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Arab League highlights racist bills to be considered by the Knesset

A report issued by the Arab League's Palestine and the Occupied Arab Territories Department has highlighted the risks of a raft of racist laws to be considered by Israel's parliament, the Knesset. Headed, "Israeli draft racist and discriminatory laws against Palestinians, submitted to the Knesset for approval in its current cycle", the report claims that after 63 years the Palestinians inside Israel are still facing racist challenges affecting all aspects of their lives and threatening their survival on their own land. "At the forefront of these threats," the report claims, "is the call by some Israeli right-wing extremists, led by racist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, to expel the largest possible number of Palestinian Arabs from Israel to the occupied West Bank or even beyond the borders of historic Palestine." Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is known to favour such population "transfers" – ethnic cleansing by any other name – as his statements and speeches, particularly those at the Herzliya Conferences, testify.


The Knesset continues to approve discriminatory and racist laws drafted by the extreme right-wing, which restrict or are targeted specifically against Israel's own Palestinian citizens. For example, one draft bill proposes that Palestinians in Israel would have to perform "civil service" for two years in lieu of the military service which is compulsory for Jewish citizens (except students at Jewish seminaries). Palestinians believe that this is an attempt to corrupt the Arab identity of young Palestinians as it aims "to develop Palestinians' loyalty to Israel, and encourage their contribution towards the promotion of Israel's values as a Jewish democracy". The Israeli government has justified its support for the draft bill on the basis that the level of mobilisation and recruitment for civil society has dropped.

According to the Arab League report, Israel's Palestinian citizens oppose such a law for several reasons, not least because "it is an attempt to impose the values of loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state upon them" by increasing the number of Arab volunteers in bodies working to enhance the Jewish identity of Israel. The laws of national or civil service, it is argued, are nothing but another way to enforce loyalty to Zionism, trying to make Palestinians loyal to an ideology which has taken their land away from them.

Palestinian community leaders in Israel who are opposed to the idea of "national/civil service" say that the change to "civil service" is meant to replace the concept of "national Zionism" which conflicts with Arab and Palestinian nationalism. "The government is trying to create young Palestinians who are pro-Israeli," they claim. The link between national, military and civil service is inherent in Zionist ideology. The report states that "Israel is looking at ways of transforming its armed forces from a people's army to a volunteer force as technology reduces the need for so many soldiers".

The Arab League is adamant that Israeli-Arabs cannot perform military service under any name in a state that still uses apartheid-like policies against them and does not recognise their own national rights and aspirations. The report's authors foresee a period of civil disobedience as Israel's Palestinian citizens refuse to abide by the service requirements if the bill becomes law.

A second example of the kind of law discussed by the Knesset which the Arab League believes is racist in nature is the "museums law". Although it sounds innocuous, this allows for Israeli-funded museums to be built on illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Thus, the Israeli domestic law would be inconsistent with international law whereby an Israeli law would be applied to the occupied territories. It is proposed that around 40 million Israeli shekels will be allocated to such museums.

Arab members of the Knesset opposed the bill in its first reading at the beginning of December because it seeks to legitimise the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. This is a flagrant violation of international laws and conventions, says the Arab League report, and looks very much like a move on the path towards the annexation of the occupied territories by Israel. The report points out that the issue of museums is already contentious, with the "Museum of Tolerance" being built by Israel on the historic Muslim Ma'aman Allah Cemetery in Jerusalem. The new law, it claims, merely confirms the racist nature of the occupation authorities.

Likud MK Danny Danon, has presented a draft bill to the Knesset which would require Arab citizens of Israel to sign a pledge of allegiance to the state before they can be issued with any official documents, such as identity cards or passports. Danon acknowledges that if they are not prepared to sign such a pledge, Israel's non-Jewish citizens would be regarded as hostile to the state and be "deprived of their rights". He is on record as saying that "There is an illogical status quo, where there are a lot of Arab citizens working against Israel, which is protecting them, and this rebellious situation must change". Those who are not loyal to the State should not enjoy rights of the citizens, he added.

Although she claims to be "in favour of religious freedom", MK Anastasia Michaeli has proposed a bill aimed at cutting noise pollution. That's the broad remit of the proposed law; in fact, it is intended to protect "the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of Jews who are suffering daily" from the Muslim call to prayer. The law would prohibit the call in "mixed" cities, including Nazareth and Afula in the Galilee, and even predominantly Arab towns adjoining Jewish neighbourhoods, especially at dawn. Although the bill was introduced in May 2011, discussion has been put off owing to the sensitivity of the issue, even though it would be expected to get a large majority in favour in the Knesset. The parliament's Speaker has said that such a law would be tantamount to a "declaration of war by Israel against Muslims" and would require many police officers to enforce it.

Religious discrimination by Israel has raised its head in many forms, including the burning of mosques by illegal Jewish settlers and the prohibition against Muslim scholars attending Al-Aqsa Mosque for prayers and studies.

The responsibility for all of this lies with the Israeli government, whose policies have "unleashed" the far right in the country, claims the Arab League, as well as Israel's international supporters. The international community is culpable because of its silence and double standards which give Israel the green light for its racism.

The League's report points out that there are Israeli human rights organisations run by Jews, Christians and Muslims which oppose the far right. Such bodies are the targets of yet another draft law which intends to prevent them from receiving funds from overseas. Pressure from the EU and US has failed to convince Benjamin Netanyahu that such a law would damage Israel's credentials as a democratic state. Nevertheless, Israel clearly fears that Israeli and Palestinian organisations are capable of exposing the country's human rights abuses inside Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories to the wider world and the proposed law is intended to curb that capability.

All of these draft laws, claim the Arab League's report, illustrate Israel's drift to the far-right and the extent of racial discrimination promoted by the coalition cobbled together by Netanyahu's Likud Party. The intention, it is alleged, is clear: completion of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their land which started in 1948 with the creation of Israel and has been ongoing ever since, leaving an Arab-free "Jewish state". This also lays bare Israel's claim to be a democracy; it is a Zionist occupying power which seeks to achieve its goals at the expense of the rights of others by exterminating them, expelling them and destroying their heritage and history.

The paradox is that as Israel becomes ever more discriminatory and racist, Western governments continue to praise its democratic credentials. Such governments, says the Arab League, should consider that Christians as well as Muslims suffer under Israeli rule, as places of worship are turned into night clubs and worse; cemeteries are desecrated; and the banning of the call to prayer could well be followed by the prohibition of the use of church bells to call the faithful to worship.

The report calls on the international community and human rights organisations to put meaningful pressure on Israel to end its discrimination and racism, especially in religious matters such as the attacks on mosques and restrictions on access to Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Source: Samanews, 25 December 2011

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