Israel’s democratic sphere is being threatened on all fronts.
From one end, there is the threat of racism and silence. The occupation continues to corrupt and endanger Israeli society, and it is proven once again that a people who oppress another cannot be free themselves. The antagonism towards Arab leaders that began in the past few years has already expanded to affect all Arab citizens, with senior leaders now characterizing the entire Israeli Arab population as a demographic threat. In the last year, these attacks have even begun to reach those Jews who dare to think differently, the New Israel Fund, the Association for Civil Rights, artists, academics, writers, and intellectuals.
The second element of this threat is that of the economic oligarchy. In the words of Justice Brandeis, it is possible to maintain democracy and it is possible to maintain a concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, but it is impossible to maintain the two together. Unfortunately, his words are becoming fully evident in Israeli society today. The recent wave of privatizations in the last few decades is strengthening the wealthy, and in the Knesset, we see the tremendous amount of power that they hold, ensuring control over their assets, our natural resources, and our public space.
In the last two years we have devoted great efforts to combating these threats. Only a broad, democratic partnership that goes beyond political and ideological divisions is capable of defending our democratic sphere. The thousands of demonstrators in Tel Aviv, speaking out against the Loyalty Oath Bill proves that a large portion of the public is ready to join our struggle. Within the Knesset there is also hope. Of our own initiative, 30 MKs recently called for an emergency session to address the state of democracy in Israel. This unprecedented move demonstrates that even with a right-wing government, it is possible to create a wide, political front to combat these serious dangers to our society. I intend to promote the session’s decision to continue with joint activities both from within and outside of the Knesset.
At the same time, we have initiated the establishment of an unprecedented lobby (consisting of 14 party chairpersons in the Knesset) to raise the state’s income from natural resources. At this point, the struggle to increase state revenues from gas discoveries has led to the Sheshinski Commission's conclusions. In response to these conclusions, I have called for an increase in the gas royalties rather than raising taxes, in order ensure that the people receive their share of the profits. I have also called to start the payment of these royalties as soon as possible. Only public pressure has the ability to prevent the continued abandonment of natural resources for the benefit of business tycoons, Israeli and foreign. In this context, I am also working for change in the Dead Sea, where a company named ‘Chemical for Israel,’ is mining for natural resources, while causing major damage to the environment, while paying minimal royalties to the government. I have submitted an urgent query on the subject, in cooperation with the Israel Union for Environmental Defense to the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Construction and Housing, and we will continue to keep you updated on their responses and our progress on this issue.
One notable recent achievement was the Supreme Court’s decision to stop the construction of the separation fence next to the village of Al-Walaje. This achievement was made possible by the joint struggle of village residents and environmental organizations who managed to stop a wall that would not only have destroyed the residents’ lives, but also a beautiful and unique environment. As chairman of the Environment and Health Committee, I also continue to be involved in the debate regarding the huge project to produce olive shale in the Judean plains.
We also saw a significant achievement in the parliament this week, when a revolutionary bill requiring energy efficiency procedures in all government facilities passed its first reading. Energy efficiency is key to reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and it is also a significant cost-saving measure. In spite of all of the objections and obstacles, I intend to work hard to complete the legislation for this important bill by the end of the year.
Finally, I would like to invite you all to an anti-fascist workshop, which I will participate in, initiated by the Tel Aviv branch of Maki – Israel’s communist party.