More and more, the discrimination and repression faced by Israel’s Palestinian citizens is surfacing in the mainstream, through media reports and alarmed NGO briefings. The stories just keep on coming: this week, Arab Knesset Members like Haneen Zoabi were accused of treachery, and threatened with expulsion from the Knesset and criminal proceedings (the ‘crime’ was to meet with the Palestinian Legislative Council speaker in the West Bank, a Hamas politician).
Then there was the High Court’s rejection of an appeal against the Citizenship Law which separates Palestinian families where one spouse has Israeli citizenship and the other is from the Occupied Territories. Praise for the ruling came from hard-liners and ‘liberals’ alike, and was explicitly framed as a victory in the battle to maintain a ‘Jewish majority’.
The various laws and proposed laws that have emerged in recent years – like the targeting of Nakba commemoration or the official legalisation of ‘selection committees’ in hundreds of communities – are laying bare a systematic pattern of discrimination that has been present since 1948. From the years of military rule over Palestinian citizens (which did not technically end until 1966), to the demolition of homes in an-Naqab (the Negev) in 2012, the aim has been the same: to ensure Jewish privilege and control over the indigenous Palestinians.
The mainstreaming of a critique of the occupation – and in particular, the settlements, or the actions in ‘Operation Cast Lead’ – has been undoubtedly beneficial, but has often been accompanied by an affirmation that Israel is, for all its ‘mistakes’, a beacon of democracy. This routine endorsement of Israel’s “democracy” goes hand in hand with a taboo on questioning Israel as a ‘Jewish state’, a juxtaposition that points towards the tension in Western liberal support for a state of affairs many would consider appalling in other circumstances.
Israel only has a ‘Jewish majority’ because of the expulsion and legislated dispossession of Palestinians. Israeli policies with regards to land, housing, immigration, and budgets, explicitly and implicitly favour Jewish citizens (and even Jewish non-citizens) at the expense of Palestinian citizens (and those Palestinians still excluded from their homeland).
This is the reality I have attempted to highlight in my new book, Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy (which I’m thrilled to say comes with a foreword by MK Haneen Zoabi). This is what Israel advocacy groups don’t want to talk about: the truth behind the myth of a ‘Jewish and democratic’ state, and how that contradiction is at the heart of the conflict.