Legal segregation: an update (and a good word for Ehud Barak!)

Posted: December 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism, The Left | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

The threat of an amendment to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom which I’ve been following here has been lifted for now. The amendment was supposed to make the “Citizenship Law” – which prohibits Palestinians married to Israelis from obtaining citizenship – a part of the Israeli constitution, thus making it impossible to challenge the law in court, as some NGOs are trying to do these days.

As I explained both here and here, the Citizenship Law severely hurts the Israeli Arab minority’s basic right to family life. MK David Rotem (Israel Beitenu), who initiated the amendment to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom, declared Sunday that his goal is to limit the growth of the Arab minority “through the use of marriages for a Palestinian ‘return’ to Israel.”

On Sunday, Labor ministers prevented the coalition from backing this racist bill.

It should be noted that the Citizenship Law is still applied in Israel, but as a temporary order and not as a part of the “Basic Laws”, which are the closest thing Israel has for a constitution. The fate of the order lies now in the hands of the Supreme Court, which is expected to issue a new ruling on the matter in the next few months.

For now, Labor deserves a good word for the work they are doing against the current surge in anti-Arab legislation. I have been objecting – and I still am – to Ehud Barak’s decision to enter Netanyahu’s government, but one must admit that from time to time, he has been backing the right causes quite efficiently (and at the same time, some of Kadima’s members were actually backing MK Rotem’s amendment! Not to mention the fact that they initiated and supported the National Biometric Database legislation. Altogether, Kadima appears more and more like a dangerously cynical party).


Israeli segregation / The end of the road for the “Jewish AND Democratic” model?

Posted: December 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off

A new amendment into the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom might officially turn Israel into a democracy for Jews only.

Since it’s founding, Israel has claimed – and most of the time was regarded – to be both a Jewish state and a democratic one. In the Israelis’ views, the two elements don’t contradict, but rather complete each other. Criticism on this view has focused on the facts that (a) the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were never granted Israeli citizenship and the civil rights that come with it, and that (b) Israel’s “Law of Return” distinguishes between Jews and non-Jews, as it only allows the former to automatically become Israeli citizens.

Israel’s answer to A is that the West Bank and Gaza are not officially part of the state, and that within the Green Line border, all Israelis, Jews and non-Jews, have full rights. The answer to article B is very similar: yes, we allow Jews into the state, but once someone becomes an Israeli citizen, he enjoys full rights, regardless of his ethnic origin, religious or sex.

A new legislation effort by Yisrael Beitenu (Liberman’s party) might put an end to all this reasoning. This legislation is about to make discrimination and racial segregation a part of the legal codex of Israel. If passed, it will make it very hard to view Israel as a democracy – at least in the common meaning of the term in the West – regardless of the situation in the West bank.

Here is a little background:

There are thousands of Israeli Arab Citizens who are married to non-Israeli Palestinians or Arabs from other states. On July 2003 the Knesset enacted the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order), which prohibits the granting of any residency or citizenship status to Palestinians from the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territories who are married to Israeli citizens. In 2007 the law was also applied to Israeli citizens who marry residents of Lebanon, Syria, Iran or Iraq and/or any place defined by the Israeli security forces as where activity is occurring that is liable to endanger Israeli security.

The meaning of this legislation is that Arab citizens can’t enjoy their right to family life if they chose to marry a non-Israeli – as the non-Israeli partner does not receive an Israeli citizenship, or even the right to reside in Israel. In most cases, the couple is force either to leave the country or to live separately.

Officially, it were security concerns that led to the 2003 and 2007 bills; but this was probably just an excuse, since even before the new law was accepted the Ministry of Interior had the authority to refuse citizenship to any person which is suspected of presenting a security threat without a need to justify its decision. More likely that it was the demographic logic that led to the legislation, with the will to simply prevent Arabs from entering the state, and even forcing them to leave, playing the central part, and security issues only coming later. This assumption is supported by most of the public statements made during the debate on the law.

There is a point here which must be made clear: by refusing to allow a Palestinian woman who married an Israeli to immigrate to Israel, it is not the woman’s right who is violated, but the man’s. In all democracies, each citizen has the right to marry whoever he whishes to and to live with him or her on their own state. The new law takes this right away from the Arab population, while still granting it to the Jewish one. It distinguishes between the rights of citizens to family life based on their ethnicity.

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Since 2003, several human right groups are waging a legal campaign against the  Citizenship Law, claiming that it stands in contradiction to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom. “Basic Laws” are the closest thing Israel has to a constitution.

In a famous 6-5 split decision, the Supreme Court dismissed in 2006 the petitions against the Citizenship Law. However, the court harshly criticized the Law, with Justice Edmond Levi, who voted with the majority, writing that this is only a temporary approval, and that “a different arrangement” must be reached. The chief justice Aharon Barak voted with the minority against the Citizenship Law. The Supreme Court also allowed the petitioners to bring their case before it again in the future, and the common assumption is that it will eventually rule the Citizenship Law as unconstitutional.

And this is exactly what the current Knesset is trying to prevent. As Jonathan Liss reports in Haaretz, 44 MKs, among them members from the opposition party of Kadima, are backing an amendment proposed by Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom, intended to bring it into line with the Citizenship Law. The coalition will decide this Sunday whether to back the amendment, thus promising it an automatic majority in the Knesset.

In other words, the Knesset will have the Israeli constitution include an article which distinguishes between the right to family life of Jews and Arabs. Read the rest of this entry »


“Nakba Law” to be approved, raises questions on Israel’s commitment to democratic values

Posted: July 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation has approved today the “soft” version of Israel Beitenu’s “Nakba Law”, aimed at preventing events or ceremonies marking the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948.

According to the old version of the law, commemorating the Nakba would have become a criminal offense, leading up to three years in prison. International criticism, as well as doubts over the consequences of trying to uphold such a law, led to the new version, which was presented before the ministerial committee today. Haaretz reports that

The new bill prohibits funding of activities that reject the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state or deny the democratic character of the state.

It also outlaws funding for activities that fall within the definition of armed struggle or terrorist activities – by an enemy state or a terror organization – against Israel.

Additionally, the bill prohibits funding for activities that could harm the honor of the flag, the state or state symbols. 

Judging from the public support for both versions of the bill, I believe there is a good chance the new version will become a state law in a matter of a year or so, possibly even less.

One has to understand the political reality in Israel to fully appreciate why this new law is no less than a direct attack on the core principles of the democratic system, and most notably, on the rights of the large Israeli-Palestinian minority. Read the rest of this entry »


Is Israel an Apartheid State?

Posted: March 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Left, The Right, The Settlements, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I got involved recently in several arguments concerning the issue of Apartheid, and whether or not we can name Israel an “Apartheid-state”. As most people can understand, this is not just an academic debate on definitions, but one that invites immediate political action. The word “Apartheid” symbolizes for us today something which is totally immoral. A regime that can’t be fixed, a system that’s wrong from its foundations. It’s an accusation not to be taken – nor made – lightly. Here are my thoughts on the matter.

If you asked me some years ago whether you can accuse Israel of Apartheid, I would have answered “no“. Today my answer is more complex. It’s something like “it depends“. I fear that we are heading towards the day when it will be a definite “Yes“.

Read the rest of this entry »