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Background on Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ and the ongoing discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel


In recent months, Israeli and American officials have been increasingly vocal in demanding that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” as part of any peace agreement.

On Monday it was reported that Israel and America’s insistence that a clause defining Israel as a Jewish state be inclulded in the terms of reference scuttled efforts to restart negotiations and head off the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN last week.

Although presented by some as a longstanding requirement of the Palestinians, only recently have they been asked to formally recognize Israel as a Jewish state. To put this issue into context, the IMEU offers the following two fact sheets: Recognizing Israel as a Jewish State and Racism & Discrimination Against Palestinian Citizens of Israel.


  • In 1988, the PLO recognized the state of Israel. This was considered a major and historic compromise on the part of the Palestinians, who effectively renounced claim to 78% of historic Palestine. (See map here.)
  • In 1993, the PLO and the government of Israel exchanged official letters in which the Palestinians formally recognized “the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security,” while in return Israel acknowledged the PLO as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people.
  • The demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” only appeared in 2001, when officials in the Bush administration began mentioning it. Prior to that, Palestinians had only been asked to agree to Israel’s existence as a state.
  • Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would mean acquiescing in the permanent second-class status of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up about 20% of the population.
  • Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would mean renouncing at the outset of negotiations the internationally recognized right of Palestinian refugees to return to the land and homes that they were expelled from during Israel’s creation.
  • Asking Palestinians to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” is akin to asking American Jews and other non-Christians to officially recognize the United States as a “Christian state.”

For more on this subject see:

Why Palestinians can’t recognize a ‘Jewish state’, by Hassan Jabareen, founder and general director of Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

Why Can’t the Palestinians Recognize the Jewish State?, by Ahmad Samih Khalidi.

Defining ‘Jewish state’: For many, term has different meanings, by Glenn Kessler.


Palestinian citizens of Israel are those Palestinians who remained behind in what became the state of Israel following the Nakba (1947-9), or “catastrophe,” when approximately 725,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes and land by Zionist forces in order to make way for a Jewish-majority state.

Between 1948 (when Israel declared independence) and 1966, Palestinians living in Israel were granted no political rights and were subject to Israeli military rule. After 1966, they were granted the right to vote and other civil rights, but to this day they continue to suffer from widespread, systematic and institutionalized discrimination affecting everything from land ownership and employment opportunities to family reunification rights. Today, there are approximately 1.2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, about 20% of the population.

Institutionalized discrimination

  • There are more than 30 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel. directly or indirectly, based solely on their ethnicity, rendering them second or third class citizens in their own homeland.
  • 93% of the land in Israel is owned either by the state or by quasi-governmental agencies, such as the Jewish National Fund, that discriminate against non-Jews. Palestinian citizens of Israel face significant legal obstacles in gaining access to this land for agriculture, residence, or commercial development.
  • More than seventy Palestinian villages and communities in Israel, some of which pre-date the establishment of the state, are unrecognized by the government, receive no services, and are not even listed on official maps. Many other towns with a majority Palestinian population lack basic services and receive significantly less government funding than do majority-Jewish towns.
  • Since Israel’s founding in 1948, more than 600 Jewish municipalities have been established, while not a single new Arab town or community has been recognized by the state.
  • Israeli government resources are disproportionately directed to Jews and not to Arabs, one factor in causing the Palestinians of Israel to suffer the lowest living standards in Israeli society by all socio-economic indicators.
  • Government funding for Arab schools is far below that of Jewish schools. According to data published in 2004, the government provides three times as much funding to Jewish students than it does to Arab students.
  • The Nationality and Entry into Israel Law prevents Palestinians from the occupied territories who are married to Palestinian citizens of Israel from gaining residency or citizenship status. The law forces thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel to either leave Israel or live apart from their families.
  • In October 2010, the Knesset approved a bill allowing smaller Israeli towns to reject residents who do not suit “the community’s fundamental outlook”, based on sex, religion, and socioeconomic status. Critics slammed the move as an attempt to allow Jewish towns to keep Arabs and other non-Jews out.
  • The so-called “Nakba Bill” bans state funding for groups that commemorate the tragedy that befell Palestinians during Israel’s creation in 1948, when approx. 725,000 Palestinian Arabs were ethnically cleansed to make way for a Jewish majority state.
  • The British Mandate-era Land (Acquisition for Public Purposes) Ordinance law allows the Finance Minster to confiscate land for “public purposes.” The state has used this law extensively, in conjunction with other laws such as the Land Acquisition Law and the Absentees’ Property Law, to confiscate Palestinian land in Israel. A new amendment, which was adopted in February 2010, confirms state ownership of land confiscated under this law, even where it has not been used to serve the original confiscation purpose. The amendment was designed to prevent Arab citizens from submitting lawsuits to reclaim confiscated land.
  • Over the entirety of its 63-year existence, there has been a period of only about one year (1966-1967) that Israel did not rule over large numbers of Palestinians to whom it granted no political rights.
  • Former Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert have both warned that a continuation of the occupation will lead to Israel becoming an “apartheid” state. Barak stated: “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic… If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”
  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, heroes of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, have both compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to apartheid.
  • Today, there is a virtual caste system within the territories that Israel controls between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, with Israeli Jews at the top and Muslim and Christian Palestinians in the occupied territories at the bottom. In between are Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem.

