Restricting Israel's Arab minority
Legitimacy of Israeli democracy threatened as racism increases under discriminatory laws against Palestinian minority.
Mel Frykberg Last Modified: 02 Jan 2011 13:50 GMT
A number of recent incidents discriminating against Israel’s Palestinian minority has prompted Israeli Knesset (parliament) members to debate whether Israel is becoming increasingly racist.
Ronit Sela from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (Acri) has no doubts. "Israel’s democracy is under threat as an increasingly large racist element raises its collective head. A number of racist occurrences have taken place in a climate conducive to racism. This wouldn’t have happened prior to the current right-wing Israeli government," Sela said.
Recently an organisation called Jews for a Jewish Bat Yam (a suburb near Tel Aviv) held a protest against "assimilation of young Jewish women with Arabs living in the city or in nearby Jaffa."
"It's a local organisation of Bat Yam residents, because the public is tired of so many Arabs going out with Jewish girls," explained one of the organisers, Bentzi Gufstein. "In addition to the protest, we will hand out pamphlets explaining the situation."
For all the fear of "being swamped by the Arabs", the amount of social, political and public interaction between Israel’s Jewish majority and its Palestinian minority remains restricted.
Prof. Shlomo Hasson from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem argues that relations between the two communities are largely influenced by social and economic interaction.
"There is very limited integration between Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens. Unemployment amongst Israeli-Arabs is much higher than amongst Jewish citizens," said Orna Cohen from Adalah, The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
"In the public sector Arab employment is basically limited to the health and educational sector where they work with fellow Arabs. There is some integration in the private sector where Arabs are employed and they are also hired for private services," Cohen said.
"There is also some mixing in mixed residential cities such as Haifa. But there are many Jewish communities where Arabs are refused the right to live and not allowed to buy land," added Cohen.
"I don’t know the extent to which Arabs and Israelis are inter-dating, but that really is irrelevant."
Several weeks ago Knesset members hotly debated an earlier development when a number of leading Israeli rabbis signed a religious ruling forbidding renting homes to gentiles, specifically aimed at Palestinians living in the Israel town Safed, while studying at a local college.
"We don't need to help Arabs set down roots in Israel," said Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of the Beit El settlement. He stated that Jews looking for apartments should be given preference over gentiles and that the growing number of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship were becoming a nuisance.
Israelis who have continued to rent to Palestinians have received threats and been publicly shamed by right-wing organisations who have drawn up lists.
According to Israeli daily ‘Y Net’, a recent survey shows 41 percent of secular Israelis support municipal religious leaders' call not to rent apartments to non-Jews, as do 64 percent and 88 percent of Israel's traditional and Haredi Jews, respectively.
Haneen Zoabi, an Israeli-Arab member of the Knesset who participated in the ill-fated Mavi Marmara attempt to break the siege of Gaza in May, expressed outrage that some Israeli parliamentarians were feigning shock at recent developments.
"Three months ago the Knesset approved a law that villages with populations smaller than 500 residents could remain Jewish to ‘maintain their cultural identity’. Furthermore, there have been approximately ten laws passed during the last year aimed against the Arab minority," Zoabi said.
"Israel has double standards. Some Knesset members accused the rabbis of being racist despite the loyalty oath they supported and passed several months earlier. This calls for the Israeli citizenship of the Palestinian minority to be dependent on swearing allegiance to Zionism and Israel’s Jewish character despite this conflicting with their rights as an ethnic minority," she said.
"These rabbis authored the letter despite the fact they are Israeli public servants and on the government payroll. We wrote to the justice minister and got a legal injunction asking the minister to look into the matter. We have received no reply and nothing has been done about it," added Sela.
"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not rebuked the rabbis. The fact that public servants are able to incite to this degree, despite there being no major changes in Israel’s judiciary in the country’s 62-year history, speaks volumes about the current political climate in Israel," Sela said.
