Our new issue is coming soon. Get a discounted subscription today!

Israel’s New-Old Discrimination

The message of Israel's new “nation state” law is as simple as it as repugnant: Palestinians need not exist.

Israeli flags fly atop the country's parliamentary building. James Emery / Flickr

On Thursday, the Israeli parliament passed a new law establishing Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people.” The consensus thus far in the ever-astute elite media is that the move was “controversial.”

The Jerusalem Post website provides the English text of the legislation, which stipulates that “[t]he actualization of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” In other words, Palestinians need not exist.

Other gems include the affirmation that “[t]he state views Jewish settlement as a national value and will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.” The New York Times carefully speculates that this provision could “possibly aid … those who would seek to advance discriminatory land-allocation policies.” The law furthermore demotes Arabic from an official language to one with “special status in the state.”

While Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has celebrated the law’s passage as “a pivotal moment in the annals of Zionism and the State of Israel,” other Zionists are less jovial. The Times of Israel quotes Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the prominent Union for Reform Judaism in the United States, as lamenting: “The damage that will be done by this new Nation-State law to the legitimacy of the Zionist vision and to the values of the state of Israel as a democratic — and Jewish — nation is enormous.”

Jacobs is no doubt correct, but it would seem that such legitimacy would already have been definitively crushed by Israel’s recurring habit of slaughtering unarmed Palestinians and taking their land. Indeed, the ruckus over the brand-new law obscures the reality that there’s not actually much new about it at all.

Ben White, author of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, points out over at Middle East Eye that “[m]any discriminatory laws are already on the books, and legal ways to create segregated communities in Israel already exist.” Not only is there “no right to equality” in the country, Israeli legislation “already privileges the protection of a ‘Jewish state’ over equality for non-Jewish citizens.”

The online Discriminatory Laws Database, managed by Adalah—The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, counts some sixty-five Israeli laws that discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinians. On the list are such items as “Mandatory minimum sentences for convicted stone-throwers,” “‘Anti-Boycott Law’ – Prevention of Damage to the State of Israel through Boycott,” and the charming “‘Nakba Law’ – Amendment No. 40 to the Budget Foundations Law.”

The “Nakba Law,” Adalah reports, has been in effect since 2011 and “authorizes the [Israeli] Finance Minister to reduce state funding or support to an institution if it holds an activity that rejects the existence of Israel as a ‘Jewish and democratic state’” or chooses to mark the anniversary of Israel’s foundation as a “day of mourning.”

From the get-go, Israel’s overriding objective has been to erase Palestinian identity as a means of usurping land; recall former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir’s theory, put forth in 1969, that “[t]here were no such thing as Palestinians … They did not exist.” It is quite a bit easier said than done, however, to disappear an entire people that doesn’t want to be disappeared — hence, perhaps, the utility of periodic Israeli military massacres.

The new law is a continuation of business as usual in this attempted disappearing act. Bestselling Palestinian-American author Susan Abulhawa, who contends that the legislation reflects Israel’s decision to “formalize … its Apartheid,” took to Facebook to compose an inventory of the perks of Israel’s much-ballyhooed “democracy” — where “everybody votes (except a few million native non-Jews under Jewish military rule)” and neighborhood committees dutifully “ensure non-Jews don’t buy or rent in Jewish neighborhoods.”

The upshot of the law, Abulhawa wrote, is that “indigenous non-Jews aren’t human enough to be accorded the human right of self-determination” and that “if they choose to live in their homeland,” they will be expected to exist at the mercy of the conquerors.

As for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, they of course don’t have the option to choose to live in their homeland since the right of return is reserved for persons of Jewish orientation who possess no connection to the land in question. (Granted, even Jewishness doesn’t always guarantee that you’re home free in the nation-state, as Ethiopian Jews who’ve been forcibly administered contraceptive drugs in Israel can presumably attest.)

Now, squawking by the international community over the “controversial” law and impending erosion of democracy will likely be just as effective as the ongoing denunciation of Israel’s illegal settlements — which has simply entered into the realm of background noise and has yet to impede the annual flinging of billions of dollars of US military aid at Israel.

But while Israel may excel in creating facts on the ground, the ground may yet hold some surprises — especially if, as Abulhawa hopes, Israel is “digging [its] own grave.”