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Hebrew University
[HUJ] Democracy and "Real Democracy": A View from the Campus


HUJ Prof. Yaron Ezrahi

Email: yaron.ezrahi@huji.ac.il

Editorial Note: 

It has been a long standing custom of radical faculty to claim that Israel is an apartheid state and/or a semi-fascist state that is suppressing Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Indeed, Oren Yiftachel, (BGU) a self described critical geographer and neo-Gramscian - a follower of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci who urged intellectuals and academics to turn their work into a platform for social change- has made his name by calling Israel a "creeping apartheid" state. His BGU colleague Lev Grinberg described the Israeli system as semi-fascist.
A new group called Real Democracy took this critique one step further.  As always these activists have a presence on campus, including Aya Shoshan, a student from the department of Politics and Government at BGU. Real Democracy activists declared that they are volunteering their vote to Palestinians in the territories so they can participate in the Israeli elections by proxy. 

A quick search reveals many were active in the 2011 summer protest, military service refusers and employees of Amnesty and NGOs related to New Israel Fund.

Yaron Ezrahi, a political science professor at Hebrew University, was interviewed and spoke favorably about the New Democracy initiative in an article by The National: Abu Dabi Media, and claimed that this election is not democratic.  Ezrahi, a long standing critic of Israeli politics, and the activists of the New Democracy should be made aware of the Freedom in the World 2013 report issued by Freedom House, the US based organization that rates political freedoms around the world.  In spite of the difficult domestic and international problems, Israel is classified as a "free" country; the indices in this category include open political competition, free media, respect for human rights and a thriving civil society.   In contrast, both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas ruled Gaza are classified as "not free."  Turkey under the Islamist rule is classified as "partially free" as the government has jailed hundreds of journalists, academics, human rights activists and military officers.
That radical faculty intent on criticizing Israel and blaming it for the failure of the peace process should avoid Freedom House statistics is logical from the perspective of those who have ideological stakes in the "apartheid theory." That their supporters like Ezrahi should do the same is puzzling, as it exposes the academy to charges of hypocrisy and erodes its credibility as an impartial conveyor of facts.  

The National: Abu Dhabi Media

Dozens of Israelis giving away their votes to Palestinians on Facebook
Hugh Naylor
Jan 18, 2013 

JERUSALEM // When Ofer Neiman votes in Israel's parliamentary elections next week, he will not be deciding on the party of his choice. Instead, Mr Neiman, an Israeli, will cast his ballot on behalf of a Palestinian that he has never met.

Mr Neiman is one of dozens of Israelis who have agreed to give voice to Palestinians living in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, whose future is being shaped by a political system in which they have no say and few influential allies.
Disillusioned by the inability of mainstream Israeli parties and politicians to end the occupation of the Palestinian Territories, home to about four million people, they have turned to social media to make their views known.

"We're saying that these elections are not democratic because millions of people who are affected by Israeli policies can't participate," said Mr Neiman, 42, a Jerusalem resident and activist who works as an English translator. "We're saying these elections are non-democratic and, hence, illegitimate."

On a Facebook page created last month called Real Democracy, Israelis offer Palestinians the chance to choose a party in the parliamentary elections on Tuesday. A Palestinian responds to an offer by posting on the page instructions for the Israeli to either cast a ballot for a party or boycott the poll altogether.

Real Democracy offers Facebook users a chance to demand that either Israel must end the occupation and support an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side with it, or offer those Palestinians Israeli-voting rights. The Facebook page has already received 1,300 "likes".

Participating members, however, generally refrain from advocating issues such as the two-state solution. Mostly, it is about highlighting what they consider a major contradiction of Israel's political system.
"On a basic level, there are no political parties that represent my positions," said Aya Shoshan, a 28-year-old Israeli and Tel Aviv resident who works at a company providing energy to West Bank Palestinians who are denied electricity by Israel.
"On a deeper level, there is a structural problem even if there was a party that represented me, because there are four million civilians practically living under Israeli rule and who have no right to vote."
She offered up her vote to a Palestinian on the Facebook page on January 5.

While some Israeli candidates have brought up the occupation during the election campaign, they have focused on what they describe as the "demographic threat" to the country's Jewish majority if Israel continues to rule over so many Palestinians.
Most of these candidates are centrists critical of the country's right-wing government, led by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is expected to be re-elected, heading a coalition that favours Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, hardline positions on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and, by extension, the occupation.

Yaron Ezrahi, professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, criticised politicians for hardly mentioning together "the words 'occupation' and 'peace'" during this election campaign.
Although a marginal group further left than the Israeli mainstream, Real Democracy, should be lauded because it "highlights the main issue - that this election is not democratic", Mr Ezrahi said.
Israelis, he added, "are sitting on a huge, coerced population that has no right to vote".
Real Democracy was founded not only to protest against the occupation. Its primarily left-leaning members also want to highlight what they consider the undemocratic nature of the United Nations and Israel's influence over one of its veto-bearing members in the Security Council, the United States.

Washington overwhelming supports Israeli positions in the world body, including opposition to the Palestinian upgrade last year to non-member-observer state in the General Assembly.

