"I come from a political tradition that welcomes diversity of voices… I look from afar and think that [Israeli] democracy would be healthier … if there wasn't an attempt to shut down dissident voices. I think we benefit from dissident voices. I think we benefit from criticism … and not trying to shut down opposing voices."Great discussion on #QandA last night on what's happening in Israel from visiting Knesset member Merav Michaeli and Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus.Well done Habonim Dror Australia, Ameinu Australia and others for bringing Merav to Australia.
I’m a board member of the New Israel Fund Australia.
The New Israel Fund supports Israeli social justice and human rights organisations. Israel’s known for its robust democracy and outspoken media. I’m sure you’ve heard the old joke about two Jews having three opinions. However, for some years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist government has made it their practice to encourage attacks on Israel’s social justice and human rights organisations by falsely painting them as makers of fake news and falsely helping to delegitimise Israel internationally. Do you see the threat to Israel’s democracy as part of the same so-called fake news phenomenon, or is it something different? How’s the health of Israel’s democracy today and into the future?
Well, I think Israeli democracy is very strong. That goes together with, yes, I think the Government which I oppose to and I’m in the Opposition of is hurting and eroding, unfortunately. I don’t think they’ll succeed, though. And, you know, we were discussing right now the gap between politicians who do things for their own interest rather than for their communities.
And I think – and you didn’t ask about that but it…maybe someone will – you look at both leaders and both governments, the Israeli one and the Palestinian one – the Palestinian Authority – and you see, on both societies, a vast majority that supports the two-state solution and wants a solution and wants peace. But you see two leaderships that are not interested, not capable or not… I don’t know what, but they’re not doing it, even though it’s in the best interests for…of their two societies and two countries.
So I think the people, ultimately, know what they want and the people in Israel want a democratic state, so they’re not going to let anyone take it away from them.
Mark Dreyfus, did you want to jump in here, as well?
Yeah, I’d defer to Merav, obviously, Irving, about the state of Israeli democracy because Merav is working in it every day. The particular matter you raised about civil society organisations, the voices of NGOs, I think is an important one.
I come from a political tradition which welcomes diversity of voices. And we’ve got a little bit of an analogy here in this country, we’ve got a government that, in my policy area related to legal assistance, has tried to shut down advocacy by community legal centres. On a much larger scale, regrettably, in Israel, the right-wing government there has tried to shut down some… the voices of some NGOs.
You know, I’m not a practitioner of Israeli politics, I’m an Australian politician, but I look from afar and think the democracy would be healthier if more diversity of voices were welcomed and if there was not an attempt to shut down dissident voices. I think we benefit from dissident voices. I think we benefit from criticism. I know Anthony Grayling will agree with this, it’s about people participating and making their voices heard and not trying to shut down opposing voices. It’s exceptionally important that we welcome diverse voices even when we disagree with them because we might just learn something and we might actually improve the quality of government.
Zed Seselja, you wanted to say something?
Yeah, I did. And I, again, would defer to Merav on some of the detail. And one of the great things, I think, as an external observer of Israel, that I see is that people like Merav and others have a really strong ability in Israel to critique the government of the day, to attack the government of the day and to come up with alternate policies.
And I’m often surprised at the vehemence with which some people attack Israel. Of course, it has its issues and that’s for the Israeli people to debate those issues internally, but as someone looking at it from the outside, it seems to me to still be a pretty vibrant democracy and in comparison to many, many countries around the world and, indeed, in the region, it seems to cop more criticism than other countries where they don’t have the same level of democracy and the same level of human rights.