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New law old news for Palestinian apartheid



Any suggestion that Israel is a racist and racial state is often met with outrage and accusations of antisemitism. For many liberals, supporters of the state, Israel is a Jewish state and a democratic state, the only democracy in the Middle East, a 'villa in the jungle', in the words of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Demonstrators with Druze and Israeli flag seen during a protest against the Nation-State law in Tel Aviv on 4 August 2018 (Amir Levy/Getty Images)However, the recent legislation of the 'Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People', known also as the Nation-State law, managed to shock even supporters of Israel. The law, which enjoys a constitutional status, defines the Land of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people and determines that 'the exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People'.

The law enshrines the existing state symbols (such as the state flag and emblem), which are exclusively Jewish, and declares Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. It foregrounds Hebrew as the official state language, and demotes Arabic from an official language to one with special status. Crucially, it legalises the establishment of Jewish-only settlements. The law is thus based on a racial divide between Jews and Palestinians, and enshrines Jewish supremacy as a core legal principle.

The law is, however, non-news. There is nothing new about it. Palestinians have been experiencing apartheid, occupation and colonisation for decades. Just like the apartheid law in South Africa, the Nation-State law doesn't signify the onset of apartheid; it enshrines it in law.

The facts are simple: while Israel is the effective sovereign power in the whole of historic Palestine, the vast majority of Palestinians are denied citizenship and political rights only because they are Palestinians. Apartheid is evident in the Occupied West Bank: segregated towns and roads are common scenery, with roads demarcated for Jewish settlers only. We see this separation in the legal system too, as Palestinians are tried in military courts.

Even within the Green Line there's discrimination. Adalah, a Palestinian human rights organisation, documents over 65 discriminatory laws in areas of citizenship, planning, land and housing, distribution of resources, and due process rights. As Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian member of the Knesset (MK), puts it, 'This country is Jewish and democratic: Democratic toward Jews, and Jewish toward Arabs.' The fact that the world still buys into the myth that Israel is a democracy is only a testament to the extent to which Palestinians are dehumanised.

This law, however, is about more than codifying discrimination. Fundamentally, it is about defining to whom the land belongs. Its rationale is exclusionary. As stated by Avi Dichter, of the Likud ruling party and a sponsor of the law: 'Anyone who does not belong to the Jewish nation cannot define the State of Israel as his nation-state. The Palestinians will not be able to define Israel as their nation-state. The nation-state law is the insurance policy we are leaving for the next generation.'


"As Palestinians continue to fight against colonisation and for self-determination, this law may prove to be good news. The masks are off."


For Zionists, the Jewish people are the only indigenous people in Palestine, and the right to the land and national self-determination is an exclusive Jewish right. In this respect, this law continues a long legacy in which Zionism sought the erasure of Palestinians as a nation and the denial of their right to self-determination in their historic homeland.

It appears that despite empty talks of two-state solutions, the Zionist movement has never recognised Palestinian history in and right to the land. The words of Golda Meir, Israel's former prime minister, that 'there is no Palestinian people' continue to resonate in Israel and continue to be an integral part of Israel's propaganda machine.

As Palestinians continue to fight against colonisation and for self-determination, this law may prove to be good news. The masks are off. With the legislation of the Nation-State law, it is much harder to deny the racial architecture of the Israeli state and the racial ideology that drives the Zionist colonial project in Palestine.

Unfortunately, it is not enough to expose Israel for what it is in a world saturated by Islamophobia and racism. In a world in which dispossession and continued exile of Palestinians is considered a legitimate price to pay for sustaining the Jewish state, Palestinians still need to fight for their right to exist and be recognised as human, as people and as sovereigns.



Lana TatourDr Lana Tatour is an Adjunct Lecturer at the School of Social Sciences, University of New South Wales.

Main image: Demonstrators with Druze and Israeli flag seen during a protest against the Nation-State law in Tel Aviv on 4 August 2018 (Amir Levy/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Lana Tatour, Israel, Palestine, apartheid



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Existing comments

Regardless of what one might think of an ATSI Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament, at least when ‘majority’ Australia needs to ‘talk’ to the Aborigine and Torres Strait Islander cohort of the population, it can treat them as one united entity represented through currently acknowledged representatives. There are no chasms within the ATSI which make it difficult for ‘majority’ Australia through its elected governments to wonder with whom to transact business that is effective in the long term. ‘The State of Palestine’ consists of two fiefdoms, West Bank under the PLO and Gaza under Hamas, who are so in disagreement with each other that since 1994, when Yasser Arafat returned to ‘Palestine’, the people of Israel have signified their belonging to one nation by holding seven general elections to the Knesset, while, according to the website of the European Council on Foreign Relations, ‘Palestine’ held two presidential elections, in 1996 and 2005, and two legislative elections, in 1996 and 2006. However, it’s not all the leaders’ fault. In 2006, in elections deemed reasonably fair by the Carter Center, Palestinians voted for Hamas, and the Hamas government was subsequently boycotted by the US, UN, EU and Russia (the ‘Quartet’). Unfair to the popular will? Maybe. But, since 2002, Turkish popular will has repetitively transformed a fully-fledged democracy into an authoritarian system. Who’s at fault, then, in ‘Palestine’, delinquent leaders or delinquent voters? Is Israel hostage to a can of worms? The Palestinian physicians should heal themselves first.

