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Adalah founder assails myth of ‘Jewish and democratic’ state

Israel/Palestine
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Hassan Jabareen, the founder of Adalah. (Photo: YouTube)

Hassan Jabareen, the founder of Adalah. (Photo: YouTube)

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.

Alex Kane
About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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15 Responses

  1. Stephen Shenfield
    Stephen Shenfield
    February 20, 2014, 3:54 pm

    Are there any other cases of a state being recognized as being of a certain quality (rather than simply being recognized)? Or of the issue of such special recognition even being raised? Distinguishing two types of recognition has great potential for complicating international relations. As a departure from accepted diplomatic practice, it affects the interests of the world community as a whole.

    • ritzl
      ritzl
      February 20, 2014, 4:32 pm

      Good point, Stephen. In addition to all the other negatives associated with Israel, it is fracturing and granularizing centuries of accepted customs and practices in international law (as aided by the US of course). If guided by Israel-as-precedent, everything in IL becomes a peculiar, case-by-case, politically-adjudicated issue.

      Israel is setting back the ability of a shrinking world to co-exist, precisely at a time when more cooperation and commonality is needed, not less (e.g. climate change). It’s turning it into a “norm-less” free-for-all.

    • Nevada Ned
      Nevada Ned
      February 21, 2014, 12:56 am

      For centuries, Sweden had an official state religion, the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden. After 2000, the Church of Sweden became separated from the government, and Sweden no longer has an official church.

      Not clear if most Swedes really care very much. Only about 2% of Swedes attend church on Sundays. But most Swedes do not call themselves atheists. Most Swedes are members of the Church of Sweden, even though they have to pay a church tax to be members.

  2. stevelaudig
    stevelaudig
    February 20, 2014, 5:49 pm

    Under present IL, an institution can be either a “church” or a “state”, with only the pedophilic Vatican being the exception, and Zionist Israel. If the Russian government began treating non-Russian Orthodox as the Zionist Israeli government treats non-Jews, the howling would begin. Ditto UK using Church of England. Democracy and the current iteration of Zionism in Israel are incompatible. But then modernism and Zionism are incompatible.

    • NickJOCW
      NickJOCW
      February 21, 2014, 11:46 am

      Neither you nor your arguments gain anything by insulting the Vatican.

  3. seafoid
    seafoid
    February 20, 2014, 5:57 pm

    I don’t even think Israel is Jewish any more. Sure you can do the mitzvot and be a shatnez inspector etc but what’s the point when the State is so evil ?

  4. Yitzgood
    Yitzgood
    February 20, 2014, 10:37 pm

    I don’t even think Israel is Jewish any more. Sure you can do the mitzvot and be a shatnez inspector etc but what’s the point when the State is so evil ?

    You do the mitzvot because G-d commanded you to. I live in the US. Is it “evil,” too? If so, would you tell US Jews not to do mitzvot? I’m just curious: Do you believe in mitzvot?

  5. ziusudra
    ziusudra
    February 21, 2014, 12:41 am

    Greetings,
    …. A Jewish State…..
    Why would the secular Governments since 48 wish to be termed, a Theocratic Jewish State?
    Who knows what they mean by a such a state, do they?
    Does it mean being a subject like the subjects of the Judean Kingdom?
    Does it mean all its citizens must confess to the Religion, Judaism?
    Do the majority of Israelis go to Temple?
    The Falesteeni don’t want an Islamic State.
    Israel refuses recognizion of the theocratic State of Iran!
    Me thinks, it is just a scheme which the Falesteeni cannot abide by
    with Nitwit-jahu grinning & rubbing his hands behind the curtain!
    ziusudra

  6. mcohen
    mcohen
    February 21, 2014, 3:02 am

    Hassan jabba jabba

    who are kidding ……the flood israel with arabs through quickie marriage scam is an old one practised worldwide by various nations
    Trying to make it political earns you negative bonus points

  7. Talkback
    Talkback
    February 21, 2014, 8:22 am

    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.”

    I’m sure the National Court of the third Reich would have had the same arguments.

  8. giladg
    giladg
    February 21, 2014, 9:01 am

    Many of the major demands being made by the Palestinians are based on religion and religious folk-law. The major mistake made by the Israeli navigators at Oslo was not to reciprocate demands also based on religion. The Palestinian negotiators at Oslo were not secular yet the Israeli negotiators were. The secular Israeli’s thus caused major damage to the long term interest of Israel as the Jewish state. Netanyahu is trying to correct that mistake. There will not be peace until the Palestinians accept that Jews have a long and important history and heritage that is centered around the Temple Mount. The best possible solution is what Clinton proposed. Horizontal and Vertical sovereignty. Above ground structures, the Dome of the Rock and Aksa mosque to the Muslims and the ground on which they stand to the Jews. The secular Israeli negotiators at Oslo should also be prosecuted for the damage they caused and Adalah rides the mistake.

    • eljay
      eljay
      February 21, 2014, 9:29 am

      >> There will not be peace until the Palestinians accept that Jews have a long and important history and heritage that is centered around the Temple Mount.

      So…give the Temple Mount to Jews and give the rest of Palestine back to its pre-1948 indigenous population. Sounds good to me. And it’s the first remotely intelligent thing you’ve said.

      • giladg
        giladg
        February 25, 2014, 1:55 am

        For argument sake, let’s assume that Israel suggests to the Palestinians what you have said and the Palestinians reject this. What would you then have to say about the Palestinians and the conflict in general? By the way, I am okay with Muslims continuing to access and pray on the Temple Mount, however much I dislike it, and I dislike it a lot. I am also not calling to knock down the mosques there as well.

    • NickJOCW
      NickJOCW
      February 21, 2014, 1:24 pm

      Many of the major demands being made by the Palestinians are based on religion and religious folk-law.

      They are based on being born in the land, growing up, cultivating and living off the land, getting married and raising children there, and being buried in the land.

      • giladg
        giladg
        February 25, 2014, 2:03 am

        And showing a blind eye to others who have done the same.

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