Increasing intolerance for dissent & diversity in Israel

  • In September 2011 a survey found that a third of Israeli Jews don’t consider Arab citizens to be real Israelis.
  • According to a February 2011 survey, 52% of Israeli Jews would be willing to limit press freedoms to protect the state’s image, while 55% would accept limits on the right to oppose the government’s “defense policy.”
  • In January 2011 the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported that civics teachers around the country were complaining of rampant, virulent anti-Arab racism amongst their Jewish students. One teacher said, “When we have a discussion in class about equal rights, the class immediately gets out of control… The students attack us, the teachers, for being leftist and anti-Semitic, and say that all the Arab citizens who want to destroy Israel should be transferred.” Another said: “We’re not talking about a minority, or children from families that have extreme political views, but about normal children who are afflicted with ignorance… The political discourse in recent years has given them the legitimacy to be prejudiced.”
  • In December 2010, dozens of municipal chief rabbis on the government payroll signed a letter supporting Eliyahu and his decree prohibiting Jews from renting property to non-Jews. One of the signatories, Rabbi Yosef Scheinen, head of the Ashdod Yeshiva (religious school), stated, “Racism originated in the Torah… The land of Israel is designated for the people of Israel.”
  • In December 2010, the wives of 30 prominent rabbis signed an open letter calling on Jewish women not to date or work with Arabs. The letter stated: “For your sake, for the sake of future generations, and so you don’t undergo horrible suffering, we turn to you with a request, a plea, a prayer. Don’t date non-Jews, don’t work at places that non-Jews frequent, and don’t do national service with non-Jews.”
  • In September 2010, the spiritual leader of the Shas party (which sits in PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government), Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, declared that non-Jews were created to “serve” Jews, stating that: “Goyim [non-Jews] were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel… Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat. That is why gentiles were created.”
  • In August 2010, on the eve of peace talks in Washington, Yosef delivered a sermon describing Palestinians as “evil, bitter enemies” and calling on god to make them “perish from this world” by striking them with a plague.
  • In 2001, Yosef, delivered a sermon in which he stated: ”It is forbidden to be merciful to [Arabs]. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable…The Lord shall return the Arabs’ deeds on their own heads, waste their seed and exterminate them, devastate them and vanish them from this world.”
  • In August 2010, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, head of a state-funded religious school in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, published a book that condoned the murder of non-Jewish children on the grounds that they may grow up to pose a threat to the state, writing that non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and attacks against them “curb their evil inclination.” Several other prominent rabbis subsequently endorsed the book.
  • In July, 2009, Israel’s Housing Minister, Ariel Atlas, warned against the “spread” of Israel’s Arab population and said that Arabs and Jews shouldn’t live together, stating: “if we go on like we have until now, we will lose the Galilee. Populations that should not mix are spreading there. I don’t think that it is appropriate for [Jews and Arabs] to live together.”
  •  In the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s devastating three-week military assault against Gaza that killed more than 1300 Palestinians in the winter of 2008-9, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Israeli army units had been printing t-shirts depicting disturbing, violent images such as dead Palestinian babies, Palestinian mothers weeping on their children’s graves, a gun aimed at a child, bombed-out mosques, and a pregnant Palestinian woman with a target superimposed on her belly and the caption, “1 shot, 2 kills”. Another showed a Palestinian baby, growing into a boy and then an armed adult, with the inscription, “No matter how it begins, we’ll put an end to it.”

