A moral failure

What is an Arab citizen of Israel to make of Israel Beiteinu's racist positions?

liberman professor 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
liberman professor 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
In the election held two weeks ago, the Israel Beiteinu (Israel is our Home) Party, led by Avigdor Lieberman, became the third largest in the country - just one of the results of an election which proved that the Israeli electorate has moved far to the right. Right-wing parties now constitute a clear majority in the Knesset. For those of us who are Arab-Palestinian citizens in Israel, the results of the election highlighted even more sharply the precarious status of our community, today comprising one-fifth of the population of Israel. Israel Beiteinu's vision statement contends that the "solution" to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the "exchange of territory and populations, with the goal of the separation of the Jewish and Arab nations, respectively." The vision statement also advocates the proposal of a new citizenship law which would make citizenship contingent upon one's "declaration of loyalty to the State of Israel as a Jewish state," and that Israel is "a Jewish state, as opposed to a state for the Jewish people or for all its citizens." In fact, Israel Beiteinu's campaign in the election was built primarily on these separatist principles, using the slogans, "No loyalty, no citizenship" and "Only Lieberman understands Arabic" - statements which portray the Arab population of Israel as inferior citizens and an alien fifth column. Taken together, Israel Beiteinu's policies are clearly racist, anti-Arab, and include undertones of nascent fascism. WHAT IS an Arab citizen of Israel to make of the fact that these positions actually aided Israel Beiteinu in notably expanding its base of support? According to Lieberman and his party's formulation, we have political obligations (to a country that specifically excludes us), but not rights (such as continuing to hold citizenship in the country in which we were born). Under Lieberman's Plan, the city in which I live, Umm el-Fahm, would be "exchanged" for areas beyond the Green Line. Besides the fact that this plan would annex occupied territory in the West Bank to Israel, an act that in and of itself violates international law, it would also contravene numerous international laws protecting indigenous and national minorities. The context of the plan is obvious: It is meant to weaken the collective existence of the Arab community in Israel. It would separate Arab citizens from our historical, social, and economic ties to our homeland, including the cities of Nazareth, Haifa and Jerusalem. Families would be torn apart. Arab-owned land would be confiscated. PERHAPS EVEN more disturbing than Israel Beiteinu's rise in the polls, however, is the acceptance of its rise by the other major political parties and the public. For those now involved in the delicate dance of putting together a coalition, none have entertained the notion of not entering a government with Lieberman and his party. In fact, Lieberman is viewed as holding the key to forming a government, and therefore will in all likelihood receive one of the most important ministerial portfolios. Thus the virulently anti-Arab and racist principles of Israel Beiteinu are moving into the mainstream of Israeli society. (Or, perhaps, it would be more accurate to say that the election is simply a reflection of a shift that has already occurred.) In contrast, when Jorg Haider of Austria, whose party was largely recognized as ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic, joined a coalition government in 2000, Austria faced international isolation, including by Israel, for months. No doubt, were the word "Arab" in Israel Beiteinu's platform replaced with "Jew," it would be immediately and widely condemned as anti-Semitic. Unfortunately, both inside Israel and around the world, no similar condemnation of Lieberman and his party seems to be forthcoming. LIEBERMAN'S PARTY builds its central platform around the disenfranchisement of the rights of the native population. Under the UN International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, passed in 2007, as an indigenous community and as a national minority, the Arab citizens of Israel are entitled to certain specific rights, including protection against forced transfer or violation of any indigenous peoples' rights, forced assimilation or integration, or propaganda designed to promote racial or ethnic discrimination (Article 8.2), and states should cooperate in good faith with indigenous peoples and get prior consent prior to any project that affects their land or territories (Article 32.2). Israel Beiteinu, and all the parties willing to enter a government with it, are clearly proposing policies against international law. Yet, the rise of Lieberman's party is not merely a legal failure, but a moral one as well. The reality is that this phenomenon did not arise suddenly, out of nowhere. For decades, successive Israeli governments have implemented discriminatory legislation and policies regarding the Arab citizens, excluding them from the centers of power in government institutions and in the general public sphere alike. Systemic discrimination in allocation of public resource has ranked the Arab community in the lowest socioeconomic echelons of Israeli society. However, in the last few years a new consciousness has emerged from within the Arab population, based on the universal notion that no one will accept second-class citizenship. A near-consensus among our community calls for creating a new legal and political framework in Israel based upon true equality, partnership and mutuality on an individual and collective level. Any new government in Israel will face a stark choice. Will it continue down a path of ethnic discrimination and ultra-nationalism, or will it move toward substantive equality and full democracy? For the latter to be achieved, not only must the Arab minority citizens believe in equality and democracy, but Israel's Jewish citizens must do so as well. In democracies, it's the state that must be loyal to its minority citizens. The writer teaches minority rights at Haifa University and is the general director of Dirasat: Arab Center for Law and Policy, based in Nazareth.