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The truth on the Jewish Nation-state law controversy

Ramzy Baroud

Published: Updated:

Many Israeli Jews who consider themselves leftists are as culpable for Israel’s racism and apartheid as the right.

But while right-wing and far-right Israelis are explicit in their undemocratic, narrow-minded and racist views, left-wing parties persist in their self-delusion. Israel’s newest ‘basic law’ – the Jewish Nation-state law - further exposed this reality as soon as it was approved by the Israeli Knesset (parliament) on July 19.

For weeks, many on the left have been screaming foul, mourning the death of Israeli democracy, decrying the good old days when Israel was a truly equitable society, only to be spoiled years later by a right-wing coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel's incoming opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, known among Palestinians for her devastating war on Gaza in 2008-09 - for which she stands accused of war crimes - is joining the chorus of those condemning the Jewish Nation-state law.

Another protesting voice is the head of the left-wing Meretz party, Tamar Zandberg. Meretz is in fact petitioning the High Court of Justice against the law calling it "an act of sabotage against Israeli law that replaced equality with racism."

However, neither Livni, Zandberg, nor the many Israeli Jews who have criticized the law are rejecting it for the right reasons. While media reports often speak of an alleged ongoing 'controversy' in Israel regarding the law, this controversy is miscomprehended.

Take Livni's objection to the new law as an example. Livni does not object to the notion of Jewish superiority. In fact, there is nothing in the text itself that she finds offensive. She made that clear, insisting that Israel is indeed "the national home of the Jewish people". Her discontent is the omission of a stipulation that ensures Israel's commitment to "equality for all its citizens."

Livni merely wants to prolong a lie that has subsisted for decades. She wants a country in which Jews are superior, yet equal, where Israel is Jewish, yet democratic.

The leader of Meretz too is hoping for a return to the same grand illusion. The party argues that the new law is not constitutional since it contradicts a previous basic law: Human Dignity and Liberty, passed in 1992.

Thus, Meretz believes that Israel was indeed a democratic state that respected the liberty and human dignity of all of its citizens, prior to July 19, 2018. According to that view, everything that took place prior to that date - the institutional racism, the Apartheid regime, wars and ethnic cleansing targeting non-Jews - were acceptable components of a democratic system that could have existed for many years more.

Breathing life in an old facade

While Israel's right has no qualms with its racism and its sense of Jewish racial superiority over everyone else, the left in Israel is still desperately breathing life in an old facade created by the founders of Israel as early as May 1948.

However, the new law does, in fact, end the decade-long wrangle on whether Israel can be both Jewish and democratic at the same time.

The Jewish Nation-state law is the last nail in the coffin - those who insist on supporting Israel must know that they are supporting an unabashed Apartheid regime.

Ramzy Baroud

Israeli intellectual, Omri Boehm, joined a growing number of academics arguing that the balancing act is over. In an article in the New York Times, Boehm wrote, "What was long suspected has finally been made brutally clear: Israel cannot be both a Jewish state and a liberal democracy."

The Jewish Nation-state law is the last nail in the coffin - those who insist on supporting Israel must know that they are supporting an unabashed Apartheid regime.

References to the Jewish identity of the state in the text are ample and dominant, with the clear exclusion of the Palestinian people from their rights in their historic homeland:

- “The state of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people ...
- “The actualization of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.
- “The state will labor to ensure the safety of sons of the Jewish people …
- “The state will act to preserve the cultural, historical and religious legacy of the Jewish people among the Jewish diaspora”, and so on.

Most dangerous of all is the stipulation that "the state views Jewish settlement as a national value and will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development."

Illegal Jewish settlements already dot Palestinian land in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and a de facto segregation already exists in Israel itself. In fact, segregation is so deeply entrenched that even maternity wards in Israeli hospitals separate between mothers, based on ethnicity.

The above stipulation, however, will further accelerate segregation and cement apartheid, making the harm not merely intellectual and political, but also physical.

The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Adalah, has documented in its 'Discriminatory Laws Database', a list of over 65 Israeli laws that "discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinian citizens in Israel and/or Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) on the basis of their national belonging".

According to Adalah, "These laws limit the rights of Palestinians in all areas of life, from citizenship rights to the right to political participation, land and housing rights, education rights, cultural and language rights, religious rights, and due process rights during detention."

While it would be accurate to argue that the Jewish Nation-state law is the officiation of apartheid in Israel, this realization should not dismiss the previous reality upon which Israel was founded 70 years ago.

Apartheid is not a single law but a slow, agonizing build-up of an intricate legal regime that is motivated by the belief that one racial group is superior to all others.

Not only does the new law elevate Israel's Jewish identity and erase any commitment to democracy, it also downgrades the status of all others. Palestinian Arabs, the natives of the land of historic Palestine upon which Israel was established, are reduced to a mere stipulation made to the Arabic language, downgrading it from being an official language, to a 'special one.'

Israel’s decision to refrain from formulating a written constitution when it was founded in 1948 was not a random one. Since then, it has been following a predictable model by which it would alter reality on the ground to the advantage of Jews, at the expense of Palestinian Arabs.

Instead of a constitution, Israel resorted to what it termed ‘Basic Laws’, which allowed for the constant formulation of new laws guided by the ‘Jewish State’s’ commitment to racial supremacy, rather than to democracy, international law, human rights or any other ethical value.

And with its latest racist law, Israel has dropped the meaningless claim to being both Jewish and democratic. This impossible task was often left to the Supreme Court which tried, but failed, to strike any convincing balance.

This new reality should, once and for all, end the protracted debate on the supposed uniqueness of Israel's political system.

Furthermore, since Israel has chosen racial supremacy over any claim, however faint, to real democracy, western countries that have often shielded Israel must also make a choice on whether they wish to support an Apartheid regime or fight against it.

The EU must end its feeble political discourse and disengage from Apartheid Israel, or it has to accept the moral, ethical and legal consequences of being an accomplice in Israeli crimes against Palestinians.

Israel has made its choice and it is, unmistakably, the wrong one. The rest of the world must now make its choice too, and hopefully, the right one - standing on the right side of history: against Israeli Jewish Apartheid and in favor of Palestinian rights.

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Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.