The Mossawa Center participates in discussion on shrinking spaces in Israel’s public discourse

Date: 2019/03/06
The Mossawa Center participates in the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung’s roundtable on “shrinking spaces in the public discourse in Israel” alongside six German parliamentarians and other civil society representatives, drawing attention to recent attacks on attacks on Palestinian citizens’ freedom of expression

On July 19th, 2018, the Jewish Nation-State Law became one of tens of illiberal laws passed in recent years that directly targets the Palestinian Arab minority. Many of these laws seek to silence critical voices in Israeli society, particularly those of Palestinians. Laws like the “Nakba Law” (2011), the “Boycott Law” (2011) and the “NGO Law” (2016) disproportionately impact Palestinian citizens of Israel and Arab civil society organizations, denying them their most basic right to freedom of expression. This legislative trend is both the cause and the effect of a socio-political climate that is increasingly hostile to progressive points of view, particularly those that are critical of the government and the occupation, but also of those that promote religious tolerance, minority rights, and democratic values.



In light of this increasingly oppressive climate, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung invited several civil society representatives to share their concerns with six members of the German parliament. Participants included MPs Manja Schüle, Christian Lange, Falko Mohrs, Eva Högl, Thomas Oppermann and Alexander Schweitze, as well as representatives of Peace Now, the New Fund for Cinema and Television, Molad, and Neve Shalom. The civil society representatives offered the German attendees insight on their experiences operating in a climate of fear and repression. The Director of the Mossawa Center, Jafar Farah, noted that the degree to which critical discourse is under attack is most apparent in the discourse, policies, and legislative objectives of the Culture Minister, Miri Regev. In recent years, Regev has implemented a policy of withholding funds from Palestinian and progressive cultural institutions, including Al-Midan Theater. Before the dissolution of the Knesset, she championed the “Loyalty in Culture” bill, which seeks to deny government funding for cultural institutions that call into question Israel’s identity as Jewish and democratic, harm or disrespect the symbols of the state, or mark Nakba Day as a day of mourning. Just this week, she called for the removal of a Palestinian member of the Ministry of Culture’s staff for a 2017 Facebook post.



Whether such attacks on public discourse are codified into law or enacted in policy, they promote a culture wherein dissent or the mere expression of one’s identity is considered treasonous. This climate not only hinders the development of civil society, it also limits full democratic expression. With the Israeli elections approaching, Jafar Farah reminded the roundtable participants of the degree to which attacks on dissent and civil society result in a one-sided, immutable political climate. In the case of Israel, such a climate has resulted the disintegration of democratic currents promoting democracy, human rights, peace, and, in turn, the stagnation of the peace process. In order to reverse this trend a vibrant public discourse wherein progressive voices, particularly in the Arab, Mizrahi, and Russian communities, can forge an alternative political reality must be promoted. Through advocacy at the national level, as well as through projects to empower Arab civil society in Israel, the Mossawa Center seeks to reverse this trend by growing the spaces available for public discourse. In the current climate, however, it is also of the utmost importance that the international community support such initiatives and take a stand against the illiberal policies and language that have taken such a strong hold of Israeli politics and society and so greatly undermine the principals that are essential to democracy.

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