In short, equality is the basic tenet of a liberal western democracy and without it a country is not democratic in practice although possibly democratic by law.
....in a series of three decisions that are separate but connected through a stench of racism and discrimination, Israel entered the dismal pantheon of nondemocratic states. This past Wednesday, Israel decided to be like apartheidera South Africa, and some will say even worse countries that no longer exist. (( "Our apartheid state, Three racist, discriminatory decisions undermine Israel's democratic character," by Yossi Paritzky, YNet News, July 24, 2007.))
The following are comments made by Yossi Beilin, a member of the Knesset, and chairman of the Israeli MeretzYahad Party, on the uproar caused in the United States over former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.
I cannot recall when the publication of a book has generated such a debate in Israel. And even though we are talking here about a book that was published in the United States and has yet to be translated into Hebrew, the quiet way in which "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" has been received in Israel is nevertheless noteworthy, not least because it is Israel itself that is the object of Carter's opprobrium.
Part of the explanation for why Carter's book did not set off any public outcry in Israel lies in the difference in literary culture. For better or worse -- and I, for one, certainly think that it is for worse -- books just don't matter here in the way they still do elsewhere. Yet perhaps a larger part of the explanation lies with the difference in political culture, and with local sensitivities (or perhaps insensitivities) to language and moral tone.
It is not that Israelis are indifferent to what is said about them, but the threshold of what passes as acceptable here is apparently much higher than it is with Israel's friends in the United States. In the case of this particular book, the harsh words that Carter reserves for Israel are simply not as jarring to Israeli ears, which have grown used to such language, especially with respect to the occupation.
In other words, what Carter says in his book about the Israeli occupation and our treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories -- and perhaps no less important, how he says it -- is entirely harmonious with the kind of criticism that Israelis themselves voice about their own country. There is nothing in the criticism that Carter has for Israel that has not been said by Israelis themselves. (( "Carter Is No More Critical of Israel Than Israelis Themselves," by Yossi Beilin, The Forward, January 19, 2007 republished in Occupation Magazine, February 2, 2007.))
Uri Avnery, the leader of the Israeli peace organization Gush Shalom, also served in the Israeli Knesset. He has written many articles criticizing the occupation of Palestinian land after the 1967 War. ((See for example "On Israeli Fascism: A Little Red Light," by Uri Avnery, CounterPunch, April 28, 2009; and "Racists for Democracy," by Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom, May 30, 2009, published in Occupation Magazine, May 31, 2009.)) In one of his many articles he compared Manifest Destiny in the United States and Israel.
In this respect, too, Israel resembles the United States, which was founded along the Eastern seaboard and did not rest until it had reached the Western shores on the other side of the continent. The incessant stream of mass immigration from Europe flowed on westwards, breaching all borders and violating all agreements, exterminating the Native Americans, starting a war against Mexico, conquering Texas, invading Central America and Cuba. The slogan that drove them on and justified all their actions was coined in 1845 by John O'Sullivan: Manifest Destiny.
The Israeli version of Manifest Destiny is Moshe Dayan's slogan: "We are fated". Dayan, a typical representative of the second generation, made two important speeches in his life. The first and better known was delivered in 1956 at the grave of Roy Rutenberg of Nahal Oz, a kibbutz facing Gaza: "Before their [the Palestinians in Gaza] very eyes we turn into our homestead the land and villages in which they and their forefathers have lived ... This is the fate of our generation, the choice of our life - to be prepared and armed, strong and tough - or otherwise, the sword will slip from our fist, and our life will be snuffed out."
He did not mean only his own generation. The second, lesser known speech is more important. It was delivered in August 1968, after the occupation of the Golan Heights, before a rally of young Kibbutzniks. When I asked him about it in the Knesset, he inserted the entire speech into the Knesset record, a very unusual procedure in our parliament.
This is what he told the youth: "We are fated to live in a permanent state of fighting against the Arabs ... For the hundred years of the Return to Zion we are working for two things: the building of the land and the building of the people ... That is a process of expansion, of more Jews and more settlements ... That is a process that has not reached the end. We were born here and found our parents, who had come here before us ... It is not your duty to reach the end. Your duty is to add your layer ... to expand the settlement to the best of your ability, during your lifetime ... (and) not to say: this is the end, up to here, we have finished."
Dayan, who was well versed in the ancient texts, probably had in mind the phrase in the Chapter of the Fathers (a part of the Mishnah, which was finished 1800 years ago and formed the basis of the Talmud): "It is not up to you to finish the work, and you are not free to stop doing it."
That is the hidden agenda. We must haul it up from the depths of our unconscious minds to the realm of consciousness in order to face it, to reveal the terrible danger inherent in it, the danger of an eternal war which may in the fullness of time lead this state to disaster. (( "Manifest Destiny?," by Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom, April 12, 2008.))
Sometimes the sons and daughters of leading Israeli politicians also strongly disagree with their parents politics on the Palestinian issue. Here are the comments of Steven Plaut, a strong Zionist supporter, who has taken upon himself the task of attacking former Israeli critics of Israel.