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Jewish Nation-state Law Makes Discrimination in Israel Constitutional

The nation-state law is another step in the direction of annexing the territories, but in reverse: The territories have annexed the state

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Arab lawmakers tear up copies of the nation-state law in the Knesset, July 19, 2018.
Arab lawmakers tear up copies of the nation-state law in the Knesset, July 19, 2018. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Following the howls of criticism leveled at Section 7 of the Basic Law on the Nation-State, enabling the establishment of segregated communities based on religion, nationality or other characteristics, the coalition came up with a new version: “The state sees developing Jewish communities a national value and will act to encourage, promote and establish them.” Racists, it turns out, remain racist.

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The previous version tried to garb the provision in the appearance of neutrality towards the group. It was only in appearance, because a day-old babe in arms would realize that the whole point of the provision is to enable the establishment of purely Jewish settlements through the constitution, not just through the law. The new version raises the overt, blunt discrimination to the constitutional level. After all, how could Jewish settlement be advanced without confining it to Jews? And that isn’t necessarily in tiny existing communities but in new ones established in order to manifest the national value of Jewish settlement. And why confine this Judaification to small rural communities, instead of letting this racism flourish everywhere – in the cities too?

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The attorney general issued a mollifying statement that the provision is no more than declarative, but we would be well advised not to be appeased. The provision’s language makes it an operative one, whose discriminatory character is incontestable. Even if the value of Jewish settlement is balanced against the right to equality, the result cannot be absolute equality. The attorney general should have categorically opposed this provision, not tried to hawk it as a virtuous one. An attorney general who looks into the darkness and calls it light does more damage than good.

Patently, in contrast to France promoting French settlement, Israel promoting Jewish settlement is not acting on behalf of all its citizens, but only on behalf of the Jewish majority at the expense of the others. Yet again the contrast between the nation-state law and the Declaration of Independence – in which the state vowed to develop the land of Israel for all its people – is glaring. What would we have to say about some other country that has a Jewish minority and that established a constitutional principle to promote Christian settlement?

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If we were living under a foreign regime that tried to constrict Jewish communities, then one could understand the consolidation of a principle to encourage the establishment of Jewish communities. In reality, the state does not need a constitutional provision in order to settle Jews; it only needs it in order to discriminate against non-Jews and segregate them – Arabs, Druze or anybody from the former Soviet states who isn’t Jewish.

How far is it between this constitutional provision and the call of racist rabbis not to sell or rent housing to Arabs (and who were, despite these calls, not indicted for racist incitement)? How far is it from another slogan that might have been appropriate before Israel’s establishment – “Hebrew labor”? Which meant, don’t hire Arabs for these jobs unless it’s for jobs not suitable for Jews.

Our sages couldn’t have come up with a better way to spur, or amplify, the Arabs’ sense of alienation and loathing towards the regime and towards the concept of the Jewish state. It wasn’t enough to expel the Arabs from the state which by its constitutional definition isn’t theirs any more but belongs to the Jewish people; or to derogate from the status of the Arabic language. Add to that the state’s commitment – nay, its duty – to get them off the land and prevent their settlement on it, by expropriation of their land after the state’s foundation, followed by almost three generations of discrimination against them in planning and building.

Is this not tantamount to adopting the view that Arabs are trespassers in Israel? Does this not constitute their symbolic “transfer” – and the start of their actual transfer from the land?

It is another step in the direction of annexing the territories, but in the reverse direction; the territories have annexed the state. The principle of Jewish settlement, pursuant to which settlement in the territories is exclusively a Jewish affair, is now penetrating the state’s territory. Just as the Palestinian residents of the territories don’t count, the Arab citizens in the State of Israel don’t count either. There is no choice but to conclude that the policy in the territories, which would befit an apartheid regime (being based on ethnicity) is now walking tall in Israel itself, through what purports to be Israel’s new, strengthened constitution. The Zionist ambition of forming a just society based on the value of equality is called into question.

For Arab citizens to come to terms with the law (they couldn’t possibly agree with it), they would have to come to terms with being absent, or inferior; according to the attorney general, they would have to accept having no collective rights as a national minority. Nobody could come to terms with things like that involving such humiliation, and no decent person should lend a hand to a “law” that requires things a law must not require. This is not a deed worthy of being called legislation; this is aberrant use of the arbitrary force of the majority to deliberately harm the minority by enacting a Basic Law. If this is allowed to pass, we won’t have anywhere to hide our shame.

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