A lot of fuss is being made about what one can and cannot say about the state of Israel. Especially virulent is the campaign against Jeremy Corbyn’s so-called “antisemitism” in Britain. In reality this is a blatant attempt to silence any criticism of Israel and its discriminatory policies against the Palestinian people. In light of all this, Francesco Merli looks at the new law that openly discriminates against Palestinians living in Israel, officially reducing them to the status of second-class citizens.
On 19 July, with 62 in favor and 55 against, the Knesset approved the Jewish Nation State Law backed by Israeli premier, Netanyahu. The approval of such a law has constitutional value and means that the daily oppression of and discrimination against the Israeli Arab minority (about 20 percent of Israel’s population) has officially become a constituent part of Israel’s legal foundations as a state.
Netanyahu’s foreign policy is based on a very simplistic appraisal of the situation, exemplified by his remarks during the renaming ceremony for the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center on 29 August:
Shimon aspired toward peace but he knew that true peace can be achieved only if our hands strongly grasp defensive weaponry. In the Middle East, and in many parts of the world, there is a simple truth: There is no place for the weak.
The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive. The strong are respected, and alliances are made with the strong, and in the end peace is made with the strong.
On the internal front, his tune is not changing. It is clear that Netanyahu is pushing for a legitimization of the unofficial status of non-Jewish Israelis as second-class citizens. By doing so, however, he is openly breaking the fiction of Israel as a democracy, thus pushing Israel’s liberal supporters within the country and throughout the world into disarray.
If the message was not clear enough, the Knesset presidium had just previously rejected a counterproposal to the Jewish Nation-State Law: the “State of All its Citizens” law, submitted by the Joint List party. The promoters’ idea was that of establishing the “principle of equality for every citizen, while recognizing the existence and rights of two national groups, Jews and Arabs, who live within the state’s internationally recognized borders.”
However, this move just provides a stronger legal backup to an established fact, rooted in the seven decades of Israel’s history. Israel as a state is inherently based on the systematic discrimination against the rights of the Arab minority of Israeli citizens, as well as on the oppression of the Palestinian population in the territories under effective Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.
The new law defines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people,” with Hebrew as its official language and Jerusalem as its capital. It also states that “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people,” thereby denying to Palestinians any national rights or existence.
Significantly, it declares “Jewish settlement as a national value” and that the state will “encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.”
The meaning of this provision is very clear: it is a green light to further colonization of Palestinian lands in all the territories occupied or controlled by Israel, including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. To add insult to injury, Arabic is stripped of its status as an official language and downgraded to one with “special status.”
The provisions of this new law fly in the face of the most elementary international standards of what democracy—bourgeois democracy—should look like, by setting double citizenship standards and recognizing the colonization of what are regarded as illegally occupied territories by the United Nations.
In passing, Trump and Netanyahu are also dealing a final blow to the already dead “two-states solution” to the Palestinian question, firmly backed until yesterday by the previous US administration and the European Union.
One would expect a barrage of criticism from the very “liberal and democratic” European Union, but apparently once again they seem to value “democracy” only as long as it doesn’t get in the way of their fundamental interests. After a passing incident in which the EU’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, Emanuele Giaufret was publicly reprimanded by Netanyahu for protesting against the discriminatory law, the EU has retreated by stating “How Israel chooses to define itself is an internal issue for Israel to decide” and “We value Israel’s commitment to the shared values of democracy and human rights, which has characterized our longstanding and fruitful relations.”
The new law in fact is not introducing, but recognizing and backing up discriminatory laws already in place. Just to provide a few examples, as already recognized by a UN special rapporteur in 2012, Israeli authorities already pursue “a land development model that excludes, discriminates against and displaces minorities.” The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has denounced “the enactment of a number of discriminatory laws on land issues which disproportionately affect non-Jewish communities.”
The issue of segregation and Jewish-only communities should also be considered on the grounds that Israel already has hundreds of such segregated communities, thanks to the role of “admission committees” that enforce the exclusion of Arabs.
Palestinians, whether Muslim, Christian, Bedouin or Druze, whether they are regarded by the Israeli ruling class as ‘loyal’ or “disloyal,” are officially disenfranchised and relegated to a position of second-class citizens.
Netanyahu forcing through the approval of this law has triggered shockwaves within Israel, with unprecedented protests and mobilization of the Druze Palestinian minority who have traditionally been loyal allies of the Zionist leadership and now rightly feel let down by Netanyahu and the Israeli state.
Zionists have traditionally used the example of the Druze men serving in the Israeli army as proof that non-Jews can prosper inside a self-declared Jewish state. Many Druze (who constitute about 2 percent of the population) have served as soldiers and officers in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force), even in positions of important responsibility. They have been disproportionately serving in the occupied territories and in the highest-risk areas. The Druze are regarded even by right-wing Zionists as reliable and “loyal” to Israel.
Their reaction has been that of loyal subjects betrayed. As Druze scholar, Rabah Halabi, put it to Middle East Eye:
Much of the Druze community are in a state of shock. They thought that by proving their loyalty, they would be treated as equals. But now they are being forced to reevaluate, to accept that this view was mistaken.