Adalah, has meticulously documented the discrimination against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.
This includes over 30 laws ranging from the law of return applying only to Jews; the ease with which Palestinians can be stripped of their citizenship; under-representation in the judiciary and politics; under-funding of Arab education and social services; higher rates of unemployment; and inadequate access to land and planning rights.
A version of this article first appeared on the Inter Press Service News Agency.
Rabbis' wives urge Israeli women not to mix with Arabs
Letter signed by wives of 27 prominent rabbis draws furious reaction from politicians and religious leaders in Israel
Ana Carbajosa in Jerusalem
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 29 December 2010 19.28 GMT
A letter signed by the wives of 27 prominent Israeli rabbis urging Jewish women not to date or work with Arab men has drawn a furious reaction from politicians and religious leaders.
Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak, said the petition was "part of a wave of racism, which threatens to carry Israeli society away to dark and dangerous places".
The letter follows the release of a document by dozens of rabbis this month which ruled that Israeli Jews should not let or sell their properties to Arabs. The ruling, signed by some of the most prominent religious leaders in the country, was condemned by the Israeli government, including the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. However, a poll published this week revealed significant support for the rabbis' position among the Israeli Jewish population.
The letter, by a group of influential wives from the Lehava organisation, states that Israeli Jewish girls should not mingle with gentiles. To that end, the "daughters of Israel" – as the letter refers to the young women – should also avoid places such as supermarkets and workplaces frequented by non-Jewish men.
"There are quite a few Arab workers who give themselves Hebrew names. Yusef turns into Yosef, Samir turns into Sami, and Awabad turns into Ami. They ask to be close to you, try to find favour with you, and give you all the attention in world … [but] the moment you are in their hands, in their village, under their control, everything changes," the letter states, according to translations published in the Israeli press.
Lehava has launched initiatives in the past to fight against the "assimilation" of Jews. It organised a demonstration this month in which hundreds of supporters protested against the presence of Arab citizens in Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv.
Rabbi Mauricio Balter, the president of the Rabbinical Assembly of Masroti, the Conservative Judaism movement in Israel, condemned the letter, saying it was "contrary to Judaism" and showed a "touch of racism and xenophobia". He added: "Although in Judaism we promote marriage between Jews, we do not consider it a problem working with or having friends who are non-Jews." The conservative movement is the second-largest in world Judaism but represents only a minority of Jews living in Israel.
A poll published this week showed 44% of Israeli Jews support the rabbis' ruling this month banning the renting of apartments to non-Jews. The survey, by the Truman Institute of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, also revealed that 48% opposed such a ban.
Israel's Arab minority makes up more than 20% of the country's population.
Bleak Christmas under occupation
Syrian Orthodox Christians in East Jerusalem say Israel's control makes even basic tasks difficult.
Last Modified: 22 Dec 2010 06:45 GMT
Temple remarks upset Jews
Furore follows Palestinian claims that Western Wall in Jerusalem holds no religious significance.
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Israel builds anti-migrant wall
Israel will spend $360m on a new electric fence to block African migrants from entering the country.
Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa Al-Omrani Last Modified: 16 Dec 2010 15:25 GMT
Ending aid to Israel
If the Obama administration wants to advance peace, it should attach strict conditions on aid to Israel.
MJ Rosenberg Last Modified: 13 Dec 2010 15:08 GMT
The Obama administration has abandoned its feckless effort to induce Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to accept a 90-day settlement freeze designed to kick start peace negotiations — and save Israel from suicidal settlement expansion.
Any doubt that the settlements could be Israel's death warrant should have been eliminated by the recent fire that consumed northern Israel. The Minister of the Interior, an ultra-Orthodox 18th-century man - and 21st century political hack - named Eli Yishai chose funnelling resources to settlements rather than investing in firefighting equipment.
