Protests against the nation-state bill in Tel Aviv, July 14th, 2018.
(photo credit: COURTESY STANDING TOGETHER)
I have always refrained from comparing the Israeli regime to an apartheid regime. I’ve even said that the comparison is inaccurate, because Israel’s democratic principles redound to its defense, and the problem is in actualizing them and not in their essence.
I thought for decades that the Jewish and democratic character of the state could exist together – if democracy were the highest value, the organizing principle for our daily life and for this country’s civil policies.
I thought, as did Aharon Barak, a former president of Israel’s Supreme Court, that the state’s Judaism would mainly be expressed in symbolic elements, in the bestowal of preference to Jews in the immigration laws, and as an expression of the identity of the Jewish majority in the public space. I thought, as he did, that it could end there and not deteriorate into preferential treatment by the state in civic, ethnic, or national terms vis-à-vis its citizens.
But that deterioration is now reaching a point where the direction of the slope is more pronounced. The downturn is the new Nation-State Law, which the Israeli right-wing leadership has worked mightily to pass, while many sectors of the public identified with the political center have engaged in shameful foot-dragging.
If this legislation is allowed to stand, it will fundamentally alter the connection between me and the State of Israel. In fact, my citizenship will stop being authentic citizenship and become merely a technicality. It will be impossible from my standpoint to sustain an emotional attachment to the state, its institutions, its symbols and its values.
The state will be institutionalizing my status as a second-class citizen, institutionalizing discrimination and institutionalizing its selectivity in allocating resources, in closing off spaces and in everything else about the general appearance of the state’s character. Israel will morph shamelessly into a racist state, de jure as well as de facto.
I am unable to fathom the depths of braggadocio and irresponsibility on the part of those pushing this Nation-State Law. In truth, I am not really willing to try to understand them. Those who are working to reinforce my inferior status – and that of my children and my people – in this country, have no part to play in a values-based discourse about democracy or a shared society in Israel.
I will not be surprised if this legislation turns out to have an additional phase, one that will include revocation of citizenship, outright revocation of the right to vote or a contingent right to vote, segregation on buses, cancellation of National Insurance payments, and even a prohibition on the use of the Arabic language, on land ownership, and so forth. The gradient of the downward slope is increasing, with no one to stop it. Israel 2019 will be a selective democracy, like South Africa under apartheid.
This is a historic moment, for me and for the country. I can sound a warning, feel pain, shout, advise caution. But I am the injured minority, which has no part in the decision-making process here. None of the country’s leaders, not one of the prime movers behind this law, will heed my shouting. Only Jews can try to stop this disgrace, just as only whites were able to emancipate the slaves in the United States.
In a speech to the US Congress on March 15, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson said, “There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem.” Here in Israel, likewise, the problem is not mine, nor is there an Arab problem. There is only an Israeli problem, and Israelis are the ones who will have to stand strong against the annihilation of democracy here.The writer is the director of the Center for Equality and Shared Society in Givat Haviva.
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