New book Palestinians in Israel explores the contradiction of the ‘Jewish and democratic’ state

on 26 Comments

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).

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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.

About Ben White

Ben White is author of 'Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide' and 'Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, discrimination and democracy'. Follow him on twitter at @benabyad and on his website

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26 Responses

  1. richb
    January 21, 2012, 4:03 pm

    I really enjoyed your book. You are really freaking out the Hasbarists. I wish I had read it prior to visiting Israel. I asked my guide for an example of a mixed city where Jews and Palestinians lived side by side. He said Nazareth and pointed to the courthouse at Nazareth Illit and said there were Palestinian judges there.

    link to

    • Avi_G.
      January 21, 2012, 5:05 pm

      The Jerusalem Post, in keeping with Israeli propaganda practices, labeled Ben White an “anti-Israel” activist.

      The rationale is that he can’t possibly be a pro-equality activist, or a pro-human rights activist or even a pro-Palestinian activist. Nay, he’s an evil “anti-Israel” activist. That poor little victimized country is again under attack.

      Not content with merely labeling him “anti-Israel”, the Jerusalem Post went a step further and implied that Ben White was an anti-Semite; “once stated that he understood why some people are anti-Semitic.”

      The JPost doesn’t like context and taking someone’s words out of context in order to smear him or her remains a favorite among propagandists.

      Incidentally, in case readers didn’t know this, the Jerusalem Post is owned by Rupert Murdoch. That is not to say that the JPost was a beacon of integrity prior to Murdoch purchasing it.

      • JohnAdamTurnbull
        January 22, 2012, 1:02 am

        Owned by a man who is in jail — Conrad Black — and one who should join him.

      • Charon
        January 22, 2012, 1:33 am

        The JPost doesn’t like context and taking someone’s words out of context in order to smear him or her remains a favorite among propagandists

        It’s important to expose the methods of the propagandists. I wonder if there is a resource for such a thing? I like the ‘we rule/they suck/you suck/everything sucks’ (who came up with that again?). They also use manipulative rhetoric as a persuasive tool, usually bringing up something emotional pulling on your heart stings. Israel in particular will blame suicide bombs, mention the holocaust when it isn’t appropriate to bring it up, mention 9/11, black september, rockets, the Fogels (five dollar foot long!), suitcase nukes, Iran, Saddam, compare somebody to Hitler, etc. But mostly they take things out of context. Especially if they find a fault, they take that fault and use it to dismiss everything else. Either that or just constantly use the A card (antisemitic) when it doesn’t even apply.

        Their methods follow a formula and pattern. They are predictable. So predictable that less than a decade after the war in Iraq, they are using the same excuses to go to war with Iran even though the Iraq war and their 2002ish rhetoric is still on the brains of the masses. They might be asleep, but they remember.

        I will have to check out this book. I still have many books to read including The Goldstone Report, but hey I bought TWO copies (one for my dad) because Borders had a going out of business sale and it was half off.

      • Avi_G.
        January 22, 2012, 8:35 am

        If memory serves, there was in fact a Hasbara Handbook in PDF that was disseminated by an organization called Giyus for their Megaphone project. It’s on the web somewhere.

      • Blake
        January 22, 2012, 9:18 am
      • Avi_G.
        January 22, 2012, 10:21 am

        Yes. There’s also this one:

        link to (PDF Link)

        Note the heavy use of “Words that Work” throughout the document.

        On page 7, for example (Emphasis mine):

        There is NEVER, EVER, any justification for the deliberate slaughter of innocent women and children. NEVER. The primary Palestinian public relations goal is to demonstrate that the so-called “hopelessness of the oppressed Palestinians” is what causes them to go out and kill children. This must be challenged immediately, aggressively, and directly. “We may disagree about politics and we may disagree about economics. But there is one fundamental principle that all peoples from all parts of the globe will agree on: civilized people do not target innocent women and children for death.”

        Followed by “Use Humility” and:

        “Are Israelis perfect? No. Do we make mistakes? Yes. But we want a better future, and we are working towards it. And we want Palestinians to have a better future as well. They deserve a government that will eliminate the terror not only because it will make my children safer—but also because it will make their children more prosperous. When the terror ends, Israel will no longer need to have challenging checkpoints to inspect goods and people. When the terror ends we will no longer need a security fence.”

