What an Israeli-Arab Lawmaker Said When I Bragged About Having More Rights Than Him

'I am the master of the land now,' I told Ahmad Tibi. 'But what about me?' He said

Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi.
\ Ilan Assayag

Hi, Nir.

Oh, hello to MK Dr. Ahmad Tibi. Thanks for getting back to me. How are you?

Fine, thank you.

Just a second, I’m in the middle of diapering the baby here. Can you wait on the line for a minute?

I’m waiting.

...

Thanks. I’m done. I’m calling you in order to tell you something you may have noticed. For the past few days, legally, I, an ordinary citizen, a former paramedic, have had a higher status than you, even though you’re a member of parliament and a physician. Now it’s enshrined in the law.

The truth is that I’ve been noticing that phenomenon for many years. But the difference is that today, under the law, you have an ethno-national advantage, you have privileges even though you’re a paramedic and I’m a physician, with all due respect to paramedics.

Sir, allow me to keep bragging, please. You were born in this country, right?

Absolutely, in Taibeh.

Fine, great. But the law states that the Land of Israel is my homeland, and mine alone. I am the master of the land now, Ahmad.

And what about me?

Honorable Member of Knesset, get used to it. This is my homeland only, that’s the law and that’s it.

The truth is that no law in the world, Nir, changes historical facts or can shatter beliefs. I believe in equality. I believe that Nir and Ahmad, who are both citizens of the same country, are meant to be equal. But we are not equal. The [nation-state] law comes to enshrine in a Basic Law the fact that you have priority over me. The truth is that since 1985 there’s been a Basic Law on a Jewish and Democratic State, which I take issue with because of the conflict between “Jewish” and “democratic.” When the state defines itself as Jewish, it says that Nir has priority over Ahmad.

Well, get used to it already. You’re a member of parliament and a physician, and I’m a journalist. I feel that you, in certain ways, are more successful than I am. But again I say that, in terms of the law, this place is more mine. What are you even doing in my homeland?

I have only contempt for that feeling of superiority, and I don’t respect laws of that kind. The test of history has always been of those who took a stand against injustice and against brutal laws and opposed them, annulled them or changed them. That’s my test.

You are bothering me. I’m here, as a Jew, I have now received an official seal of approval from the Israeli government – and even though I am younger than you and less educated than you, I’ve been given a stamp that shows I have rights that are superior to yours. Let a guy rejoice a little. Why are you objecting so much? Let me continue for a minute.

Go on. I see you feel good about this.

Well, of course. Like every good Jew, no? After all, it’s written in the law, for example, that the state sees development of Jewish settlement as a national value. Jewish, Ahmad. Jewish. And besides that, if I have an uncle who’s an American citizen and wants to come here, it is explicitly written that the state will be open to Jewish aliyah. Do you get that? I can bring in any relative I want. You can’t, Ahmad. Get it into your head, already.

Nir, my father was born here, and my aunt was born in Jaffa. In 1948, the family fell apart and scattered every which way. Nakba. My aunt went to Kuwait, and afterward to Jordan. She died in the diaspora and it’s not possible to bring her body here for burial in Jaffa, or here [to Taibeh], because she’s How did you put it?

Not a Jew, Ahmad. Not a Jew.

She didn’t get the stamp that you or your grandmother have.

Yes.

It’s outrageous, but it doesn’t weaken my resolve or the resolve of her children, some of whom live in Jordan and Kuwait.

Listen, you said “Nakba.” Article 9 of the nation-state law stipulates that the official memorial days are only for those who fell in Israel’s wars and those who were murdered in the Holocaust. Don’t say that word again, please. You, Ahmad – the state doesn’t recognize your mourning days.

It’s not just that it doesn’t recognize the mourning days. There’s the Nakba Law, which prohibits me from feeling bad, empathizing, reminiscing. By law! A few days ago, after the nation-state law was enacted, MK Aida Touma-Sliman [Joint List] and I met [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu in the Knesset parking lot and shouted at him, ‘You enacted an apartheid law.’ And I wondered aloud to him, ‘What scares you so much about the Arabic language?’ He got into his car and then got out and shouted at us: ‘How dare you talk that way about the only democracy in the Middle East?’ We laughed and said that democracy for Jews only is not democracy. In democracies that have a constitution – there’s no way there could be a law that creates two population groups, one with rights and the other without, without the principle of equality in the law.

Listen, I’m about to run out of space, and besides, you’re not letting me brag without interruption about my legal Jewish superiority over you as an Arab.

That superiority also belongs to a player in the Jewish-premier league over an Arab goal scorer, and it’s also that of a novice Jewish physician as compared to a distinguished Arab surgeon, and also over an Arab bus driver.

I tried to make a bit of fun of the law here, but the truth is that it’s very sad. According to this law, not only do I have privileges that you don’t have, but even a newborn Jewish infant has more rights than you have.

It’s truly a twisted situation, and I don’t want to remind the Jews of their history and where laws were promulgated democratically and gave rise to an inferno and hatred. But you should know that the most moving phone calls I’ve had lately are from Jews like you who are angry and hurt, and feel that they have lost something in the face of a wave of racism that denies my existence. A Holocaust survivor told me that she is ashamed and that she feels closer to me than to the sponsors of the law, and she reminded me of my Holocaust speech in the Knesset. No law in the world, even if they demolish my home and even if people are killed, will change the fact that I was born here and my ancestors were born here.

Thank you, Ahmad, and sorry.

Thanks, Nir.