The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Democracy at Work in Israel

The big news in Israel last week: a politically marginal Arab woman and left leaning Palestinian activist had her political rights upheld, while a major right wing Jewish political leader with ties to the political establishment faces a tough investigation.

An Israeli Arab candidate who took part in Gaza flotilla has been allowed to stand for a seat in the Knesset, the Guardian reports:

An Israeli-Arab politician who took part in a flotilla attempting to breach the blockade of Gaza in 2010 will be able to compete in the general election in three weeks after the supreme court unanimously overturned a ban on her candidacy.

A panel of nine judges overruled a decision by the central elections committee to disqualify Haneen Zoabi from seeking re-election as a member of the Israeli parliament. The committee’s decision was based on her participation in the flotilla.

If we were endorsing Knesset candidates at Via Meadia, Ms Zoabi would probably not make our short list, but that is beside the point. The vindication of her right to run for office is a heartening sign that Israel’s democratic institutions continue to work. Lots of countries and people criticize Israel’s shortcomings, and there are plenty of things to criticize there as in most other countries, but we ask ourselves how many of the supercilious European countries who constantly upbraid Israel would maintain the same level of freedom under the same kind of pressure that Israel faces. Not many, we suspect.

In another sign of this good health: the judicial investigation of the powerful ex-foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman continues. For all its troubles, Israel remains a country where the law can force a powerful politician to resign his office to face charges—and an Arab woman who participated in the Gaza flotilla can have her political rights effectively protected in an Israeli court.

How many of Israel’s enemies are this scrupulous in protecting civil rights? How does Israel’s treatment of its Arab minority contrast with the fates of national and religious minorities (like the Kurds, the Copts and the Berbers) in the Arab world? It is almost infinitely better to be a gay Christian Palestinian anti-Israel activist in Tel Aviv than in Gaza or Riyadh or Tehran.

There are political forces in Israel that want to limit the political space for Arab and other politicians bitterly critical of Israel’s policies or in some cases of the country itself. We think that’s a mistake. Israel’s tolerance for opposition and forceful criticism is one of its greatest strengths and is a signal to the whole world about the remarkable nature of this society.

Published on January 1, 2013 2:39 pm