        6) Be careful of your tone. A patronizing, parental tone will turn Americans and Europeans off. We’re at a time in history when Jews in general (and Israelis in particular) are no longer perceived as the persecuted people. In fact, among American [...]

      • FreddyV
        January 22, 2012, 10:52 am

        Have you also seen the Veritas Handbook?

        link to

        Ben White was involved in this project.

      • Blake
        January 22, 2012, 11:53 am

        There is also this one

        link to

      • Blake
        January 22, 2012, 12:09 pm

        Apologies my last link was in reply to Avi.

        This one was for you Freddy:

        Stuart Littlewood’s Radio Free Palestine explains how the Holy Land has been betrayed for nearly a century and how its people, Muslim and Christian, have been cruelly abused and dispossessed in order to fulfill the Zionist grand plan to steal and occupy the entire territory permanently.Radio Free Palestine is 172 pages with over 110 colour photos. It can now be read by visiting :

      • LeaNder
        January 22, 2012, 1:00 pm

        I like the ‘we rule/they suck/you suck/everything sucks’ (who came up with that again?).

        Mooser introduced us to it, Charon, seems he has left us. But originating it does with Jews sans frontier, who are really, really not just on this issue, excerpt:

        You need to understand just one principle:

        The case for Israel is made of four propositions that should always be presented in the correct escalating order.

        We rock
        They suck
        You suck
        Everything sucks

        That’s it. Now you know everything that it took me a lifetime to learn. The rest is details; filling in the dotted lines.

      • Tuyzentfloot
        January 22, 2012, 1:33 pm

        Gabriel Ash actually, here link to

        (edit: I now notice you also included the link Leander, but it doesn’t work)

    • teta mother me
      January 21, 2012, 9:01 pm

      Aziz Dweik, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), was arrested at an IDF checkpoint, his chief of staff told AFP news agency.

      Dweik was working to unify Fatah and Hamas. His arrest was seen as Israel’s attempt to disrupt unity negotiations.

  2. justicewillprevail
    January 21, 2012, 4:33 pm

    Sounds like a good book. The fictional ‘two states’ has been a very succesful sales policy by the Israeli propaganda machine. Despite the reality that Israel controls, and has done for a very long time, the land between the Jordan and the sea, the mythical two states has allowed Israel to promulgate the myth that ‘its’ bit is democratic, unlike the ‘other’ bit. In fact it is one entity which has been successfully gerrymandered to ensure an always Jewish majority and control. It is gerrymandered to consign nearly half of the citizens into a fictional, non-existent state which Israel allows the status of municipalities wholly and solely dependent on their benevolence (or otherwise, as they see fit). Since the state is the guarantor of human rights, the non-existent state of modern Palestine cannot guarantee or provide any human rights to its banished exile population – in fact Israel has robbed them of any rights, and thus self determination or democracy, by placing them in this limbo of a fictional state. Israel is steadily building over any geographical separation, and disallowing any division of resources to underline the point that the so-called ‘two states’ exist only notionally, both of them virtual states created by Israel to justify the gerrymandering of its vote and its privileges. Israel is overlaid on Palestine, adjusting and appropriating its history and culture to make Palestine look like Israel, and thus Palestine to look like the nothing which Israel has decided it is. Israel is conducting a vanishing act on Palestine, slowly erasing it from the map and its own perception, trying to convince everybody else of its manipulated fiction of history and geography. And what will be left is Gaza and mini-Gazas, stateless people, impoverished by, and held hostage by, a ruthlessly controlling dictatorship who will erase Palestinian and its people from their consciousness by building walls around them where it can’t see them. Thus they pretend they are a ‘democracy’.

  3. piotr
    January 21, 2012, 6:58 pm

    Ben, I am sorry to ask you a question without reading the book.

    Quite standard “hasbarah” claim is that Israel is an ethnic democracy not particularly different from tens of other such countries. Poland, Lithuania, Latvia etc. have some privileges for the dominant nationality. For example, Lithuania imposes Lithuanian first names on the citizens (I am not sure about permanent residents) and Lithuania alphabet which would perhaps change Benjamin White into Beniaminas Yaitas. My impression, however, is that Israel is quite extreme. Do you compare Israel with other “ethnic democracies”?

