Hassan Jabareen knows how to capture an audience’s attention. The founder of Adalah, the Palestinian-Israeli human rights group, Jabareen is a charismatic speaker who talks with his hands and paces around the room. And he fuses his theatrics with razor-sharp wit and clear explanations as to why Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state–a key demand of both the U.S. and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Last night, Jabareen, the General Director of Adalah, spoke to a crowd of about 50 at Columbia Law School on how Israel’s “Jewish and democratic” nature plays out in Israeli law. Listen to audio of his talk here:
One story was particularly poignant in illustrating the folly of the phrase “Jewish and democratic.”
In 2003, the Israeli Knesset passed the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law, which bars Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza who are married to Palestinian citizens of Israel from living in Israel. The measure, which Adalah calls “the most racist legislation in the State of Israel,” impacts thousands of families, and the legal group immediately filed suit against it. In 2006, the Israeli Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the law, and in 2007 the Knesset passed an amended version which added Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Iraq to the nations whose citizens are barred from living in Israel if their spouse lives there. It’s a stark contrast to the Israeli Law of Return, which grants automatic citizenship to any Jew from around the world, including their spouses.
Jabareen argued the case in front of the Israeli Supreme Court justices. But there was a peculiar element to his case.
“In all the arguments in this case, I found myself that I didn’t mention the words ‘equality in citizenship,'” said Jabareen, who noted the justices did not mention equality as well. “I realized later, ‘what, I didn’t argue equality?’ I argued just the right of family–that Palestinians had the right to family life. But you know why I didn’t? Because my legal consciousness cannot imagine this right. I am an Israeli legal product. Because in order to imagine this right, I have to break the Law of Return.” He added that in Israel, the Law of Return is “holy.”
In 2012, the Israeli Supreme Court once again affirmed the legality of the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law, with Justice Asher Grunis explaining that “human rights are not a prescription for national suicide.”
Jabareen’s Columbia talk also traced the origins of the “Jewish and democratic” state discourse. For decades, Israel did not emphasize the “Jewish” nature of the state, Jabareen said, because it was seen as ethnocentric. The Oslo Accords changed this. Liberal Zionists were the first group to emphasize Israel’s “Jewish” nature as a way to argue against the occupation, which they said was corroding Israel’s Jewish demographic majority. And liberal Israelis were also the first group to push the issue during peace talks.
But lately, the right-wing has adopted the demand, seeing it as the perfect way to abrogate Palestinians’ right of return. Today, the demand for Palestinians to recognize Israel’s “Jewish” nature has become a U.S. position. Numerous media outlets have reported that Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework agreement will require the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state, though PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has rejected the demand. Adalah’s Jabareen explained why Palestinians oppose the demand.
“What’s the meaning of asking the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?” he asked. “In order to recognize it, they have to negate their tragedy [the Nakba]…It’s about human dignity.”
The question and answer session elicited more examples of discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, like the so-called Nakba Law. Passed in 2011, it prohibits state funding from going to institutions that commemorate Israel’s independence as a day of mourning.
“This law came to send a message that Palestinian citizens are inferior in their citizenship,” said Jabareen.