Jewish Nation-State Law divorces Israel from any claim to democracy
The head of the Arab Joint List alliance in the Israeli Knesset, Ayman Odeh, described the passing of the racist Jewish Nation-State Law as “the death of our democracy.” Did he truly believe that prior to this law he had lived in a true democracy? 4
Seventy years of Israeli Jewish supremacy, genocide, ethnic cleansing, wars, sieges, mass incarceration and numerous discriminatory laws — all aimed at the very destruction of the Palestinian people — should have given enough clues that Israel was never a democracy to begin with. The Jewish Nation-State Law is merely the icing on the cake.
It simply gave those who argued all along that Israel’s attempt at combining democracy with ethnic supremacy was racism masquerading as democracy the munition they needed to further illustrate the point. There is no escaping the moral imperative now. Those who insist on supporting Israel must know that they are supporting an unabashed apartheid regime.
The new law, which was passed after some wrangling on July 19, has divorced Israel from any claim, however untrue, to being a democratic state. In fact, the law does not mention the word “democracy” even once, but reference to the Jewish identity of the state are ample and dominant, clearly excluding the Palestinian people from their rights in their historic homeland.
Most dangerous of all is the stipulation that “the state views Jewish settlement as a national value and will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.”
True, illegal Jewish settlements already dot Palestinian land in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and de facto segregation already exists in Israel itself. Segregation is so entrenched that even maternity wards in Israeli hospitals separate between mothers based on their race. But the above stipulation will further accelerate segregation and cement apartheid, making the harm not merely intellectual and political, but physical as well.
Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, has documented in its Discriminatory Laws Database a list of more than 65 Israeli laws that “discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinian citizens in Israel and/or Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) on the basis of their national belonging.”
According to Adalah, these laws “limit the rights of Palestinians in all areas of life, from citizenship rights to the right to political participation, land and housing rights, education rights, cultural and language rights, religious rights, and due process rights during detention.”
Those who insist on supporting Israel must know that they are supporting an unabashed apartheid.
While it would be accurate to argue that the Jewish Nation-State Law is the officiation of apartheid in Israel, this realization should not dismiss the previous reality upon which the country was founded 70 years ago. Apartheid is not a single law, but a slow, agonizing buildup of an intricate legal regime that is motivated by the belief that one racial group is superior to all others.
Not only does the new law elevate Israel’s Jewish identity and erase any commitment to democracy, but it also downgrades the status of all others. Palestinian Arabs, the natives of the land of historic Palestine upon which Israel was established, do not feature prominently in the new law at all. There is a mere stipulation made to Arabic, but only to downgrade it from an official language to a “special” one.
Israel’s decision to refrain from formulating a written constitution when it was founded in 1948 was not a haphazard one. Since then, it has been following a predictable model where it would alter reality on the ground to the advantage of Jews at the expense of Palestinian Arabs.
Instead of a constitution, Israel resorted to what it termed “basic laws,” which allowed for the constant formulation of new laws guided by the state’s commitment to racial supremacy rather than to democracy, international law, human rights or any other ethnic value. The Jewish Nation-State Law is itself a basic law.
And with that law, Israel has dropped the meaningless claim to being both Jewish and democratic. This impossible task was often left to the Supreme Court, which tried and failed to strike any convincing balance. This new reality should, once and for all, end the protracted debate on the supposed uniqueness of Israel’s political system.
And since Israel has chosen racial supremacy over any claim, however faint, to real democracy, Western countries that have often shielded it must choose whether they wish to support an apartheid regime or fight against it.
The initial statement by EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini was lackluster and feeble. “We are concerned, we have expressed this concern and we will continue to engage with Israeli authorities in this context,” she said, while renewing her commitment to the two-state solution. This is hardly the proper statement in response to a country that had just announced its membership in the apartheid club.
The EU must end its wishy-washy political discourse and disengage from apartheid Israel, or it has to accept the moral, ethical and legal consequences of being an accomplice in Israeli crimes against Palestinians.
Israel has made its choice, and it is unmistakably the wrong one. The rest of the world must now make its choice as well, hopefully the right one: standing on the right side of history, against Israeli Jewish apartheid and for Palestinian rights.
- Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of the Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a PhD in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter, and is a non-resident scholar at the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.