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Israeli opposition fails to oppose controversial bills

The opposition parties' boycotting Knesset debates this week on three controversial bills is a failure for Israel's democratic process.
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish boy looks down from a balcony at a mass prayer in Jerusalem March 2, 2014. Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews held a mass prayer in Jerusalem on Sunday in protest against a bill meant to slash military exemptions granted to seminary students, a tradition held since the founding of Israel. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside (JERUSALEM - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION MILITARY) - RTR3FWP4
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The packaging of three controversial Israeli laws — the governability, sharing the burden and referendum laws — in a single coalition bundle caused a tempest in the political and media swamps. The opposition parties boycotted debates and votes on those laws, claiming that bundling them together was an assault against the principles of democracy. Members of the coalition responded that the boycott brought disgrace on the legislature, which was the sanctuary of democracy. Both sides were right. This parliamentary event will hardly go down in the golden book of Israeli democracy. However, it is just a symptom of a more serious disease that has affected the spine of Israeli society and its institutions over the past few years, or to be more precise, Israel’s Jewish society.

Not a day goes by without us hearing the prime minister calling on the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. But is it possible to recognize Israel as a democratic state, as a state that makes every effort to treat all of its citizens as equals, regardless of religion, race, nationality or gender? Just last week on March 6, Amir Levi, who is in charge of budgets at the Finance Ministry, admitted that there are significant gaps in the allocation of budgets to the Arab sector for education, the construction of daycare centers, public transportation lines and all matters pertaining to sources of business income for the Arab localities — compared to Jewish localities. Levi told this to the ministers of finance and science during a rare ministerial visit to the Arab town of Sakhnin in the Galilee. The most senior official in the Finance Ministry's budget department recommended a “root canal” to deal with the disease of discrimination facing non-Jewish localities, or in Levi’s more euphemistic terms, “unequal budgets.”

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