Political battle: Is Israel more Jewish or Israeli? - opinion

Discrimination against 21% of the citizens of Israel is not only legitimate by the majority of Israelis, but will also be part of the new government's policies.

 BENJAMIN NETANYAHU and Arye Deri – expected to soon become coalition partners – shake hands in the Knesset on Tuesday as current cabinet ministers Benny Gantz, Avigdor Liberman and Merav Michaeli look on. The new government will confiscate more Palestinian land, says the writer (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU and Arye Deri – expected to soon become coalition partners – shake hands in the Knesset on Tuesday as current cabinet ministers Benny Gantz, Avigdor Liberman and Merav Michaeli look on. The new government will confiscate more Palestinian land, says the writer
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

A large part of what we were voting on in the past elections was the identity of Israel and, of course, our own identity as citizens. On the question of “am I more Jewish or more Israeli,” my answer is, with very little doubt, that I am more Israeli. That was not my answer more than 44 years ago when I immigrated to Israel as a young Jewish American.

For most of the past 44 years, I have lived with the belief that Israel could be the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people. I believed that if an independent Palestinian state would be established next to Israel, as the result of a genuine peace process, we would end the 55 years present reality of Israel being a binational Jewish-Palestinian, a non-democratic state which enforces two different political, economic, and legal realities based on national ethnicity.

I believed that if there was a resolution to the Palestinian issue and Israel no longer imposed a military occupation over millions of Palestinians, then the nearly two million Palestinian citizens of Israel would no longer automatically be considered suspect of being a fifth column.

In that case, with a lot of work, it would be possible for Israel to become a true democracy that practices full equality for all of its citizens. In that case, Israel could even define itself as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people and all of its citizens. And with the belief that there could be a Jewish-Israeli minority living in the State of Palestine, it could define itself as the democratic nation-state of the Palestinian people and all of its citizens.

As Salam Fayyad, the former Palestinian prime minister said to me: “We will treat our Jewish minority in exactly the way that Israel will treat its Palestinian minority.” If there was real peace based on some form of two states, each with a clear majority and a clear non-threatening minority, both states could in fact be defined as the state of all of their citizens.

Police officers stand in line to separate protesters supporting Palestine from a small group of Israel supporters in front of city hall in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 15, 2021. (credit: CHRIS HELGREN/REUTERS)Police officers stand in line to separate protesters supporting Palestine from a small group of Israel supporters in front of city hall in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 15, 2021. (credit: CHRIS HELGREN/REUTERS)

But there is no Israeli-Palestinian peace in sight. There is questionable viability of a two-state solution based on separation. There are no Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the horizon. The political battle in Israel over Israel’s Jewish identity versus its Israeli identity has led to the clear victory of those who chose Jewish and not Israeli.

A growing trend

As a result of that growing trend, Israel’s Palestinian citizens are more isolated, disempowered, and delegitimized by the political majority. Discrimination against 21% of the citizens of Israel is not only legitimate by the majority of Israelis, but it will also be part and parcel of the new Israeli government’s official policies. In truth, discrimination has been with us, built into our laws and systems of government, since day one of Israel’s existence.

But as long as there was a viable two-state solution possibility with Israeli leaders at least claiming to advance it, I hoped that with its implementation we could get to work on creating a true democracy in Israel where all citizens are genuinely equal and all citizens could identify with their state and the state could view all of its citizens as equal partners in its future.

THE PREMISE of those hopes no longer exists. Israel has become more Jewish and a lot less democratic. The occupation is not temporary and annexation of the West Bank or large parts of it which has not been officially declared yet is in fact de facto. The new government will soon legalize over 100 settlements that were, even according to Israeli law, illegal (all settlements in the occupied territory are illegal by international law).

Senior members of the new government are already pushing to apply Israeli law in all aspects of life over the Israeli citizens in the occupied territory, which will cement the existence of two separate legal regimes over the two populations living there with the Jewish minority in the occupied territories legally superior over the majority Palestinian population.

The new Israeli government will confiscate more Palestinian land and build more Jewish settlements all over the West Bank. More Palestinian homes will be demolished. More Palestinians will undoubtedly join the ranks of active resisters leading to more Israelis and Palestinians being killed.

But what am I complaining about – many of my Jewish compatriots will ask. This is the democratic will of the majority of Jewish Israelis. The majority of Israeli Jews want Israel to be more Jewish, they want to protect and enhance Israel’s Jewish identity. I personally have almost no connection to their version of Jewish identity. Their Judaism is not the Judaism that I knew and grew up with. Their Jewish values are not the Jewish values and morals that I understood as being the central core of what it means to be a Jew.

This is what I learned about Jewish values: Human dignity, social justice, tikkun olam – fixing the world, respecting the stranger among us, moral monotheism including treating all of those who believe in the same God as equals worthy of respect and shalom – peace; peace among ourselves and peace with our neighbors.

My connection to my Palestinian-Israeli neighbors is based on our common citizenship, but in Israel’s reality, Jews enjoy privileges and superiority that my Palestinian-Israeli compatriots do not. So, my Israeli citizenship identity is based on our common struggle – Jewish and Palestinian Israelis – together for Israel’s democracy, for equality, for ending the occupation and for making just peace with our neighbors. There is no genuine democracy without genuine equality. There is no peace with occupation.

While I am part of the minority within Israel, I am part of a new struggle that will replace the old so-called Zionist Left with a newly emerging movement for change based on equality and composed of hundreds of thousands of Israelis – Jews and Palestinians. Israel will one day truly become the state of all of its citizens.

The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to Israel and to peace between Israel and its neighbors. He is now directing The Holy Land Bond.