Opinion |

Why We Went to the UN Over Israel's Nation-state Law

The choice for all of us, Jews and Arabs, is clear: real democracy or a nationalist ethnocracy

Aida Touma-Sliman
Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN under-secretary-general for political affairs, left, and MK Aida Touma-Sliman.
Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN under-secretary-general for political affairs, left, and MK Aida Touma-Sliman.
Aida Touma-Sliman

Many good people were furious this week that we, members of the Joint List, dared defy the people the nation-state law defines as the lords of the land. Instead of sufficing with the crumbs of rights that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government might deign to grant us, we declared that the nation-state law is an apartheid law.

With temerity that doesn’t suit people whose language is unworthy of official standing in their homeland, we went to the United Nations to protest the law that defines us, Palestinian citizens of Israel, as second-class citizens, legitimizes the occupation and perpetuates Israel’s place in the dubious company of ethnocentric, discriminatory and exclusionist countries.

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Although UN Ambassador Danny Danon's claim - that I spoke with Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN under-secretary-general for political affairs, about an alleged suggestion by the Joint List and Palestinian Authority that the General Assembly or the Security Council censure Israel - is totally false, it must be stated that the nation-state law isn’t an internal Israeli affair.

A law that tramples the foundations of democracy and the basic principles of the UN Charter (to which Israel is supposed to be faithful according to the Declaration of Independence) is an international matter. It’s not only our right, but also our moral and political duty to warn about this from every platform, in Israel and abroad, and to act against the nation-state law and the racism that it institutionalizes.

But it seems that our refusal to keep discussion of the apartheid law within boundaries convenient for the legislators of discrimination drove not only Netanyahu and his coalition cohorts crazy, but also people who supposedly are the sane alternative. The newly minted opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, recently lambasted the prime minister, who portrays people who define themselves as leftists as collaborators with the enemy.

But that didn’t stop her from telling a few ambassadors this week, in the context of my meeting with DiCarlo: Don’t interfere in Israel’s internal affairs and don’t cooperate with any move at the United Nations. Livni has apparently forgotten that the infringement of the rights of national minorities is against international law, so it’s of interest to the United Nations.

The opposition leader is also dead set on ignoring the fact that the nation-state law states that “the Land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people in which the State of Israel was established,” where only the Jewish people have the right to self-determination. And because Israel refuses to set its borders, and de facto controls and settles all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and is Judaizing it, the law for all intents and purposes negates the Palestinian people's historical, legal and moral right to self-determination. That right is reserved for the Jewish people, whether in Kiryat Arba in the West Bank or Tel Aviv.

When the law states that “Jerusalem, complete and united” is Israel’s capital, the law contradicts international law and the UN resolutions under which East Jerusalem is occupied territory. The law’s statement that the development of Jewish settlement is a supreme value that Israel will promote, whether in Yitzhar in the West Bank or Katzir west of the Green Line, allows the exclusion of whole population groups based solely on their national affinity or origin, and the advancement of Jewish-only communities, in the West Bank as in the Galilee.

In other words, the nation-state law not only produces racist segregation in Israel, it slams the door on a just diplomatic solution of the establishment of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders alongside Israel.

Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay and Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid’s joining the chorus of incitement against the Arab community in Israel and against its elected leaders proves once again that when push comes to shove, those who call themselves the opposition prefer to ideologically defile themselves with Netanyahu rather than build a true democratic camp. And they continue to act as a pale shadow of the far-right government of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

Those who lack the moral backbone to withstand the sordid wave of nationalism washing over Israel and stand firm in the face of the incitement campaign by Danon and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin shouldn’t be surprised at lynchings of Arabs, as happened last week at Kiryat Haim beach. Those who oppose the nation-state law just for appearance’s sake won’t only continue to fail at the ballot box, they won’t survive the moral battle against the exclusion of entire groups from equal citizenship.

We turned to international institutions because the nation-state law isn’t a local Israeli matter but rather an immoral law with far-reaching implications both for Israel’s citizens and the Palestinian people, who are suffering under the weight of the occupation. We’ve said this loud and clear from the Knesset podium and at the United Nations, and we’ll do this at our meeting next week with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini.

Our struggle for peace, equality and social justice isn’t limited to the Jewish discourse in Israel. In every arena, including the international one, my colleagues and I in Hadash and the broader Joint List alliance will continue to fight with determination and with heads held high against the occupation and apartheid. The choice for all of us, Jews and Arabs, is clear: real democracy or a nationalist ethnocracy. Our hand is extended to everyone who is concerned with justice and liberty.

MK Aida Touma-Sliman heads the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality.

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