Knesset head worried about Israel democracy

Israel’s Knesset speaker this week expressed concern over the state of the country’s democracy following a recent wave of legislation that was widely seen as an attempt to stifle dissent.

In a July 26 interview with the Associated Press, Reuven Rivlin said he was especially worried about any law that could undermine the rights of Israel’s Arab minority.

“This is unacceptable,” he said. “It is a danger to the existence of the state of Israel.”

A member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, Rivlin takes a hard line when it comes to Palestinian demands that Israel withdraw from occupied territory in the West Bank.

At the same time, he is a fierce defender of the democratic rights of all citizens, including the 20 percent of the population who are Arabs.

Hard-liners in the Knesset have passed a series of laws in the past year that were seen as anti-Arab. One law requires non-Jewish immigrants to take a loyalty oath. The law does not apply to Jewish immigrants, who automatically receive citizenship under Israel’s “Law of Return.”

Reuven Rivlin photo/ap/ariel schalit

Parliament recently passed a law that would punish Israelis who call for boycotts of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Critics said the law, which allows those targeted by boycotts to sue for damages, infringed on the right to free speech. Opponents already have challenged the law in the Supreme Court.

A related bill calling for parliamentary investigations of Israeli human rights groups failed to pass.

Rivlin did not get into details on the specifics of the various bills, but said Israel must find the proper balance between being the Jewish state and being a democracy that respects everyone’s rights.

“You can’t have Israel as a Jewish country without it being a democratic country,” he said. “It has to be a democratic state.” — ap