humane vision and mobilizing around a political program – in our view, that of a single democratic state over all of historic Palestine. It requires the articulate combination of internal popular struggle with external struggle as represented by the boycott strategy and the force of international solidarity.

One Democratic State Campaign

The One Democratic State Campaign is a new initiative, based currently mostly inside 1948 Palestine. It brings together veteran democratic academics, politicians and activists as well as activists from the emerging youth movements. It aims to create a wide movement that will bring together supporters of democratic alternatives to Zionist colonialism and occupation, finding ways for people from different political backgrounds and holding different ideologies to work together within a pluralistic movement.