Two related articles of note. First, from ynet, a new poll finds that 36% of Israeli Jews want to revoke voting rights for Palestinian citizens. Of course, this exclusion would represent a change only for the 1.4 million or so Palestinians who are citizens, and not the 4 million Palestinians under occupation who have no say in the regime that rules over them.
The number 36% is shockingly high, and indicates that Israel’s rightward shift in the government is a reasonably accurate reflection of its constituents’ sentiment. Will this growing trend translate into policy? Palestinians comprise about 20% of the Israeli electorate, and as long as the non-Jewish population remains at a safe level, with zero chance of Palestinians gaining a significant voice in how the country is run, there is nothing to gain by stripping them of the right to vote; on the other hand, any pretense of democracy would be obliterated. But with the whiff of loyalty oaths in the air, and even forcible “transfer” openly discussed as a possibility, who knows?
That 20% figure will inch upward in coming decades because of a higher birthrate, and at some point, something will have to be done to “save” Israel as a supposed Jewish and democratic state. The demographic time bomb is a lively topic of discussion, and no doubt many are preparing to lay the groundwork to defuse it, even if it means risking international condemnation, which Israel always manages to weather until the storm passes.
How troublesome is this descent into unabashed racism? It’s hard to evaluate. Any change that makes things more difficult for Palestinians, both citizens and non-, is surely a change for the worse. However, Israel’s international legitimacy has always depended on a veneer of respectability. Many articulate the position that Israel’s noble experiment, and the moral righteousness of its founding generation, have been corrupted by today’s leaders. There is a longing for the good old days when Israel truly was a moral beacon for the world, a noble revival of a people from the brink of annihilation.
This myth remains quite persistent, despite the abundance of evidence that from the start, the Jewish State was conceived and realized only through racist dismissal of the indigenous population. As Israel’s racism becomes more and more brazen and unapologetic, the immaculate conception myth recedes further into history, and the necessity of compelling its people to accept fundamental 21st century norms of racial/ethnic equality becomes clearer.
But bad news cannot be welcomed on the theory that it will provoke a pendulum swing. Which brings us to the second article, on Israel’s budding citizenship law, which requires non-Jewish applicants for citizenship to swear an oath of loyalty to the Jewish and democratic state, as if repetition by enough people could transform an oxymoron into reality. It turns out that the law, which has application to a very limited number of people, will have one prominent victim: journalist Jonathan Cook, who is married to a Palestinian citizen and has a pending application for citizenship himself.
Cook writes about his dilemma in facing this new law and eloquently dissects the law itself. As others have pointed out here, Cook warns that this is probably just the first step toward requiring Israel’s non-Jewish citizenry to swear the same oath upon penalty of loss of citizenship and voting rights, which brings us back to the new poll regarding disenfranchising Palestinians.