He added: “Their illusions are being shattered. It looks like a process of awakening has begun that will leave both sides bruised.”
Retired, Druze, IDF general, Amal Asad led demonstrations of tens of thousands, supported by Jewish sympathizers, including quite a few former Israeli security senior officials. Netanyahu met them with a contemptuous attitude, offering them secondary concessions, to which the Druze leaders replied: “We can’t be bought off with benefits and rhetoric on closing gaps.”
The Druze question is at the heart of decades of successful application of the tactic of “divide and rule” by the Zionist ruling class. The collaboration of the Druze elite was useful to divide the Palestinian national movement, but they were never really accepted into the Israeli ruling class. In fact, “loyalty” to Israel has never helped the Druze (or the Bedouin) population, which was subject to the same systematic mistreatment the majority of the Palestinian Israeli citizens faced.
Druze communities are generally as overcrowded and poorly resourced as other Palestinian communities in Israel. According to Dalia Halabi: “Some 70 percent of Druze lands were confiscated by the state, despite our communities’ ‘loyalty.’ They did not get a better deal than other Palestinian communities.”
The limitations of the Druze leadership are evident. What they aim to achieve is a return to the past, but the trust between the Druze population and the Israeli ruling class has been profoundly damaged. Dozens of resignations of high-ranking officials are just the tip of the iceberg of a more fundamental break taking place among the mass of the Druze population, who are disproportionately represented in Israel’s state and private security industry.
The liberal Zionists’ attitude exposes their weaknesses. Not by chance they initially supported the Druze protests, but dropped out as they became more radical.
In an unprecedented move for a Druze leader, Asad warned on social media that the Basic Law risked laying the foundations for “apartheid.” He called the measure “evil and racist.”
As in the movement against the deportation of the African asylum seekers earlier this year, failure to connect the demands of the movement to the burning questions of the Palestinian rights prevents the cementing of a broad movement of the oppressed.
Meanwhile, the colonization process in the West Bank is continuing and the Jewish settlers’ movement (numbering several hundreds of thousands between the West Bank and East Jerusalem) will be emboldened by the new law, as the following example shows.
On 4 September, the Israeli High Court finally rejected petitions filed against the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, paving the way for Israel to demolish the entire village after 12 September. For years, the Israeli government has been pursuing the demolition of this tiny village in order to unify a continuous block of illegal Israeli settlements in the area, which will cut the territorial continuity of Palestinian land, severing the West Bank in two parts.
Khan al-Ahmar Bedouins have already been deported twice. First in the 1950s when they were pushed out of the Negev into the West Bank, and again in 1967, when the lands they had resettled in were seized to build the Kfar Adumim Jewish settlement. Deprived of their land, homes and livelihoods, they were pushed into “illegality.” Unfortunately for them, they are now again in the way of the Israeli ruling class’s expansion plans. After their eviction they will be forced to resettle next to a waste dump, near Abu Dis.
The historical pressure by Israel on the Palestinians has been strengthened since Trump’s election as US president. The US has abandoned any pretense of neutrality. Israel-Saudi relations have never been closer, given the need to make a common front against the rising Iranian influence in the region. Over the past 18 months, Trump has backed Netanyahu in all possible ways.
The recent decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, coinciding with the celebrations for the 70th anniversary of Israel, was not just symbolic. Trump’s strategy is based on the assumption that the Palestinian leadership will buckle under stronger pressure and capitulate.
In typical Trumpian fashion, the US State Department announced two weeks ago that it was slashing $200m of US contributions to Palestinian aid programs. This was soon followed by the announcement that the US would no longer continue its $360m annual contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), depriving it of a third of its budget. This is a first step towards the declared US-Israeli aim of liquidating the UNRWA altogether.
These are extremely serious attacks, cutting whatever existing safety net exists for about 5 million Palestinian refugees spread out for decades in camps throughout the Middle East, and relying on the UNRWA for basic health care, food and education. By taking these measures, Trump is jeopardizing the uneasy equilibrium in the whole region, with important, immediate consequences for the stability of Lebanon and Jordan above all, as will become evident in the near future. “Humanitarian aid” by UNRWA and other agencies represented an essential imperialist tool for regional stability, which for decades prevented the explosion of the pent-up anger of millions of Palestinian refugees.
Trump’s intentions were stated quite clearly in a leaked email (recently reported by Foreign Policy magazine) by Jared Kushner. Trump’s son in law, who is also the president’s special envoy to the Middle East, wrote that it was time to “disrupt UNRWA” and added that “sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there.”
This is clearly designed to blackmail the Palestinian leadership into further selling out the rights of the Palestinian refugees, after the already scandalous position taken by the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, of renouncing their Right of Return.
Trump’s calculations may be based on a fair assessment of the real standing of the Hamas and Fatah leaderships, but don’t fully take into account the resilience and iron determination of the Palestinian youth to confront and overcome the unbearable oppression they are subject to. What we saw a few months ago with the defiant movement of the youth at the so-called Gaza border will just be the first act of a much broader revolt that will inflame the whole region. This will represent an opportunity for the movement to unify all the oppressed layers even within the ever-more-entrenched Israeli state and provide the possibility of ending the present imperialist and capitalist nightmare.