Democracy in Defense of Democracy

There are many examples in modern history of democracies subverted by anti-democratic forces exploiting the rights and freedoms that democracies provide their citizens.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on November 13, 2001.)

There are many examples in modern history of democracies subverted by anti-democratic forces exploiting the rights and freedoms that democracies provide their citizens. Osama bin Laden had turned it into a strategy for his fanatic Islamic forces.

American professor Fouad Ajami describes this strategy in a recent article in Foreign Affairs: “In Tunisia, Egypt, and Algeria, tenacious Islamic movements were put down. In Saudi Arabia a milder Islamic challenge was contained. The counter-insurgencies had been effective, so the extremists turned up in the West. There, liberal norms gave them shelter”.

Over a span of two years, under the protection of American laws, bin Laden’s agents hatched the plot for the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11.

Eight years earlier, the World Trade Center was attacked by followers of the Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman. Abdul Rahman had found asylum in the United States only to mastermind this act of terrorism against his hosts. He was caught, put on trial and convicted.

But no legal measures to curtail the freedom to plan and carry out such hostile activities were taken at the time. Only after the September 11 disaster did the U.S. Congress rush through legislation putting certain restrictions on the liberties that American citizens had become used to, and additional legislation is probably on the way. The lesson has been learned – a democracy must protect itself, even at the cost of certain limits on the freedom of its citizens.

In Israel that lesson is only now being learned. Maybe under the impact of the war that President Bush has declared on terrorism and the American example, Israeli legislators are awakening to the need for appropriate measures that may be restrictive in nature but are nevertheless essential for the protection of Israel and its citizens.

For many years the Islamic Movement, preaching hostility to Israel and serving as a breeding ground for terrorists, has been allowed to function as a political and welfare organization. It has taken part in elections for the Knesset. One of its representatives, MK Abdul Malek Dehamshe has even been elected a deputy speaker of the Knesset. Dehamshe regularly engages in vitriolic attacks against the State of Israel and has said he is prepared to become a Shahid (martyr) in defense of Islamic holy sites that he believes Israel endangers.

The movement, though by no means representative of the majority of Israel’s Arab citizens, has been successful in making inroads into most of the Arab towns and villages. It is actively trying to penetrate the Bedouin community, urging their young men not to enlist in the IDF.

On top of that, they have succeeded in enraging the Christian community by illegally seizing the square opposite the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and intend to build a mosque there. The position of past Israeli governments has been downright reckless. In the name of democracy and civil rights, this subversive movement has been allowed to continue to operate unhampered.

A law introduced by Yisrael Katz MK was designed to prevent the entry into the Knesset of parties or candidates that support acts of terror or violence against Israel. When the law is passed, it will hopefully keep them out of the next Knesset. Nor will the Knesset be open to the likes of Azmi Bishara and Ahmed Tibi who regularly express support for the enemies of Israel.

On the day Katz’s bill passed its first reading, the Knesset decided by a large majority to lift the parliamentary immunity of MK Azmi Bishara so he can stand trial for the allegedly subversive statements he has been accused of making. This MK regularly visits Syria, a country at war with Israel, presenting himself as a representative of “occupied Palestine”, denouncing Israel and praising the terrorist organization Hezbollah.

This admirer of the Syrian dictatorship now has the nerve to claim that lifting his parliamentary immunity is undemocratic. Ahmed Tibi MK, the former advisor to Yasser Arafat has said these acts of the Knesset will leave the Israeli Arab community without representation in Israel’s parliament in future years. That is far from the truth.

As the representatives of the extremist minority of the Arab population depart the Knesset they will surely be replaced by Arab parliamentarians who speak for the silent majority – determined to fight for equal rights and for their constituency, but loyal to the State of Israel.

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