YOSSI MEKELBERG July 03, 2021 21:23511
The quality and integrity of a democratic system is not determined by how it protects the rights of the majority, but by how it guards the rights of minorities. By that yardstick Israel is failing miserably, with racism increasingly overt and anchored in law.
If you want an example, look no further than the euphemistically named Citizenship and Entry Law, which has little to do with regulating who may be granted Israeli citizenship or who may enter Israel, but instead specifically targets Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza who marry Israeli citizens, and deprives them of permanent residency or citizenship status in Israel.
Israel has made a habit of sugar-coating its discriminatory and racist laws with security excuses. Since the law has never suggested that alleged security-threatening spouses should be prevented from living in Israel, whether or not they have residents’ or citizens’ rights makes no difference to the security of the country and its people. Anyone with ill intentions toward the Jewish state will not be deterred by their inability to vote in elections or have access to social benefits.
In 2018, according to Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, since 2001 only a very small minority of those granted residency due to marriage through family unification were engaged in terror activities in some capacity, which far from justifies draconian measures against about 9,200 families.
Israel has made a habit of sugar-coating its discriminatory and racist laws with security excuses.
On too many issues Israel acts as if international law is at best optional, and not something that it is committed to. Under international human rights law, the family is recognized as the fundamental unit of society and is entitled to protection and support. Article 16, paragraph 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) provides that the family is the natural and fundamental unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state. Moreover, there is a recognised right to marry and to start a family, as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination guarantees the right of everyone without distinction of “race, color, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of … the right to marriage and choice of spouse.”
Israel doesn’t prevent its citizens from marrying Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza, but won’t grant them the same rights as those who marry someone from most other places in the world. Instead, it condemns them, with no evidence of any wrongdoing, to a life of uncertainty, deprived of social and political rights in perpetuity, for one reason and one reason alone: Their place of origin – and that is plainly wrong! Here lies another irony, in the audacity of the Israeli authorities in further abusing people who before moving to Israel had suffered under its oppressive military occupation and blockade, by punishing them again.
If security is not the real issue, since the security establishment doesn’t see family unification as a major threat, and the courts in Israel mainly supported it only as temporary measure, why is Israel holding to this law? It’s not that difficult to figure out … it is demography, and the fear, to paraphrase the contemptible warning of a recently unseated Israeli prime minister, that Palestinians would migrate “in droves” to Israel, and change the demographic balance between Jews and Israeli Arabs. Considering the compulsive approach of Israeli society and its representatives in the Knesset, including most of the new coalition government, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Jewish majority within the Green Line is about to be lost in favour of Palestinians, and not that three-quarters of the population is Jewish while Arabs account for just one fifth of all Israelis.
Making this repulsive legislation temporary from the very outset suggests the uneasiness of even those who originally supported it, and an awareness on some level that a democracy cannot espouse discriminatory practices against minorities, or even worse enshrine them in law. With the exception of the rabid extreme nationalists, religious fanatics and populists whose politics are grounded in this kind of racism, the rest worryingly embrace a disturbing and unsustainable contradiction when they support measures that discriminate against the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, but still fervently assert that their country is a fully fledged democracy.
The Citizenship and Entry Law and the Nation State Law, among other pieces of legislation in addition to an institutionalised racist discourse, point in the opposite direction. After all, any Jew in the world can marry whoever they like — well, almost, as long as they are not a Palestinian from the West Bank or Gaza — and their spouse would almost instantly become a resident and a citizen with full rights. This is where a so-called democracy is failing its citizens, and this what feeds the view that Israel is becoming an apartheid state. This shameful racism is promoting a very particular and nasty interpretation of Judaism and Zionism, and continues to erode Israeli democracy.
- Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. Twitter: @YMekelberg
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