roy chen yee | 09 February 2019  

This is , as the author rightly states, nothing new. Apartheid is rampant in Israel, shown in a million destructive and dehumanising ways every day to the Palestinians, Druze and every other minority. The right wing there are being bolstered by their friend Trump, who is providing support on every level for their vile racism.

Bernie | 11 February 2019  

I do not agree with this so called Law but the memory of the Holocaust is so important to these "people of the Book" that I can understand why a people who came close to extinction would do all in their power to ensure their survival. Do not forget there are powerful forces in the Middle East who want to drive the Israelis into the sea!

Gavin O'Brien | 11 February 2019  

We often read of "Antisemitism" used to attack any criticism of Israel but what about their anti-Arab denigration and general anti- Gentilism?

Mary Samara-Wickrama | 17 February 2019  

Such an important story! Not one we’ll see in main media, hoping it at least makes The Guardian. Agree, ‘the mask is off’ now, but that won’t make things easier. On contrary the new law opens opportunities for military oppression and enforcement by Israel. The new law is legally worse than apartheid: at least black S Africans existed; this law says Palestinians do not. Also it makes much harder for other governments to question Israeli enforcement. Of course therefore it will increase antisemitism globally. “When will they ever learn?”

Dr Frank Donovan | 18 February 2019  

I am generally an admirer of the many great works of the Jesuits, including their communications ministries. However, I was disturbed to see Eureka Street publish such a one-sided piece that offers nothing constructive to the path of dialogue and peace.

I agree that Israel’s nation-state law is a contentious issue. It attracts robust debate and, given the complexity of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, demands particular care in honest analysis and respectful reporting. Yet this article misleads and inflames through the omission and misrepresentation of many facts.

There is no attempt to define terms, to clarify historical context or explore political nuances with appropriate care. For example, the author reduces the term ‘Zionism’ to a negative slogan, projects extremist positions on to Israel’s Jewish population as a whole, and makes serious accusations of ‘apartheid’, ‘racial ideology’ and ‘erasure of Palestinians’ without considered analysis.

The Golda Meir quote is misrepresented by Tatour. Meir was speaking about the evolving usage of the term ‘Palestinian’; she wasn’t denying the existence of persons and clarified this herself in a 1976 New York Times article. While it is true that, for security reasons, some roads have been restricted to Israelis (not ‘Jews only’), Israeli citizens of all ethnicities and religions can and do use them.

The apartheid smear is particularly harmful to peace-building efforts. While injustices exist in Israel (as they do in Australia and in every imperfect democracy), Tatour distorts this reality. Many readers may not know that 20 per cent of Israel's citizens are Arab, with equal voting rights and equal civil and religious rights, as enshrined in Israel's Basic Law and Declaration of Independence.

In Israel, Arabs are present in the upper echelons of the military, the police, the courts, and the Parliament. There have been Israeli Arab members of the Knesset ever since the first Israeli elections in 1949. In hospitals and clinics, Jewish and Arab doctors and nurses work together, giving care equally to Jewish and Arab patients.

Israel’s Jews and Arabs have much the same life expectancy and infant mortality rates. They use the same public transport and share shopping malls, restaurants, beaches and cinemas. They attend the same public schools and universities and work side by side in many occupations. A Harvard University survey showed that 77 per cent of Israel’s Arab citizens say they would rather live in Israel than in any country in the world.

None of this fits the picture of an apartheid state. Further, Tatour omits any mention of the numerous attempts over the decades to deny the Jewish people their right of national self-determination, the very same right the Palestinians claim for their own people. Careful, respectful discussion of difficult issues is the least we can offer in support of the legitimate aspirations of both peoples.

Teresa Pirola | 20 February 2019  

It is interesting that, soon after the passing of this Basic Law, Tzipi Livni, a former Israeli Foreign Minister, described as 'a beacon of light in a dark and racist Knesset' by Tamar Zandberg, leader of the Meretz Party, is retiring from Israeli politics. Neither the passing of this Basic Law, nor the retirement of Ms Livni, in the current extremely volatile situation in Israel and the Middle East, augur well for the future. These are very dark times indeed for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Edward Fido | 20 February 2019  

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