Democracy and Israeli’s Other Citizens

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of the state of Israel which is
celebrated every year with pride and
jubilance. The Palestinians in Israel,
however, have very little to celebrate.
Although most of them are citizens, they
have been subjected to institutionalized
discrimination, socio-economic apartheid, and mounting
racism. Their continued plight exposes the myth of Israeli
democracy and the inherent contradiction of defining
Israel as “democratic and Jewish.”
Sadly, public discourse in the United States fails to analyze
the morality and political rationality of injecting this
regime with 10 million dollars a day of our tax-money and
failing to hold Israel accountable for its violations of
human rights and international law. As is evident by the
following examples, the lack of constructive debate within
this discourse is due to the subtext that permeates it: that
Americans have a duty to support “the only democracy in
the Middle East” which was built by the toils of the victims
of the European Holocaust. Not accepting this premise has
been tantamount to anti-Semitism and lack of commitment
to democracy. It is this subtext, dominant since the
foundation of Israel, which we need to challenge in order
to be able to formulate and implement a new Middle East
policy, based on the principles of justice and democracy.
Testifying before a House Subcommittee in April 2003,
Howard Kohr of AIPAC stated that, “…the United States
and Israel have forged a unique and remarkable partnership,
made even more evident after September 11. This
relationship is based on a common set of values, a shared
commitment to democracy and freedom, and comparable
histories of providing safe haven to oppressed peoples.“
Similarly, in a document commissioned by the private
Wexner Foundation, entitled “Israeli Communication Priorities
2003,” the pro-Israeli lobbyists are reminded that
“So far, one of Israel‘s most effective messages has been
that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East… As a
democracy, Israel has the right and the responsibility to
defend its borders and protect its people.” Six years later,
the same sentence is uttered by President Obama to justify
Israel‘s three-week-long bombardment of Gaza (Pi,
March 2009).
The weapon of democracy is used again by Knesset
member, Aryeh Eldad to admonish Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton for insisting that the Palestinians needed to
have a state of their own: “You came here from the world‘s
greatest and strongest democracy… Well, Israeli democracy
has spoken: Most Israeli citizens do not wish to establish
an Arab terror state in our homeland. If your democracy is
real, you should of course respect the democracy of others
as well.
Since its inception in 1948, the State of Israel has been
defining itself as “Jewish in essence and democratic in
character.” The 1948 Declaration of Independence from
the British Mandate in Palestine maintained that “the state
of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the
Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of
the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be
based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the
prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social
and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion,
race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion,
conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard
the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful
to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
The hypocrisy of this proclamation is evident in the
same year‘s Supreme Court‘s ruling that this document
cannot be used to challenge the laws passed by Israeli legislature,
the Knesset—allowing the government to pass
discriminatory laws without impunity. Another fact that
escapes too many people is that Israel, although required
by the Declaration of its formation, has failed so far to
draft and ratify a written constitution. Such a document
would have to guarantee equality before law for all citizens,
including the Palestinian minority, who could then
challenge in courts of law, the legality of all the government‘
s harsh measures against them, and possibly receive
fair rulings.
Through legislation, administrative statues, emergency
measures, and outright illegal actions, the Israeli state has
managed so far to control and keep down its Palestinian
population. The list is long: urban and rural land confiscation,
house and neighborhood demolitions, preventing
Palestinian refugees to return home while subsidizing the
immigration of Jews from their homes abroad to Israel and
the Occupied Territories, barring non-citizen Palestinian
spouses of Israeli citizens from residing in Israel, creating
all-Jewish towns and quarters, discriminatory allocation of
governmental funds to restrict economic, social, and educational
opportunities for non-Jews, restrictions on political
mobilization and participation in politics, etc.
Israeli state refers to its Palestinian population as Israeli
Arabs. This designation helps Israeli Jews to dismiss the
rationale for the establishment of a bi-national state and to
continue the suppression of the national aspirations of the
Palestinians and their desire for equality. The Israeli leadership
has also been aware of the little potential Arab
nationalism has for inspiring political mobilization and
thus find the term “Arab” less dangerous to their supremacy
than “Palestinian. In addition, a potential future transfer
of this “Arab” population to any generic Arab country,
most likely either Jordan or Egypt, would be less objectionable
than forcing a distinct minority to be absorbed in
a foreign country. The fact that Jewish Arabs, who are
called “Oriental Jews“, and Arab Bedouins of Israel are not
identified as “Arab” signifies that, rather than any ethnic
criteria, political motivation has determined the usage of
this term.
The shifting of the politics of Israel towards ultra-right, as
demonstrated in the results of the recent elections, is an
alarming reflection of the fear the colonizers develop of
those they colonize. In the case of the Israeli Jews, the fear
is even deeper since the colonized has deep familial and
ethnic bonds with the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories
and in Diaspora and can hardly be expected to have
loyalty to an exclusionist state. In addition, the Israeli Jews
perceive the Palestinians as a “demographic threat” to the
Jewish character of the state, based on faulty statistics
which sets the former‘s birth rate at a much lower level
than that of the latter. Recently, a governmental Demography
Council has been convened with the specific task of
finding ways to increase the birth rate of Jewish women!
Politicians and rabbis stir up this xenophobia by openly
vilifying the Palestinians of Israel, calling them fifth column,
traitors, cancer and vermin. Avigdor Lieberman,
once on the lunatic fringes of Israeli politics, has tuned his
party into the third-largest political party and is now the
most powerful government figure. He advocates the citizenship
be taken away from the Palestinian citizens since
they are disloyal to the “Jewish state“.
Even Tzipi Livni, in her capacity as foreign
minister in the last government, sees
no place for Palestinians inside Israel: “My
solution for maintaining a Jewish and
democratic state of Israel is to have two
distinct national entities… I will also be
able to approach the Palestinian residents
of Israel, those whom we call Arab Israelis,
and tell them: ‘Your national aspirations lie
Many Israeli progressives are alarmed by
these trends as detrimental to genuine
democratic values. Uri Avnery warns
against fascism. Political geographer, Oren
Yiftachel, calls Israel‘s political system an
ethnocracy (a regime with some democratic
features but lacking a democratic structure)
and not a democracy, so on and so force.
The Palestinians of Israel express their existential
dilemma by referring to themselves
as “Palestinians in Israel.” They realize that,
as “Arab Israelis,” they belong neither to
Israel nor to a future Palestinian state. To
end this predicament, a group of prominent
Israeli Palestinians has recently developed
an extensive plan towards the creation
of a “consensual democracy for both
Arabs and Jews” within which Palestinians
could achieve “full citizenship and equality
and institutional self-rule in the fields of
education, culture, and religion.” So far,
though, this call has received only consternation
from Jewish politicians and public.
The Israel‘s secret police, Shin Bet, has
even warned that it would “disrupt the
activities of any groups that seek to change
the Jewish or democratic character of
Israel, even if they use democratic means.”
Unless Israeli Jews decide to turn their
back on paranoia and embrace with the
Palestinians their common heritage and
love for their ancestral land, they will find
themselves isolated within an ethnocratic
regime, searching a solution to their own
existential dilemma. We, too, need to
decide whether, for the benefit of all
involved, we should start to be part of a
just solution or continue to contribute to
the perpetuation of violence and hatred.

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