Israelis Must Demand: Equality Now

We must counter the racism of the right and weakness of the left.

Haaretz Editorial
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An archive photo from July 31, 2014 shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting at the Kirya compound in Tel Aviv.
An archive photo from July 31, 2014 shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting at the Kirya compound in Tel Aviv.Credit: Moti Milrod
Haaretz Editorial

Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni on Wednesday issued an order barring Arab workers from building projects in three preschools, in the wake of Tuesday’s fatal terror attack in a Jerusalem synagogue.

Shimoni has done nothing new: Arab workers for public organizations suffered harassment and dismissal threats during Operation Protective Edge as well. But his blatant racism evoked a wave of political denunciations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “There is no place for discrimination against Arab Israelis.” Economy Minister Naftali Bennett checked and found that “99.9 percent of the Arabs are loyal to the state.”

Netanyahu and Bennett’s condemnations set new records for hypocrisy. Shimoni merely translated into deed the spirit of the rightist leaders in Jerusalem. On Sunday, Netanyahu will present the latest version of the so-called nation-state law to his cabinet. The bill establishes the state’s commitment to the Jewish people’s “right to national self-determination in Israel,” to Jews in distress overseas, to Jewish holidays, to the Jewish calendar, to Jewish law and to the cultural and historical heritage of the Jewish people. As to the entirety of Israel’s citizens, the draft law promises them only “personal rights in accordance with every law.”

Netanyahu pasted into the bill a portion of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, but deleted that document’s explicit promise of equal rights.

The nation-state bill ignores the existence of an Arab community in Israel, with its own language, culture and rights, placing the state’s Arab citizens in a position that is inferior status to that of its Jews, who are also given collective rights. Instead of moving to end discrimination, Netanyahu means to give it the strength of a Basic Law.

Netanyahu’s conduct is not surprising. He has ignored the Arab community throughout his term as prime minister, and his coalition acts tirelessly to “Judaize” the state.

The conduct of Labor and Meretz in this matter is disappointing. Instead of challenging the government by proposing an alternative model of civil and communal equality, they settle for feeble statements to the media.

The time has come to establish a broad, resounding social movement of Jews and Arabs that will call for “equality now” in order to counter the racism on the right and the political enervation on the left. We must not let Netanyahu obliterate the Declaration of Independence. Otherwise Shimoni won’t be the last to practice apartheid in a public institution.

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