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  • ACRI

2018 - A Dangerous Year for Democracy


The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) published today (12/10/2018) its annual position paper regarding the state of human rights in Israel. The paper shows that 2018 was characterized by a well-planned effort to undermine various state institutions, to silence any criticism of the government, and to harm minority rights in Israel.

The position paper, "State of Human Rights 2018," published on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, focuses on one area – the wave of anti-democratic laws passed in the Knesset this year, that was accompanied by a public de-legitimization campaign aimed at gatekeepers, minorities, and the Israeli civil society.

Among these initiatives are attempts to change the system of checks and balances among state authorities; advancing legislation aimed at damaging the status or rights of the Arab minority in Israel; infringing freedom of speech; blurring the legal boundary between the sovereign state of Israel and the occupied territories (which, in turn, negatively impacts democracy and human rights). One prominent example of this dangerous trend is the attempt to pass bills aimed to counter what members of the government repeatedly call "lack of governance", such as the addition of the "cessation clause" to the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and the "Legal Counsel Bill."

These bills are part of the government's ongoing attacks on various State institutions: The Supreme Court; the Attorney General; the Police; the State Comptroller; the Ministry of Justice, and legal advisers in other government ministries. The government has promoted various reforms or bills aimed at curbing any administrative body it deems "disruptive," limiting their power and authority, in order that they remain subordinate to the government.

During the past year the government also tried to pass various initiatives aimed at eroding freedom of expression and the legitimacy of diverse opinions, such as the Loyalty in Culture Law, which is a part of Culture Minister Miri Regev's ongoing attempts to deny funding to institutions whose activities are incompatible with her positions. Another piece of legislation that violates freedom of expression and pluralism is an amendment to the State Education Law that intends to prevent certain organizations from lecturing in schools (informally known as the “Breaking the Silence Law”) and a discussed amendment to the "Boycott Law."

The law that most reflects the current attack on democracy and human rights is the Nation-State Law. The general message conveyed by the law is that the state is Jewish and only belongs to Jews. The law entirely disregards national minorities and their rights, and, in turn, clearly deems non-Jews, especially the indigenous Arab minority that constitute 20% of the country's citizenry, as second-class citizens. The effects of this law could be seen in recent racist campaigns and when members of the Afula City Council swore to "preserve the Jewish character" of the city "in accordance with the Nation-State Law."

Another discriminatory law is the Hebrew Jurisprudence Law, which reflects a preference for orthodox Jewish interpretation of law at the expense of modern democratic values and the principle of equal rights.

In the 20th Knesset, there are many legislative initiatives aimed at promoting the "legal annexation" of the West Bank by increasing the Knesset's sovereignty over the West Bank, and undermining the legal basis of the military regime that commenced in June 1967. The initiators of the legislation even argued equality, democracy, and human rights as the overriding goal of their legislation — as long as these overarching values relate solely to Israeli citizens.

Among these legislative initiatives: a directive that the Ministerial Committee on Legislation must discuss the potential application in the West Bank of every government bill; an amendment to the Council for Higher Education (CHE) Law, which abolished the separation that previously existed between the CHE in Israel and the CHE in Judea and Samaria; and an amendment to the Administrative Courts Law, which transferred oversight of administrative petitions relating to the West Bank from the High Court of Justice to the Jerusalem Administrative Court.

"This past year we witnessed how the very disturbing trend of shrinking democratic space has been gaining momentum," says Debbie Gild-Hayo, ACRI's policy advocacy director. "In order to protect human rights and strengthen democracy, we must first recognize the danger lurking before us. If we do not stop the increasingly restricted and illiberal democratic regime, practices of discrimination, violation of equality, limited freedom of expression, and preference for one ideology over another will become more widespread — ultimately harming all citizens and residents of the country whose lives, faith, or affiliations do not conform with the agenda and values of the government."

For updates on Anti-Democratic Legislation, click here.

For a comprehensive list of Anti-Democratic Legislation, click here.

For an outline on the restrictions on NGOs and activists as of 2018, click here.


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