In her first address in an American synagogue since becoming a Member of the Knesset, Aida Touma-Sliman ripped into the new Jewish Nation State Law, which she said normalized discrimination and Jewish supremacy, and finally dispensed with equality as a normative value of Israel.
Handling a few hostile questions with aplomb, this inspiring Palestinian feminist, journalist and politician won plaudits from the audience at Temple Israel of New Rochelle (PDF) on Sunday evening, even as she told them that the passage of this Basic Law was “the first moment of the Israeli Apartheid regime.”
Born into a Christian Arab family in Nazareth, with a degree in psychology and Arabic literature from the University of Haifa, Touma-Sliman was a founder of the Arab feminist group Women Against Violence, working with battered women. Upon her election to the Knesset in 2015, she was the first female Arab MK appointed to chair a Knesset committee, here the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality.
She has two daughters, one of whom, she said Sunday, married a Dutchman. Her grandchildren, born in Israel, are automatic citizens of the Netherlands, but not citizens in Israel, where they were born and their mother was born. “I meet a lot of Jews back home who say we need a Jewish State as an insurance policy, in case something goes wrong,” she said. “But why should I pay the price of your insurance policy?” Israel, she said, takes on responsibility for Jewish citizens of other states and neglects its own non-Jewish citizens and residents. In the last 70 years, 700 Jewish settlements were built; 0 for Arabs. “We can’t buy houses in many of these settlements.” Under Article 7 of this new Basic Law, she said, development of Jewish settlements is a national value. “It is like saying, in the United States, that White development is a national value. Equality is no longer the value of the State.”
There is no mention, she noted, of “democracy” or “democratic” in the Basic Law, which “put an end to balance” between “Jewish” and “Democratic” in the description “Jewish and Democratic State” that Jewish Israelis often proudly ascribe to themselves.
Early in the question period that followed her talk, Touma-Sliman was confronted by a man who described himself as an American Jew whose family members went to the concentration camps. He asked why Palestinians “feel they have a right to gain something from the Israelis every time they lose a war?” Don’t the spoils belong to the victors?
Her answer: “If you mean, by Palestinians losing the wars, that nations or peoples who lose wars do not deserve to struggle and demand to live as human beings, then you would have paid a very high price as Jews, because what happened to you as Jewish people, should put you in a situation of more tolerance and more sympathy and understanding for the suffering of other people, especially when they are suffering under occupation.”
When asked about her own future in the Knesset, Touma-Sliman said that she and other Arabs may not be members for long, citing the Suspension Law which permits a member to be suspended if a majority of MKs vote to do so. “While the Supreme Court has put limits on the law, that court is changing, with three settlers with ultra right-wing backgrounds” having been newly appointed to serve on the Supreme Court. She was referring to May 2018 decision unanimously upholding a July 2016 amendment to the Basic Law on the Knesset, allowing 90 lawmakers to remove a sitting member of the Knesset if they believe his or her actions incite to racism, reflect support for armed struggle against the state or for a terror organization, but cautioning that “the expulsion authority” cannot be used “except in the most extreme of exceptional circumstances.”
Touma-Sliman was then asked about her views about the Two State Solution. Since she was the first female member of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, which in 2006 published a manifesto called The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel, which called for Israel to change from a Jewish state that privileges its Jewish majority into a state of all its citizens, it was surprising to hear her say that she now believes that, while the Two State Solution is “fading out,” it is still preferable to the likely One State Solution that would continue to privilege Jews and discriminate against and oppress Palestinians. Yes, she said, the ideal would be a One State Solution that offers complete democracy, but the bad blood that afflicts the two peoples suggests that “the One State Solution will not be our dream,” as it will not provide “the right of self-determination that we believe in.”
Touma-Sliman has a lot to say, and leaves her listeners with a lot to think about. We need more Palestinian voices like hers speaking to more Jewish congregations, here and around the world.
Thanks to Howard Horowitz