Netanyahu indictment shows promise, but larger issues linger

Griffin Perrault, Opinions Co-Editor

A few weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted on a diverse set of white-collar charges, among them bribery and fraud, the culmination of allegations including, according to the New York Times, “giving or offering lucrative official favors to several media tycoons in exchange for favorable news coverage or gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.” It is a great boon to the Israeli political system that Netanyahu and his hyper-nationalist Likud party will likely suffer profound electoral damage from this indictment. But it is not enough to save the country’s democracy.

The most profound challenge presented to a democratic Israel is the existence of Palestinians. Or, at least, such was the interpretation of Likud. Perhaps this is why a majority of party members are supportive of Israeli settlement in the West Bank — frequently necessitating the demolition of already-extant Palestinian structures, including homes — and entirely oppose the concept of a “two-state solution,” flatly refusing to recognize the separate statehood of Palestine. To sweep this party out of office is the first, and most pressing, step toward a truly democratic state. However, the problems run far deeper than merely bad politics, and essentially interdict any definition of liberal democracy with which a modern people may be comfortable. In refusing to recognize the statehood of Palestine — while still maintaining quite strict military checkpoints, high barriers to preclude cross-state travel, active racial discrimination in Israeli law and disparities in land access within and around settlements — the Israeli national government has created a system almost indistinguishable from that of racial apartheid. This is not a syllogism that requires much imagination; when the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination describes a state as having “two entirely separate legal systems and sets of institutions for Jewish communities grouped in illegal settlements on the one hand[,] and Palestinian populations living in Palestinian towns and villages on the other hand,” and when the Arab segment of the population does not even have rights to Israeli citizenship, it should be criticized quite harshly, regardless of its relationship with powerful first-world nations.

This leads us to the larger issue preventing a truly democratic Israel: the United States. According to Visualizing Palestine, between 2000 and 2009, American military aid to Israel topped $670 million; it used part of this military aid in the murder of nearly 3,000 unarmed Palestinians during this same time period. Not only is this in direct violation of international law (per the International Law Commission — states are culpable for aiding another state in an “internationally wrongful act” if it is (a) done with prior knowledge that the act would be committed and (b) would be wrongful if the former state were to commit the act itself), it’s even in violation of our own domestic law (“the Leahy Laws” are American statutes which assert largely the same as the ILC with regards to our international aid). There is a direct link between our military aid and the express violation of Palestinian human rights to life, liberty, and participatory democracy. This weapons regime is preserved largely through the assertion of Israel’s “right to self-defense” over Palestinian “terror” — which it has, according to international law, but not self-defense by force until all other options have been exhausted. To confuse and disorient this quite obvious distinction has been a key mission for the American government; thus invoking these violations does little substantive work towards a reduction in American arms trades, financial aid or tactical training to the Israeli military. If Israel’s political system continues to reject the idea of Palestinian self-determination — and if the United States backs them up with exorbitant martial and enforcement aid — they must, at the very least, provide for the social, political and legal enfranchisement of the Arab population. Until such is the case, there can be no true Israeli democracy.

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