Discriminatory Laws in Israel

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As one of their motivations, U.S. legislators court the American Jewish vote by supporting the State of Israel. But do those Jewish voters, do those legislators and do other members of the U.S. government who support Israel so strongly know what kind of state and society they are supporting? If they do not know, they should. If they do know and still support Israel and achieve that support within the American political system, this shows how defective that system is. Israel has a long list of discriminatory laws. To see that list, go to the web site of The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. Then, underneath the table at the bottom of the page, click on “all”. This expands the table to bring up all the existing laws and all the proposed laws. The proposed laws are a measure of the future desired direction of discrimination in Israel. These laws show us what kind of state and society are being supported by those Americans who support Israel. It is an ugly picture of official state and social discrimination.

What is the goal of the existing and proposed laws? What kind of State and society is envisioned? There is a document on this site that gives some interpretation. Here’s the opening paragraph:

“The elections in February 2009 brought in the current 18th Knesset and saw one of the most right-wing government coalitions in the history of Israel come to power. Members of Knesset (MKs) immediately introduced a flood of discriminatory legislation that directly or indirectly targets Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, as well as Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and the Palestinian refugees. These new laws and bills, which continue to be promulgated on a very frequent basis, seek, inter alia to dispossess Arab citizens of Israel and exclude them from the land; turn their citizenship from a right into a conditional privilege; limit the ability of Arab citizens and their parliamentary representatives to participate in the political life of the country; criminalize political acts or speech that question the Jewish or Zionist nature of the state; and privilege Jewish citizens in the allocation of state resources.”

Israel’s supporters are very adept at painting a rosy picture of the pluses of Israel, but they do this by cherry-picking the facts and information that place Israel in a good light. Israel’s supporters are adept at creating storybook myths and narratives to make Israel look good. The actual discriminatory laws of Israel go part way to providing more complete information upon which to evaluate what sort of state and society are being supported by U.S. legislators and many voters.

Detailed critiques of Israeli laws appear on this web site. For example, there is an entire position paper on a 2009 land reform bill

The authors of this web site are reputable lawyers who are making a detailed case. They are not alone in making this case. In their book, “Minority Rights in the Middle East“, Joshua Castellino and Kathleen A. Cavanaugh quote from this web site. They go on to add their own comments, the first of which says “The marginalization of Israeli Arabs is particularly acute in the political sphere.” They go on to analyze a series of land reform laws. Of the 2009 Israel Land Administration Law, they say “This measure effectively dispossessed Palestinians refugees, or those internally displaced, from their land.”

One could go on at great length documenting the discriminatory policies of Israel. I assume that, at least at the highest policy-making levels of American government, these discriminatory policies are well-known. Certainly they are there for the looking and even the lowest-level of intelligence work or research will make them known. But despite this knowledge, the highest of American officials continue to kowtow to AIPAC and the Israeli lobby. Even when Israel slaughters Palestinians in Gaza repeatedly, what we hear most are totally misleading confirmations of Israel’s right to self-defense, shorn of all context, shorn of any consideration of the kind of state that Israel is, and shorn of any consideration for the rights of minorities in Israel. The American left-wing is silent. The progressives are silent. The Black Congressional Caucus is silent. Candidates Warren and Clinton are silent.

The Jewish vote, influential in certain key states, and Jewish money that fills political coffers have been ruling policy for decades, even when Israel kills Americans, spies on America, or works directly against American interests. For us in America, this is an intolerable state of affairs, amounting at a minimum to the betrayal of constitutional oaths. It undermines the moral credibility of U.S. government, as if it there were not enough other instances of this. But think what an intolerable state of affairs this is for Palestinians.

If we follow conventional politics, American Jewish voters need to repudiate the discriminatory laws of Israel. American officials need to start acting more courageously to lead these and other voters away from the blind support of Israel. They need to halt aid to Israel and to alter the terms of the so-called special relationship.

If we think in terms of unconventional politics, then we should not be thinking in terms of one or two states in this region. We should be thinking of no states at all. Palestinians need to be able to move around and locate freely anywhere in the region as do Israelis. Israel cannot be made into a Jewish state and it cannot succeed as an exclusive Jewish state that discriminates against large numbers of Arabs within its borders and adjacent to it. This cannot persist in the long run. Israel cannot be a state where the rights of all, including a right of return, are respected and simultaneously be a Jewish state. Instead of one or two states, the region can be a homeland to several peoples without its having to be one or two territorial states. The territorial exclusivity and monopoly power of any given state are severe impediments in this region. There needs to be freedom of movement across existing borders, freedom to buy or lease land across borders, and freedom to work and trade across borders. Where regional matters demand regional government, there cannot be discrimination that determines who has political power. The situation at present seems impossibly far from this picture because a non-discriminatory solution requires the reconstruction of a Palestinian region and a drastic transformation of Israel from a Jewish state into a region that is a Jewish homeland. In other words, more or less go back to the Balfour Declaration of 1917:

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

The only ambiguous word in this statement is “national” in “national home”. If national is thought to mean “state” or “nation-state” then it leads to the State of Israel and all the accompanying problems. If instead of “national home” the term “region of settlement” were used, it allows for Jewish communities without prejudice to non-Jewish communities. It was a mistake, in my view, for the existing states of the world to have blessed the creation of a Jewish State. They could have blessed a region of settlement instead. This may not have resolved the problem however, because Jewish colonists may still have pushed to create a State and displace existing non-Jewish communities. To my way of thinking, Israel and the problems in this region are partly consequences of the blind adherence to the idea that a State is the appropriate way to organize territory. But it evidently carries with it all sorts of downsides in a region like this in which populations are quite heterogeneous.

1:40 pm on August 4, 2014