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Challenging the rise of discrimination in Israel

June 20, 2019 at 10:26 am

After proving his identity, a Palestinian worshiper walks past Israeli forces to get to Al-Aqsa Mosque on 25 May 2018 [Wisam Hashlamoun/Anadolu Agency]

Seventy-one years since the Nakba the State of Israel finds itself at the height of its self-confidence and pride. The change in US administration, the spring in Israel’s relations with Arab and Muslim countries, and a burgeoning high-tech industry, have combined to create a more favourable political and social milieu for Israel to pursue its interests.

Salient among these interests has been the conscious attempt by Israeli officials to downplay Israel’s human rights record towards the Palestinians living in Israel and Palestinian Occupied Territory.

To do this, one strategy commonly employed by Israeli officials, including by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been to promote the narrative that Israel is the “only democracy in the Middle East”’ and a “beacon of hope for all peoples.” Reproduced not only by politicians in Israel but also here in Europe, most notoriously by the UK’s Home Secretary Sajid Javid, rhetoric supporting the idea that Israel is a democratic state threatens to grow in popularity as the far-right grows in power and influence across Europe and South America.

For Israeli officials, the reproduction of this narrative is designed to have a number of desired effects. It is intended not only to shield the State from comparisons to apartheid-era South Africa but to also suggest that Arabs are incapable of practicing democracy. The latter is often used by Israel to avoid shouldering the blame for a failing Middle East peace process that is becoming increasingly retrograde as we witness Trump’s Deal of the Century.

It is key, therefore, that this narrative is exposed and a full examination of the discriminatory policies and sentiment towards Palestinians that is prevalent across Israel is carried out.

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One key, modern manifestation of a discriminatory policy towards Palestinians at the heart of the State of Israel can be seen with the passage of the Nation-State Law in July 2018. The Nation-State Law, according to the human rights organisation Adalah, “establishes a colonial regime and constitutionally anchors state discrimination against Palestinian citizens.” The Law, which constitutionally entrenches the idea that Israel is a nation-state for only the Jewish and encourages Jewish settlement as a “national value,” represents one of over 65 Israeli laws that directly or indirectly discriminate against Palestinians. These laws cover everything from land and housing rights, language rights, and rights of due process.

Prevalent since the inception of the State of Israel in 1948, these laws must not be viewed in a vacuum but instead as an intrinsic part of nineteenth and twentieth century Zionist thinking. When consulting the literature that informs early and present day Zionist thinking, it becomes clear that there is no tradition in Zionism, past or present, which recognises a “national minority” within the Jewish State;  consequently, Palestinians are neither recognised as a constituent national minority within Israel nor do they enjoy anything close to full equality under the law.

In commenting on the topic, Israeli legal scholar Ruth Gavison notes that Zionism “offers special benefits to the people with whom the state is identified . . . [and] puts those citizens who are not members of the preferred national community at a disadvantage.” Gavison’s view is one that is increasingly being supported by a growing tradition of European Jewry that have become disillusioned with Zionism as a political ideology. It is rather paradoxical, in this light, that in contemporary Europe opposing a political ideology that is widely recognised as a form of racism is also beginning to be seen as a form of racism in itself.

With the shift towards the right in Israel’s political landscape, discriminatory policy against the Palestinians is growing at a more rapid pace than in preceding years.

For this reason, initiatives exposing discriminatory and racist practice in Israel must be utilised as a matter of urgency as a key tool of both Palestinian advocacy and solidarity movements and organisations. While such initiatives do not have the power to force the reversal of policy that is intrinsic to the ideology at the core of the State of Israel, they do have the power to send a message that these policies are not sustainable.

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One initiative that has attempted to raise awareness about Israeli discriminatory sentiment and policy towards the Palestinians is EuroPal Forum’s ‘Israeli Racism in Quotes’ campaign. This campaign, which has consisted of the release of imagery and the provision of letters to parliamentarians in Europe, attempts to expose the discrimination towards the Palestinians that is at the heart of public and private life in Israel. According to EuroPal Forum, their campaign aims to dispel the narrative that Israel is a democracy through engagement and action by European governments and parliamentarians in regard to the plight of the Palestinians.

As we move forwards and witness a more emboldened Israel, initiatives such as this campaign must be utilised as a core feature of the solidarity movement in Europe and elsewhere. If anything is to go by, the growth of BDS in Europe and Israel’s allocation of resources towards countering it goes to show that Israel is worried about losing a foothold in the narrative of the continent. To ensure that Israel is prevented from perpetuating its narrative, this pressure must be continued.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.