    • Blake
      January 22, 2012, 5:01 am

      Extreme is the apt word Piotr. Israel was a Colonial project from beginning to break down Palestinian society and then to prevent Palestinians from organizing themselves again into a society, segmenting the Palestinians in the West Bank, inside ‘Israel’, Gaza and the refugees in the diaspora. This segmentation is continuing. Israel has segmented the WB into bantustans preventing free movement. To move from Jericho to Nablus to Bethlehem to Jenin to Ramallah you need a military permit so it has become difficult for merchants farmers, students, teachers, doctors to go to their work to their land to their universities so Israel is basically slowly but persistently not just ethnically cleansing the Palestinians but destroying the possibility of development of Palestinian society inside the historic land of Palestine.

    • GalenSword
      January 22, 2012, 8:21 am

      Poland has a tradition of organic nationalist politics that differs from the extremist organic nationalist ideology of the State of Israel.

      The PPS under Piłsudski took the position that ethnic Poles might be the head of the organic body of the nation but other Polish ethnonational groups had roles in that body as well.

      Politically moderate ethnic Ashkenazim were highly supportive of Piłsudski although the not inconsequential radical and communist segment of the ethnic Ashkenazi population worked against him.

      Zionists whether so-called Labor or Jabotinskian were and remain in terms of ethno-chauvinism closer to the Endeks but far more extreme than that party and its offshoots.

      link to

      To comprehend Zionism one must understand Polish history as well as the German, Polish, and Russian political and social milieu that incubated Zionism from the 1880s through the start of WW2.

  4. Les
    January 21, 2012, 7:12 pm

    Wonderful title. How about, “Indians in the United States of America.”

    • MLE
      January 23, 2012, 12:00 am

      The plight of the Native Americans in the United States and their ongoing problems is actually a really fascinating topic. It does make you really really angry, especially when you look at the statistics on how the remaining Native Americans live today.

  5. Blake
    January 22, 2012, 3:27 am

    2 other books which may interest your readers along similar themes:

    ‘The Other Side of Israel’ by Susan Nathan

    And from a Mizrahi persepctive:

    ‘We Look Like the Enemy: The Hidden Story of Israel’s Jews from Arab Lands’ by Rachel Shabi

  6. Tuyzentfloot
    January 22, 2012, 5:12 am

    Pluto Books, that’s the same publisher as Jonathan Cook’s “Blood and Religion”, about the same theme(and recommended). I recall reading something about it being very hard to find publishers willing to take this on.

    • Talkback
      January 22, 2012, 6:40 am

      Cook’s book “Disappearing Palestine” was published by Zed Books. Also Uri Davis’ “Apartheid Israel”.

  7. Talkback
    January 22, 2012, 7:08 am

    Just ordered Ben’s book, because I enjoyed reading “Israeli Apartheid”.

  8. tombishop
    January 22, 2012, 7:27 am

    FYI: Another film everyone should be aware of:

    “5 Broken Cameras”
    Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat spent five years filming his village’s resistance to Israeli settlers — and brought his intimate but powerful documentary to the Sundance film festival.

    link to

  9. richb
    January 22, 2012, 11:38 am

    I just finished Ben’s book and providentially I was also helping my son study for his American Government class. The textbook gives five basic principles of a democracy. Ben’s book ably shows Israel fails ALL of them.

    1. Equality in voting
    2. Individual freedom
    3. Equality of all persons
    4. Majority rule and minority rights
    5. Voluntary consent to be governed

  10. Tuyzentfloot
    January 23, 2012, 4:13 am

    The exclusion of Israeli Arabs from political coalitions(and any other functions that matter) resembles something that has existed in Belgium between 1989 and 2004. It was an agreement called the “cordon sanitaire”(a french word for a security perimeter to contain an outbreak of a contagious disease ) and the parties agreed not to include the far right party “Vlaams Blok” in coalitions. Because of a political void on the right this far right party got a lot of votes. The agreement now no longer exists and the party has been renamed since to Vlaams Belang and its program was watered down a bit. Other parties – mainly the nationalist NVA have also filled the gap on the right and the importance of Vlaams Belang has dwindled.

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