“Only democracy in the Middle East” cracks down on free speech

by Yaniv Reich on January 19, 2010

You can argue for the merits of Israeli democracy, of which there are a few, but you cannot do so without taking account of the fact of the institutionalized system of segregation, the differentiated structure of civil and political rights, including state-sponsored discrimination against non-Orthodox Jews, and the fact that Israel has ruled over millions of Palestinians with a military occupation for the last 43 years.

And you can’t ignore Israel’s continuing crackdown of freedom of speech and assembly even inside Israel.

From a recent Ha’aretz editorial:

The arrest of 17 civil rights activists demonstrating in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on Friday and their detention by the police overnight represents another stage in the Israel Police’s get-tough attitude and willingness to infringe on freedom of demonstration, protest and speech in this country. The right to demonstrate is an important component of freedom of expression, and something which Israeli courts have enshrined as a “supreme right.”

The detainees, who included the director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Hagai Elad, endangered no one and broke no law; their arrest was therefore nothing less than false arrest. Moreover, the police’s claim that the protesters had no license to demonstrate was rejected by a court, which declared that a protest vigil does not require a permit and there was no reason to disperse it or arrest the protesters.

The only conclusion is that the police have decided to wage war on the demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah and use force to end the protests, something they have neither the right nor authority to do.
The arrest of the protesters for no reason creates the suspicion that the police have had enough of these demonstrations. It also shows that the police discriminate between demonstrators from the right and left. While right-wing activists run amok in the West Bank to protest against the construction freeze and are almost never arrested, civil-rights demonstrators are being detained in increasing numbers.

These actions raise serious suspicions over Israel’s commitment to some of the most basic tenets of any functioning democracy.

Thanks to Richard Silverstein of the Tikkun Olam blog for pointing out the original article.

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