The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy


Martin Luther King In Israel

Filed under: Democratic MethodsKnesset/LegislativeDisengagement — eidelberg @ 8:45 pm Edit This

As I indicated several years ago, as well as very recently, Martin Luther King’s civil disobedience movement (unless supplemented by other measures) is not likely to stop Sharon’s expulsion plan in any part of Israel. To understand why, we must understand the legal and political context which made Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement a success.

First of all, America is a constitutional democracy (which emphatically is not the case of Israel). The mere fact that the U.S. has a constitution which is and is understood to be the supreme law of the land, enabled Martin Luther King to challenge the constitutionality of various state laws and local ordinances that discriminated against blacks, laws and ordinances which prima facie violated the “equal protection” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the American Constitution.

Because Israel is not a constitutional democracy, what appears as civil disobedience in the U.S. is deemed sedition in Israel.

Thus, when civil rights leaders violated a law in the U.S., this did not constitute, and was not viewed as constituting, a threat to the regime. This is not the case in Israel, which is why Moshe Feiglin was charged with sedition in 1995 for blocking roads in various parts of the country in protest against the Oslo Agreement.

Second, the U.S. Supreme Court is not only an independent branch of government, but it is not subservient to the executive branch on civil rights (and other) issues. More to the point, because the membership of the U.S. Supreme Court was (and still is) inclined toward the liberal end of the spectrum, it was sympathetic to King’s civil rights movement.

In contrast, even though Israel’s Supreme Court is markedly left-wing, its left-wing bias is antipathetic to the current civil disobedience movement since the latter is right-wing oriented. In other words, as concerns civil disobedience against the expulsion of Jews in Gaza and northern Samaria, Israel’s Supreme Court is little more than an appendage of the Sharon government despite the latter’s obvious violation of the civil and human rights of these Jews.

Third, Martin Luther King could succeed because a large percentage of American congressmen were not only liberals, but many came from urban centers which, after World War II, had a politically significant black population. In Israel, however, members of the Knesset are not individually elected by the voters in geographic constituencies, and so can ignore the opinions of the voters with impunity (as happened in October 2004, when 27 of the Likud’s 40 MKs voted for Sharon’s expulsion plan, contrary to their opposition to that plan in the January 2003 election.)

Fourth, King could succeed because he had Malcolm “X” on his right, who posed the threat of racial violence—something a bourgeois or middle class society like America abhors.

For these and other reasons, Martin Luther King’s civil disobedience movement is not likely to be efficacious in a country like Israel, which has only the veneer of democracy (periodic multi-party elections). Indeed, because of its institutional or systemic flaws, Israel may well be described as a democratically elected despotism. These institutional flaws, as much as the moral flaws of Ariel Sharon, produced the tragedy of Gush Katif.

Is anyone listening?