This is typical. The ultra-Orthodox settlers have little use for Israel itself. They really only care about Biblical Israel (which is mostly the West Bank). What's a fire in boring old pre-'67 Israel to a Bible-thumping fanatic like Yishai and his Shas Party? He's got Palestinians to drive out of their homes.
In any case, the Obama administration had offered Netanyahu an astonishing $3.5bn for a 90-day freeze in part of the West Bank (in addition to the annual $3.5bn aid package), plus the promise to use our veto in the UN Security Council on Israel's behalf. And most importantly, the US pledged to never ever ask Israel for another settlement freeze again.
But Netanyahu hemmed and hawed and then demanded that the US offer be put in writing (to make it legally enforceable?) and President Obama balked. Imagine if, in the run-up to World War II,Winston Churchill had told FDR that he'd accept Lend-Lease or the Destroyers for Bases deals, but only if Roosevelt sent him a signed and notarised offer. (Forgive me for putting Netanyahu in the same paragraph with Churchill.)
At long last, the Obama administration pulled the plug on the deal - although, the need for campaign donations could force a reversal soon. The reversal or, hopefully, a strong new comprehensive review of our Middle East policies, could come as early as Friday when Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, delivers an address on Israeli-Palestinian issues.
If Clinton delivers the speech she wants to deliver, it could offer a new comprehensive approach that is not dependent on pleasing Netanyahu. On the other hand, if the national security adviser for Middle East issues, Dennis Ross, a longtime veteran of AIPAC's Washington Institute for Near East Policy, prevails, it will be mush. Ross supports negotiations but solely on Israel's terms. Clinton has little use for Netanyahu, dating back to the days when he joined then-Speaker Newt Gingrich in his efforts to bring down President Bill Clinton. She can work with him but only under the old Reagan motto, "trust but verify."
Dennis Ross himself might do a decent job if he would only follow the example set by his one-time boss, James Baker, former secretary of state.
Back in 1992, the right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir asked the George H.W. Bush administration for $10bn in loan guarantees to help house Jews who had emigrated from the Soviet Union to Israel. Israel needed the guarantees and Bush wanted to provide them, but he was more interested in achieving Arab-Israeli negotiations.
So Bush said yes to the money but only if Israel imposed a total settlement freeze. Not surprisingly, the Israeli government said no and, even less surprisingly, AIPAC convened an emergency fly-in to Washington so that its members could visit Congress and let senators and representatives know that putting conditions on aid was simply not acceptable to AIPAC.
Neither Bush nor Baker was intimidated. In a speech, Bush said:
The choice is Israel's. She can determine whether she wants to take action which would permit the strong support of both the legislative and executive branches for these loan guarantees or not.
Baker was summoned to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, then as now an AIPAC bastion, to explain what he was doing. How dare he condition aid? But he stuck to his guns. No freeze, no money.
And then he said that if the Israelis change their mind, they can just call him. "They have my number," he said.
Israel singled out?
One after another, AIPAC's congressional cutouts denounced him. But Baker shrugged them off.
Accused of singling out Israel, he said, "Nobody else is asking us for $10bn in addition to the $3bn to $4bn that we give every year with no strings attached."
The upshot was that the administration simply dug in its heels. Relations between the two governments deteriorated, the Israeli public became alarmed and, a few months later, tossed out Shamir and elected Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin accepted the settlement freeze and the loan guarantees went through.
The rest is history. The Bush/Baker term achieved the first significant Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, although the faltering economy led to Bush's defeat in the 1992 election. Rabin pursued peace with the Palestinians until his murder by a settler extremist. He was followed by a series of successors who played games with negotiations, primarily to extract aid from the United States.
Nonetheless, the most significant aspect of the Bush-Baker policies remains. Israelis and Palestinians no longer deny each other's existence. Negotiations take place and they could actually succeed if the United States followed Baker's example and linked aid to Israel to progress toward an agreement.
