ZOABI: Enforced recognition of the Jewish State criminalises the Palestinian national struggle December 15, 2010

by Haneen Zoabi  -  MEMO Middle East Monitors -  14 December 2010

Manifestations of anti-Palestinian racism inside Israel have become aggravated of late, with polls indicating a general refusal by the Jewish majority to live side by side with their non-Jewish fellow citizens. This racism and accompanying hatred have shifted from the level of individual sentiments to a collective declaration with the statement signed by Jewish clerics who appear to have regained their socio- religious and official significance as men of religion, recognised in the way they were before the establishment of the state. The transition from arguments about racist sentiment to a defence of freedom of expression requires a favourable atmosphere and culture; the switch from individual expressions of such feelings to collective declarations backed by the authority of religion has increased their legitimacy within the general culture in Israeli society.

Political or social attitudes do not become part of a general culture and consensus unless they are supported by official policies; as such, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “angry” reaction to racist statements made by a large group of rabbis means very little. On the contrary, just as his ultra right-wing sidekick Avigdor Lieberman is used as an instrument allowing Israeli racism to be dealt with as an individual or a group problem, racist statements made by Israeli rabbis are dealt with by the Knesset (Israeli parliament) as though they are an individual’s problem. The Knesset ignores the fact that the parliament itself set the precedent for these rabbis’ racism when it called for Arabs to be denied housing and that the law which condones acceptance committees in small residential communities (up to 500 housing units) gives parliamentary authority to this rabbinical discrimination.

The principle of denying Arabs the ability to acquire a house or a piece of land (their own land, don’t forget) is well established in the Knesset. As such, the “anger” of the same parliament which over the past year has proposed racist laws and draft laws targeting Palestinians that far surpass in their discriminatory nature the calls of the rabbis, along with Netanyahu’s “refusal”, just doesn’t wash; it is unacceptable for a supposedly democratic institution to act in this way.

Official bodies in Israel can no longer be “satisfied” with policies which exclude Palestinian citizens and seek to fight against their existence. The legislature has, over the past decade, found itself “obliged” to deracinate the legitimacy of any struggle that challenges such policies in order to “justify” the process of de-legitimisation of one-fifth of the population.

To those who ask if such a process has been going on for just the past ten years, I would have to say no. It is true that the state has fought against Palestinians’ national struggle over more than 60 years and that our struggle did not begin in the last decade. Ever since the Nakba, slowly but surely, the pace of the struggle has grown; however, Israel learned to co-exist with our former struggle for “peace and equality” and did not see it as a threat. As a result, no great effort was made to de-legitimise it. In fact, the de-legitimisation of our struggle was never part of the Israeli strategy to combat Palestinian existence.

The concept of loyalty to the Jewish State necessitates loyalty laws and the group of resolutions and statements that seek to create a link between military service or service in general and citizenship rights. It is through this mechanism that attempts are made to delegitimize our “our” national project, which is characterised by “a state for its citizens”.

The demand that Israel be recognised as a Jewish State, with all that this engenders, is not merely an escalation of racism and is not limited to a symbolic or practical aspect negating the moral sacredness of our identity and sense of belonging. It also has a specific strategic and political function as the practical translation of Shabak and Olmert’s statements during the Herzliya Conference, when they asserted that “we will fight against all those who do not recognise Israel as a Jewish state even if they use democratic means”.

The state is incapable of fighting against those who “use democratic means”, so the only solution is to redefine democracy in such a way as to render undemocratic what was once democratic. Thus do you create congruity between citizens whose existence is a “strategic threat” (not an external threat) and breaking the law.

Hence, the function of the bundle of laws and concepts of loyalty to the Jewish State is the “criminalisation of the political struggle” and is a process of redefining the boundaries of political legitimacy in Israel. The contradictory visions of Judaism and democracy as well as political activity founded on the basis of this contradiction, has always been illegal. However, there was no one to force Israel to clarify this “illegality” until the Palestinian consensus evolved and forced this hidden contradiction to shift into an open, daily manifestation of officially-sanctioned discrimination.

The more the state demands loyalty to it as a “Jewish and democratic” entity, the more it violates this loyalty, as every political or legal interpretation of this loyalty is better than the exposed contradiction between the Jewishness of the state of its democracy. Indeed, the first to have violated its “loyalty” to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is the state itself.

Haneen Zouabi is a Member of the Knesset for the National Democratic Assembly Party. This article first appeared in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 10 December 2010.

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