Netanyahu Reignites Jim Crow Legislation in Israel

The United States must condemn Israel’s undemocratic and unjust actions toward Palestine.

July 26, 2018


On July 19, by a vote of 62 to 55, the Israeli Knesset enshrined a deeply discriminatory law that declared that unlike all other nations which are the states of their citizens, Israel is to consider itself legally the nation state of the Jewish people. This is a ridiculous and immoral assertion that flies in the face of obvious facts. The majority of the world’s Jews are not Israelis, do not live in Israel, and do not plan to live there. And yet, Israel is more their country than it is the nation state of its native-born non-Jewish inhabitants; Palestinians, mostly Muslim, make up almost 20% of Israel’s population and hold Israeli citizenship.

The US is majority White and Christian, but if anyone suggested we amend the Constitution to declare the US the nation state of White Christians, even the most dimwitted religious and racist fanatics would recognize such a move as deeply racist and totally at odds with any notion of equality of all citizens before the law, which is the bedrock of modern liberal democracy.

Israel has consistently discriminated against its non-Jewish citizens since its foundation. Why did this law need to be passed then? It was just a way for right-wing Zionists like the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to thumb their noses at all those who believe in democracy, the rule of law, and the equality of all citizens as the proper goal of any just society.

There is an Israeli Jim Crow against the Palestinians that deeply discriminates against them in all aspects of life. Only Jews can live wherever they please in Israel, non-Jews are highly restricted. Government jobs are almost entirely filled by Jews, there is deep discrimination in housing, education, the public financing of government services, and Israeli settlements on the West Bank mysteriously never seem to allow non-Jewish Israelis the opportunity to purchase homes there.

For the Israelis, instead of tackling this deeply discriminatory state of affairs, the Knesset decided it needed to enshrine it in Israel’s Basic Law, which is their constitution. They even went so far as to strip Arabic of its official language status. The basic contradiction at the heart of Zionism, how to create a nation state for the Jews in a land full of non-Jews, remains unresolved. Even many Jews within and without Israel are appalled by this act, which seems completely unnecessary as the state already discriminates without it. We stand with all those, including the 55 no votes in the Knesset, who oppose this descent into further dividing Israel into first class and third-class citizens.

The attacks on democratic institutions in Israel by the Netanyahu administration impact Arab representatives in the Knesset as well. 

According to Brookings Fellow, Dany Bahar, “it is more and more common for Arab representatives in the Knesset, who represent the largest minority in the country, to be disqualified in one way or another. And in 2016, a bill was introduced enabling their suspension from their elected positions if a qualified majority of their fellow parliamentarians decide so.”

The US government should suspend all aid to Israel until it commits to being a state of its citizens and not a state of one fraction of its citizens.

What is even more egregious in all this is that this law only affects the 1 million Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. The status of the 4 million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, who have lived under Israeli occupation for over 50 years, is even more abominable. These four million lack any citizenship much less third-class status. They have no right to vote in the government that has ultimate power over their lives. They have no right to create their own businesses, run their own affairs, travel freely, live where they choose, exercise civil rights, or seek the protection of the courts. Their lives are forfeit at the whim of the Israeli military. The complete disregard for Palestinian human life and human rights, whether in the Occupied Palestinian Territories or within Israel is a moral abomination. All people of goodwill must stand against it.

We believe there is only one path forward in the Holy Land. The Occupied Palestinian Territories must be fully and completely relinquished and a fully sovereign Palestinian state created, and both Israel and Palestine should define themselves as the state of their citizens, and to treat all of their citizens of whatever background with full legal, social, and political equity and equality.

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