To learn more about the work of the Institute for Middle East Understanding see their website here.

Institute for Middle East Understanding

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11 Responses

  1. mig on September 28, 2011, 1:34 pm

    They just cant stop these idiotic demands.

    • Hostage on September 28, 2011, 5:55 pm

      The demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” only appeared in 2001, when officials in the Bush administration began mentioning it.

      Clarification: the Congress mentioned it as a statutory funding requirement which is incorporated in US public law: U.S. Code Title 22, Chapter 32, Subchapter III, Part I, § 2378b “Limitation on assistance to the Palestinian authority”.

      The relevant portion regarding initial and semi-annual certifications provides:

      (b) Certification

      A certification described in subsection (a) is a certification transmitted by the President to Congress that contains a determination of the President that—

      (1) no ministry, agency, or instrumentality of the Palestinian Authority is effectively controlled by Hamas, unless the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority has—

      (A) publicly acknowledged the Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist; and ….

      They just cant stop these idiotic demands.

      The same can be said for the ventriloquist’s dummies.

  2. pabelmont on September 28, 2011, 1:41 pm

    Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state may be a really, really bad move for Palestinians to do.

    But there seems to be a move within Israel itself to pass legislation to resolve conflicts between Israel as a “Jewish state” and Israel as a “democracy” in favor of “Jewish state”.

    The meaning of this MIGHT be to deny the vote to non-Jews, or rule out political parties (as Kahane’s party was once ruled out) which don’t recognize (whatever that means) the “Jewush State” THANG Or dis-allow legislation from coming to a vote if the proposed legislation fails some Jewish-State-Test.

    Who knows? But a Palestinian majority in Israel (one state solution) would lose a bit of its savor if the Palestinians, even in majority, could not change the direction of things.

    • AhVee on September 28, 2011, 3:35 pm

      “Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state may be a really, really bad move for Palestinians to do.”

      It would be a horrible mistake on their part, IMO. Doing that would kill even the faintest hope of a fair one-state solution, a door I don’t think they should be shutting on themselves, regardless of the odds.

      • Charon on September 28, 2011, 6:23 pm

        AhVee, that’s probably the point. Kill the one-state solution and along with any hope of refugees being settled in Israel. It also hijacks the entire Holy Land for Jews only, can be considered racist, and eventually might have disastrous consequences for Israeli Arabs and Druze.

        Israel tries to spin it as not recognizing Israel’s right to exist which as noted they already have for years. They also say it means they want all of Israel as Palestine. It’s a silly precondition that doesn’t exist in other peace treaties.

  3. Mndwss on September 28, 2011, 2:31 pm

    -> non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and attacks against them “curb their evil inclination.” – Shapira

    Why not call them Nazis when they talk like Nazis?

    Forced relocation of 30K Bedouin biggest dispossession since ’48

    “Last week, the Israeli government approved a new plan to displace 30,000 native Bedouin Arabs of the Negev/Naqab from their homes.[1] “The Program for Regulating Bedouin Settlement in the Negev” is the biggest dispossession plan of Palestinians issued by Israel since 1948. It would forcibly relocate about half of the Bedouin population from their existing villages, which are older than the State of Israel itself, into existing small towns or townships, designated specifically for the Bedouins by the state.”

    Are they going to laod them into boxcars and send them to these camps?

    Will those small “towns” or “townships”, have a sign above the entrances: Arbeit macht frei?