Yesterday, one of the most influential bloggers in the United States, Andrew Sullivan, until recently a strong supporter of Israeli policies (he was editor of Martin Peretz's New Republic), wrote this:
It appears the Obama administration has thrown in the towel in trying to get Netanyahu to agree to a new moratorium on settlements in the West Bank. That presumably means none of the promised goodies either. Now what? Clinton is due to speak at Brookings on Friday, when the next step may be announced.
I favour an end to aid for Israel because a) Israel doesn't need it and b) we need the money and c) it doesn't seem sensible to me to keep rewarding an ally that refuses to offer minimal cooperation. I also favour the US laying out its own preferred solution, perhaps as a way to recognise a Palestinian state in the UN, whatever Netanyahu wants. He has had his chance to frame a deal. Now it's time for the US to assert its own interests and goals.
Naturally, the usual suspects will scream and holler. Sullivan, who is a Roman Catholic, will be accused of being anti-Semitic for even suggesting such a thing. (Of course, no one will say that his critics are motivated by their ethnic identities or their contempt for Muslims.)
No matter. Sullivan is mostly right.
I do not favour eliminating aid. I do favour using it as a lever to achieve US policy goals, as we do with aid everywhere else. Why not? If you take money from your parents, they should have some say in what you do with it.
It is absurd that every item in the federal budget is under scrutiny except aid to Israel. The Commonwealth of Virginia could declare bankruptcy and shut its doors before Eric Cantor (R-VA) would allow himself to even contemplate reducing aid to Israel by a single dollar. But he's too easy a target: Anthony Weiner, Steny Hoyer, John Lewis, Jane Harman, Brad Sherman, Chuck Schumer, Barbara Boxer and countless others are no different. (Here is AIPAC's run-down of the new Congress, "the most pro-Israel ever").
Enough is enough. If Clinton wants to advance peace, she will ignore Dennis Ross and the congressional claque and put strings on aid. That would get us to a settlement freeze fast - and to final status negotiations, too.
If Israel is the sovereign country it claims to be, it will learn to exist in the world like everyone else. America should not be subsidising Israel's plush lifestyle (eight per cent annual growth) so long as it keeps telling us to drop dead.
MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network. The above article first appeared in Foreign Policy Matters, a part of the Media Matters Action Network.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
Israel's unwanted citizens
The Knesset debates whether to stop Arab Israelis from living in cities where there are Jewish majorities.
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2010 13:54 GMT
Israel offers compensation for Gaza flotilla deaths
Israel offers £63,000 each to families of men killed on Mavi Marmara in exchange for Turkey's help in indemnifying navy against lawsuits
Israel upset by Argentina Palestinian recognition (AP) Associated Press) By DANIEL ESTRIN JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 12/07/10 6:59 AM)
British feared Israel would nuke Arabs: archives
(AFP) – 4 days ago
LONDON — British diplomats feared Israel would use nuclear weapons in the event of another war with its Arab neigbours, secret files have shown.
In 1980, British officials were concerned that Israel could be heading for a new conflict, despite signing a peace treaty with Egypt the year before, according to official papers released from the National Archives after being kept secret for 30 years.
"The situation in the region is deteriorating and with it Israel's dangerous mood of isolation and defiance will grow," warned a cable from the British embassy in Tel Aviv, dated May 4.
"If they (Israel) are to be destroyed they will go down fighting this time. They will be ready to use their atomic weapon. Because they cannot sustain a long war, they would have to use it early."
Israel has never confirmed or denied reports that it has produced nuclear warheads.
The files also showed how prime minister Margaret Thatcher, elected to office the year before, found Middle East diplomacy exasperating.
She confided in then French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing that she "had never had a more difficult man to deal with" than Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin.
She had also tried to tell Begin that his policies towards Jewish settlement building on the West Bank were "unrealistic" and "absurd".
"His response was that Judea and Samaria had been Jewish in biblical times and that they should therefore be so today," she told Giscard d'Estaing.
