Monday, May 15, 2006

democratic lifeline

In his address assembling the new security cabinet Sunday, Ehud Olmert said that this would be the vehicle driving a new era in determining Israel's way of life and democratic nature. In hebrew, he used the term "arichat hahaim" which spelled one way means way of life, and spelled another means length of life, or lifeline.

He made the announcement only a couple hours after the supreme court decided to uphold its standing law preventing Palestinians married to Israeli Arabs from living together in Israeli territory. In a vote of six to five, the supreme court upheld a discriminatory law that could have been avoided if Israel had a constitution. Five of eleven supreme court justices said the law was discriminatory, and supported the petitions to change it - but the law stands.

The justices' reasoning was that in time of war, you can't grant citizenship to the enemy. Judge Mishael Cheshin, who announced his resignation just before the final debate on the issue and serves his last day tomorrow, said a few months ago, "No one is preventing them from building a family but they should live in Jenin instead of in [the Israeli Arab city of] Umm al-Fahm."

Could an American supreme court justice make the same case for a U.S. citizen wanting to bring over his or her Iraqi partner?

Proponents say the ruling is not a matter of infringement on citizens' civil rights but rather a necessary wartime precaution, which leads us to understand that in wartime, civil rights don't count.

Right after the ruling, Justice Minister Haim Ramon said Israel's citizenship law had to be set into basic law, and said he'd do it in six months.

But without a constitution, there is no way to insure citizens' rights. Basic law does not have the same power as a living constitution. Without a constitution there is no vehicle to allow citizens to challenge a particular law on an individual basis with the guarantee of a general citizens' right.

When the citizenship law is set into place, there will be no room for arguments of discrimination. Amendments can be made, but not with the backing of the constitutional right of the citizen. The law will be determined with consideration of security and religion, and will not consider the rights of those who are affected by the rule. The basic law will only continue to perpetuate the cycle of discrimination, because it will establish a general rule without consideration of rights. It will allow for a supreme court justice to suggest its non-Jewish citizen go live in a refugee camp in a violent non-state rather than give its citizen's spouse the right to live with family. Setting this law, or any law, without a consitution provides only a legal basis for systemic discrimination.

The difference between determinining Israel's 'way of life' and its 'lifeline' is minimal. As long as Israel continues to set its way of life without consideration for the varying and individual needs of its diverse citizens, its lifeline shakes. As long as Israel continues to spout democratic rhetoric while doing nothing to change or quell the discrimination that exists on on every level from religious to economic to racial, its lifeline shakes. As long as no documents exist to provide a guarantee for the right of an individual citizen, its lifeline shakes. Israel cannot call itself a democracy while simultaneously discriminating openly against its citizens. Its length of life depends on a necessary lifeline, a consititution. Without a constitution, there is no way to ensure the sustainability of any of the rights its citizens enjoy now, or the sustainability of democracy.

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