An Israeli woman, Shahaf Weisbein, however, seemed primarily concerned with Palestinian voting rights in the context of next week's elections. She offered to give her vote away on the Facebook page on January 3. "This is not a democracy, it is an apartheid regime," she posted on the Real Democracy page.
A 33-year-old Palestinian man from the West Bank, Mousa Maria, responded to Ms Weisbein online, telling her to vote for Israeli-Arab party, Balad.

Bassam Aramin, a 44-year-old Palestinian from east Jerusalem who participates in non-violent demonstrations against the occupation, responded to Mr Neiman's offer to give away his vote. Mr Aramin has instructed him to vote for Hadash, a socialist Jewish-Arab party.
"The idea is moral and it's a courageous one," he said of Mr Neiman and the Real Democracy campaign.
"The Israelis must be responsible for their occupation because it's in their name, and what they [Real Democracy's Israelis] have said is, 'No, it's not in our name'."



BBC News

The Israelis who give their vote to Palestinians

Aya Shoshan will vote according to the wishes of a Palestinian from the West Bank
When Israelis go to the polls on Tuesday, many will be voting for policies on dealing with the Palestinians. For some though, it is an opportunity to reach out to Palestinians themselves to let them have a say in Israeli politics, and they are doing this by donating their vote, as Yuval Ben-Ami reports from Tel Aviv.

Aya Shoshan does not look like the kind of person who would give up her right to vote.

Besides being a politics student at Ben Gurion University, she is a member of an organisation helping struggling Palestinian communities in the South Hebron hills benefit from renewable energy sources. In short, she is an informed, concerned Israeli citizen.

At some point, however, her concerns made her doubt Israel's very idea of democracy. "I believe that that the act of voting is far less important than that of creating public awareness." She says "There are almost four million Palestinians living under Israeli rule with no civil rights and in a state of shocking inequality."

Around a million-and-a-half Palestinians are citizens of Israel, and may vote in its elections. Two-and-a-half million others are governed by the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and by Hamas in Gaza, and have the vote in Palestinian municipal and legislative elections.

To varying degrees, the residents of all territories remain subject to Israeli policies.

Through a new initiative called Real Democracy, Ms Shoshan met a Palestinian from the West Bank, who, like other West Bank residents, is not eligible to vote in Israel's upcoming elections, and "donated" her vote to him.

"He hasn't yet decided who to vote for," she says. "He wrote to me online that the gesture truly moves him, and that he will study the Israeli parties and get back to me with his pick."

Facebook group
Real Democracy draws its inspiration from a campaign launched in Britain in 2010.

The campaign's Facebook page has drawn over 1,000 'likes'
The Give Your Vote project called on British citizens to donate their votes to individuals who are directly affected by UK policies in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Ghana.

Shimri Tzameret, an Israeli activist who studied in the UK and worked in a research initiative called Building Global Democracy at Warwick University, was involved in the British campaign and can be credited with importing the concept to his native land. In true democratic tradition, he rejects such recognition.

"There are no organisers and participants," he says, "there is no hierarchy. We are doing this horizontally."

Mr Tzameret believes the Palestinians to be unjustly disempowered, not only on a national level, but on an international one too.

"International organisations such as the UN are governed undemocratically," he says.

"The UN was founded six decades ago by the nations that won World War II. Since Israel is linked to the US, I benefit as an Israeli from the undemocratic power belonging to the US. This means that when I vote for the Israeli government I don't only vote for whoever governs the West Bank, but also for whoever governs the Security Council."

Interested in sharing this power, Mr Tzameret and his friends opened a Facebook group which quickly drew over a thousand Israelis and Palestinians.

An Israeli member may offer his or her vote, and a Palestinian may declare that he or she is willing to participate in the Israeli democratic process.

Since Israel prohibits most Palestinians from entering its territory without special permits and bars Israelis from visiting West Bank cities, most pairs will have never met in person.

Perhaps ironically, Mr Tzameret's Palestinian partner, a 19-year-old Hebronite named Omar, is considering using his right to vote to boycott the elections.

If this is Omar's final decision, Mr Tzameret vows to refrain from voting.

"Statistically, the weight of an individual's vote is negligible," he says, "and besides, all the talk about left and right within the Israeli system does nothing but camouflage the fact that this is not a democracy."

'Against the tide'

Bassam Aramin, whose daughter was killed in the conflict, supports the campaign
One better-known participant in the project on the Palestinian side is Bassam Aramin.

Mr Aramin's 10-year-old daughter was killed by a rubber bullet fired by an Israeli border guard during clashes with Palestinians in the West Bank town of Anata, in 2007.

He has since been active in reconciliation efforts. He is among the founders of Combatants for Peace, an organisation of former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants, who swap their weapons for words, and a member of the Bereaved Families Forum, which brings together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones to the conflict.

Mr Aramin quickly warmed to the idea. "Of course elections are an internal issue in every country, and outsiders must not interfere, but here the idea is one of protest: A democratic society conquers another. How can that be?"

He says he expected many Palestinians would object, but found the contrary to be true. "It appears to be our role to do those things that are unusual, to swim against the current," he says. "As for me, I'm glad that a campaign like this exposes Palestinians to good and moral people on the other side."

Mr Aramin's partner is an Israeli named Ofer. Through Ofer, he will be voting for Hadash, a party of Jewish Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel, promoting a progressive and socialist agenda.

"I thought as an Israeli, not as a Palestinian," he says. "I asked myself which party I would vote for had I been an Israeli, and this seemed to be the best choice."

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