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ISRAEL’S apologists have always insisted it does not merit the epithet “apartheid,” but they have been cut off at the knees by last week’s Knesset approval of a nation-state law.
The new legislation, which has the status of a constitutional basic law, defines Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people and asserts that “realisation of the right to national self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
It confirms Tel Aviv’s illegal land grab perpetrated against east Jerusalem, naming “a united Jerusalem” as Israel’s capital, and designates Hebrew as the state’s official language, downgrading Arabic to one with “special status.”
The law describes Jewish settlement as a “national value” to be promoted by the state, entrenching colonisation and ethnic cleansing as a quasi-legal goal throughout the West Bank.
And it also legitimises communities to set up “admission committees” to preserve their exclusive nature by refusing entry to other citizens deemed unacceptable.
The Knesset Bill, passed by 62 votes to 55 with two abstentions, has been pursued for six years by MK Avi Dichter, first as a Kadima representative and latterly as a member for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.
Netanyahu backed the proposal last year, asserting that its passage would “constitute an overwhelming response to all those who deny the deep connection between the Jewish people and their land.”
Ayman Odeh, who chairs the Joint List of Arab parties and the Israeli Communist Party (CPI) electoral vehicle Hadash, led the opposition to the Bill, calling it a “declaration of war” against Israel’s Arab citizens.
“Discrimination has received a legal stamp. The danger in this law in that it establishes two classes of citizen — Jewish and Arab,” he warned.
CPI leader and Joint List (Hadash) MK Dov Khenin declared that “this Bill would enshrine apartheid.”
Human rights group Adalah general director Hassan Jabareen said: “This Bill features key elements of apartheid, such as housing segregation and the creation of two separate tracks of citizenship based on ethno-religious identity.
“The Jewishness of the Israeli state would override any other constitutional principle or any other law and would even be above the Knesset itself.
“A constitution is supposed to guarantee a state for all its citizens. It must not explicitly exclude the Palestinian citizens, a non-immigrant indigenous minority, that makes up 20 per cent of Israel’s population.”
Hadash played a key role in mobilising a 7,000-strong protest march from Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to the Dizengoff Centre, alongside left social-democratic party Meretz, the Association of Ethiopian Jews, Peace Now, Combatants for Peace, Young Labour and other peace and social activists.
“The nation-state Bill won’t make us disappear, but it will do huge damage to democracy,” Odeh told the demonstrators.
“This mass protest is an important step in our fight against fascism … Racist legislation of a government that fears power, of a majority that tramples the minority, will not remove us.
“We will remain in our homeland. We will remain here, two nations. The thousands who came here tonight give us hope that we can, in the future, achieve a state in which there will be equality and peace.”
Khenin declared: “Now is the time to prevent a new war against the Palestinian people in Gaza … but what we see is that the far-right Netanyahu government is trying to hide the fact that it has no solutions for any of the country’s problems, so it attempts to hide this and distract citizens by incitement and racist Bills.”
Movement for Progressive Judaism chief executive Rabbi Gilad Kariv called the Bill “despicable.”
He urged elected officials not to be silent, telling them: “Do not play your political poker game for the elections at the expense of the image and values of Israeli society and at the expense of its people.”
A joint message issued by the protest organisers stated: “We are all equal citizens — Arabs and Jews, women and men, Mizrahim (Oriental Jews), Ethiopians, those of us from Russia, and members of the LGBTQ community.
“The law of division and discrimination that this government is promoting, which they call the nation-state Bill, will leave a great many of us out — out of towns with admission committees, out of fair treatment in the courts, out of citizenship, out of democracy. To this, we will not agree.”
European Union ambassador Emanuele Giaufret made no secret of EU opposition to the nation-state law, commenting that it “moves Israel away from the accepted norms of democratic states,” “smells of racism” and “harms the values that the State of Israel tries to protect.”
For his pains, he was summoned by Netanyahu, who doubles as foreign minister, for an official reprimand.
EU foreign affairs and security policy high representative Federica Mogherini has responded to an appeal by Odeh by inviting Joint List MKs to a first ever meeting in Brussels on September 4.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the law exposed the racist face of the Israeli occupation and its violation of all international legitimacy resolutions, declaring: “The adoption of such false and racist laws will not change the historical situation of Jerusalem as the capital of the occupied state of Palestine.”
World-renowned pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim made clear his view in a Haaretz article titled Today I Am Ashamed to Be an Israeli that the nation-state law is “a very clear form of apartheid.”
He added that “it confirms the Arab population as second-class citizens.”
Israel’s increasingly complicated relations with Jewish groups in the US were exemplified by United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism chief executive Rabbi Steven Wernick’s statement that “Israel is losing its soul and weakening its democracy and Jewish character.
“Its beacon of light to the nations is now dim. Even I am having difficulty seeing it.”
Israel’s provocative legislation is not simply a declaration demeaning the 20 per cent of the state’s citizens who are Arab as at best second class.
Its confirmation of superiority for an ethno-religious identity within Israel’s still undefined national borders also affects Jewish citizens of every other state in the world by dint of its designation of Israel as the exclusive state of “the Jewish people” rather than of Israeli Jews.
Although only a minority of the global Jewish population has chosen to live in what Israel calls their national homeland, Jews from wherever in the world have, since the establishment of Israel, had the right to travel there and take up Israeli citizenship.
While this right has always been denied to Palestinians who fled or were driven from their homeland during the Nakba or subsequently, the UN declaration that set up the state of Israel stipulated that minorities must be accorded equality there.
That condition, established in international law, is clearly infringed by Israel’s nation-state legislation.
Israel has consistently acted according to its own alternative version of international law and been assisted in this by its US and EU allies’ downplaying of overseas assassinations or misuse of passports belonging to citizens of friendly nations.
The Israeli embassy in London is doubtless no different from others in authorising officials such as Shai Masot to direct activity in overseas political organisations such as Britain’s Labour Party.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s request to Prime Minister Theresa May to order a full investigation 18 months ago into “attempts to undermine the integrity of our democracy” probably explains why some media and political circles are determined to smear him as an anti-semite.
Similar calumnies are directed at the Irish Republic where the Senate voted recently, in the teeth of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s opposition, to ban imports of products from illegal Jewish West Bank settlements, providing a lead to the rest of the EU.
Irish senators understand that critical words have had no effect on successive Israeli governments’ colonisation and ethnic cleansing policies.
Peaceful pressure in the form of boycott, divestment and sanctions is the only way to persuade Israel to abide by international law and to recognise that Palestinians have national rights too, whether as Israeli citizens or on the West Bank and in Gaza.
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