    Are they trying to get in the The Guinness Book of Records for the longest Nakba/Kristallnacht/Pogromnacht?

    • Chaos4700 on September 28, 2011, 7:45 pm

      Exactly. You know, people can knee-jerk reject comparisons between Israel and Nazi but you know what? The shoe fits! Nowhere else in the world, outside of maybe Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Dubai is nationality tied EXCLUSIVELY to ethnicity the way it is in Israel. (Now there’s a nice club for them to be part of, right?) And nowhere else has ethnic cleansing been going on for more than SIX DECADES. And all with American taxpayer dollars to boot!

      Just go and read the comments of people like eee and jon. They make no bones that their rights as Jews supersede the rights of anyone else, not just in Israel but pretty much everywhere else.

      Call an ethno-supremacist aggressive expansionist state what it is.

  4. DICKERSON3870 on September 28, 2011, 7:28 pm

    RE: “Background on Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ ”

    FROM GLENN KESSLER, W. Post, 10/02/10:

    (excerpt) Nine years ago, then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell delivered a speech on the Middle East in which he briefly called on Palestinians to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” Powell doesn’t recall how the phrase ended up in his speech, but David Ivry, then the Israeli ambassador to the United States, says he persuaded an aide to Powell to slip it in.

    From that small seed – the first time a U.S. official took sides on the issue – a significant and potentially insurmountable hurdle has emerged, one that could scuttle President Obama’s newly launched effort to promote a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians…

    SOURCE –

  5. seafoid on September 29, 2011, 6:29 am

    The Zionist belief in violence and the finality of bullying manifested in unjust law is what drives all of this . They are constantly trying to find the collection of words that will sweep the Palestinians under the carpet forever.

  6. talknic on June 19, 2012, 9:13 am

    There is actually no legal basis for the demand to be recognized as ‘a Jewish State’. No other country has recognized Israel other than by its official name, the “STATE OF ISRAEL”

    In fact, there is no legal basis for demanding to be recognized at all. Israel didn’t.

    “WE APPEAL to the United Nations to assist the Jewish people in the building-up of its State and to receive the State of Israel into the comity of nations”

    An ‘appeal’ is not a demand.

    The US says: A Sovereign or non-sovereign state is considered ‘recognized’ when the majority of the International Community of States grants recognition. Recognition of statehood is not mandatory. ” the view of the United States, International Law does not require a state to recognize another state; it is a matter for the judgment of each state whether an entity merits recognition as a state. In reaching this judgment, the United States has traditionally looked for the establishment of certain facts. The United States has also taken into account whether the entity in question has attracted the recognition of the International community of states.”

    There are different forms of recognition within the UN and the International Community. Although it is not obligatory for Member states to grant recognition, all states must acknowledge boundaries and acknowledge the right to live in peace within those boundaries. This is reflected in the UNSC resolutions on conflicts between the Arab states and Israel.

    UNSC res 242 “…acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force;”

    Evidence of this can be seen in the UN Member States who do not recognize each other.

    One might point out that the State of Israel had not recognized ANYONE before it was recognized

    …as an ” independent republic within frontiers approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its Resolution of November 29, 1947,”

    Like the demand for ‘defensible borders’, the demand for recognition as a Jewish State, is Hasbara nonsense

  7. talknic on June 20, 2012, 2:21 am

    A couple of extra notes:

    “Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would mean acquiescing in the permanent second-class status of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up about 20% of the population”

    This is a misconception. Palestinian citizens of Israel are governed by Israeli Law, not an agreement with the PA/PLO or a newly Independent Palestinian State.

    “Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would mean renouncing at the outset of negotiations the internationally recognized right of Palestinian refugees to return to the land and homes that they were expelled from during Israel’s creation”

    Again, not so. RoR is an individual right. Only the individual has the right to decide whether or not to return or accept compensation. The PA/PLO (or a newly Independent Palestinian State) only has the ability to argue on their behalf that RoR be respected.

    An agreement taking away that personal choice could set a legal precedent effecting all refugees, whoever they might be.

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