Thatcher was also unimpressed by Foreign Office attempts to persuade her that the Palestine Liberation Organisation should not be seen as a "purely terrorist organisation", but also as a political movement.
"This analysis just doesn't stand up. It is riddled with inconsistencies," she scrawled on one briefing paper.
Jews and Arabs must fight Israel's racism together
Trends of alienation and despair are evident in Israel’s Arab population, and in this reality it is easy to foster separatism and segregation.
By Ahmed Tibi
Something evil is occurring in Israeli society. Racism and xenophobia are consuming its enlightenment and tolerance, and democracy is becoming more and more endangered. Phenomena that had been on the sidelines are now moving to the forefront. Blatant racism against Israel's Arab citizens, and hostility to foreigners in general, phenomena that are usually deeply repressed in the collective soul of people and which enlightened governments are careful to lock in a psychological basement are now being released in a murky thrust. Hatred and fear are being reinforced. This is a frightened and insecure society.
Between the rabbis' letter, the growing public standing of Avigdor Lieberman, loyalty oaths, incitement against Arab officials and the flood of racist laws, the 18th Knesset is the most racist of all time. To the current parliament's credit, it's likely that the next one will be worse.
All of this is not happening in a vacuum. The public space and the social atmosphere have been ripening for this dark attack. The Democracy Index - the flagship project of the Israel Democracy Institute - shows that a majority of the Jewish public supports the stifling of minority voices.
Moshe Arens blamed the collapse of Israeli democracy on Arab Knesset members (Israeli Arab MKs don't always represent Israeli Arabs, Haaretz, Dec. 14). Thus even a "liberal rightist" like Arens, when he came to analyze the society of which he was a leader for many years and investigate the sources of racism bubbling up in that society, ignored the truly damaging elements and preferred to revert to cheap attacks and incitement against elected representatives of the Arab public.
The prolonged occupation, the bloody struggle, the oppression and the contemptuous treatment of Arabs and their rights did not exist in Arens' analysis. Nor did the continuing exclusion of Israel's Arab citizens or the lack of Israeli Arab representation in the civil service (just 6.7 percent). Arens did not touch on the inherent discrimination or lack of planning for Arab towns nor the general distance of Arabs from benefits that only the majority enjoys. Arens takes none of these into account. He only repeats the mantras spoken by vegetable sellers in the market.
I am not a spokesman for all Arab lawmakers and I refuse to see us as one entity. There are 14 Arab Knesset members and each has his or her own color, character, style, agenda and emphases. There are some who have made achievements and some who have not; there are those who have earned the public trust and those who have yet to accomplish this. It is only the public that will judge us at the end of the day. But we are all elected public representatives who are no less legitimate than any Jewish MK.
Arens' sweeping generalization was shameful and not befitting to his style.
I'm not saying that we're completely perfect, but one must remember that political discourse is dynamic and symbiotic. Therefore a comment, even when it is harsh or in bad taste, is just a comment. We must not forget that we sit in the Knesset as a right not a privilege. Time and time again we've been elected by a general public Arens said we don't represent. A contradiction, it seems to me, and not appropriate for an empirical rationalist like Arens. Some of us are very popular in our public.
Trends of alienation and despair are evident in Israel’s Arab population, and in this reality it is easy to foster separatism and segregation. Many of my colleagues and I try to be a responsible national leadership that grits its teeth and looks to both the near and far future. We cling to the word "democratic" of the phrase "Jewish and democratic", even when from day to day it seems we have less to hold on to.
Israel's government ministers are more dangerous, in my view, than the rabbis who cling to the idea of "Jewish"; and from that idea of "Jewish" allow the same dark halakhic ruling to rear its head.
The struggle against racism must be a joint Jewish-Arab effort, just as it was when thousands demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Human Rights Day. As Martin Luther King said, there is no path to peace and equality; peace and equality are the path.
Ahmed Tibi is the deputy speaker of the Knesset, and a member of the Ta'al party.