The Israeli Supreme Court has rejected petitions submitted by human rights organisations seeking a cancellation of the amendments to the Citizenship Act which will prevent the reunification of Palestinian families living on both sides of the Green (1948 Armistice) Line. Six judges voted against the petitions; five were in favour, including the current President of the Court, Justice Dorit Beinisch. Justice Beinisch will retire soon, to be replaced by Judge Asher Gronis, who led the majority of those who rejected the petitions.
This change in the leadership of the Israeli Supreme Court is perhaps the best evidence of the ongoing shift within Israel towards more racism and hostility to the Zionist state’s Palestinian citizens and their rights in their own land.
Many consider the Supreme Court to be the last bastion of democracy, human rights and protection for minorities from the tyranny of the majority. This is a considerable exaggeration, but it’s the prevailing view in many law schools in Europe and the United States, and in international institutions.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the Supreme Court, as the highest judicial body, has been more moderate than the legislative authority represented by the Knesset and the executive represented by the Israeli government. This has become clear in recent years with waves of reckless racism sweeping across the political arena in Israel.
Although it’s more moderate than others, Israel’s Supreme Court has never stood in the way of Zionism’s central issues, except for making occasional criticisms of government practices and issuing judgements intended to make the work of the government and parliament more efficient. Certain constitutional issues have also been addressed.
Although the Court approved the demolition of Palestinian homes and the confiscation of land; has acquiesced in the face of acts of murder, deportation, administrative detention, settlements, the construction of the wall and the blockade of Gaza; and goes along with the Judaisation of Jerusalem, its limited criticism of the government and the Knesset is disliked by the right-wing. Far-right politicians have lobbied feverishly to reduce the power of the court and change the composition of its judges. Their success is noted by the appointment of new judges who are described as conservative to replace liberals who retire; this is the strongest indicator of the power shift within Israeli politics towards right-wing extremism.
The decision of the Supreme Court to ratify a blatantly racist Citizenship Law was entirely in keeping with the chauvinistic atmosphere now prevailing. It gave the green light for the Knesset to pass more racist laws to dispossess Israel’s Arab citizen.
Passing such legislation can be seen as political opportunism by politicians seeking to climb up the electoral ladder of their extremist parties. It is also an opportunity for them to gain in popularity with the wider Israeli public. Sadly, racism is beginning to dominate the political discourse in Israeli society and harnessing such tendencies gives the holder power and influence, especially on matters of geography and demography.
In the name of “security” and the nature of the “Jewish state”, Israel has enacted a number of laws recently which provide the opportunity to loot yet more land from Palestinians to accommodate Jewish settlers, and prevent Palestinian families from uniting across the Green Line.
The issue is not that the Supreme Court has granted legitimacy to racist legislation in its decisions, but that it gives legitimacy to racism in general in Israeli society. A reading of the judgement on the law which prevents Palestinian family reunion is sufficient to see that it’s a blow for human rights in Israel.
One positive aspect of this is that it exposes the lie of Israeli democracy. International organisations concerned with law and human rights should take note and remove their misplaced trust in the Supreme Court. There is no longer a significant difference between far-right, extremist (and even neo-fascist) government ministers and Knesset members and the judges who pat them on the backs and support their laws.
Arguably the most significant recent judicial decision is the ratification of the legality of the racist Citizenship Law to promote the notion of Israel as a distinctly “Jewish state”. The court concurs that the preservation of the Jewish identity of the state requires the denial of the right for Palestinian citizens to establish a family. The message was clear: if you want to have a family, migrate.
Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state by the international community is a direct acknowledgement of, and encouragement for, Israeli racism. Given that the international community and human rights organisations have adopted the principle that “racism is not an internal affair of States” there is an obligation on world bodies and individual states to restrain Israel in its shift to the right and the resultant racism. At the very least, sanctions should be applied to Israel, just as they were applied – successfully – against the apartheid regime of South Africa.
Those who believe that the excesses of the Knesset are countered by the sanity of the Supreme Court in Israel have no justification for their opinion; there is no longer any internal balance in the Zionist state. It is time to call Israel to account not only for its military occupation and injustices against the people of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip but also for the official discrimination against its own Palestinian citizens. Israel and apartheid South Africa are not identical scenarios, but they are most definitely closely related. As such, the situation demands the same treatment for Israel as was meted out to the South African regime. The final illusion of democracy in Israel has disappeared.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.