An Apartheid State: Is This the Death of Democracy in Israel?
By: Alena Khan/Arab America Contributing Writer
Recently Israel has passed into law a bill that defines the nature of the state of Israel. The nation-state bill sparked controversy as it establishes Israel as the historic home of Jewish people, saying that only Jewish people have the “right to self-determination.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who advocated for the bill described it as a defining moment in Israel’s history, however many feel otherwise.
Israel’s original Declaration of Independence in 1948 ensures “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.” But what the current nation-state bill fails to mention is equality or minority rights.
This bill officially makes Israel an apartheid state. Palestinians, despite wherever they live, are controlled by an Israeli government and military that takes away their “basic rights and freedoms.” The law stating Hebrew as the country’s official language downgrades the status of the Arabic language. The new law setting Arabic as a language with “special status” also omits “promises of democracy and equality.”
After the law had passed, a few Arab lawmakers “tore copies in protest” and were removed from the Knesset plenum hall. Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List, released a statement saying that “Israel declared it does not want us here…it had passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens.”
In more recent years, Israeli members of the right-wing have aimed to alienate Arab legislators, making sure to exclude them from important votes, making Arab citizens take loyalty oaths in fear of being stripped of their citizenship, etc. Arab schools and healthcare in Israel have been very poorly funded, while their living conditions aren’t up to standard and have faced several limitations because of their Arab status. Now with this law in place the several limitations seem to increase, but is it fair to privilege some people over others, even in a “Jewish state?”
Dan Yakir, chief legal counsel for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel says the new law “will give rise to arguments that Jews should enjoy privileges and subsidies and rights because of the special status that this law purports to give the Jewish people in Israel,” he added, “this is a racist law.”
This nation-state bill instills privileges for Jewish citizens while simultaneously allowing discrimination against Palestinian citizens, opening the door to what you can call legalized segregation. According to the Los Angeles Times, “The nation-state bill further marginalizes the community and entrenches Israel’s regime of racial discrimination and deterioration into apartheid.”
Instead of forming some sort of “two-tiered society,” Israel should work on including all citizens, rather than exclusion. In efforts to treat all citizens fairly, Israel could simultaneously work on reinvigorating the peace process. “An independent, sovereign Palestinian state is the best hope for reducing tension between these two historically hostile peoples.”
Netanyahu’s government has been known as the “most right-wing and religious coalition” in Israel’s 70-year history. With the Trump administration providing a significantly high degree of support, it makes you think about what if the US did this for a specific ethnicity? If Trump and his administration had ever passed a legislation declaring the US to be a religion or ethnic-specific state, it would be publicly encouraging American communities to exclude others not included.
Trump and Netanyahu have always shown some similarities in the way they work. Similar to Trump, Netanyahu and his government have made efforts to “turn the clock back on humanity’s march toward a freer, more just and egalitarian world.” Today Palestinians face complete exclusion and isolation with this nation-state bill passed, as they continue to struggle for equality, citizenship and just rights.