To argue that the Jewish Nation-State law is the ‘death of Israeli democracy’ is a mistake. Simply put, Israel was never a true democracy at any juncture in its violent history.
However, the new ‘Basic Law’ does, in fact, end the decade-long intellectual wrangle on whether Israel can be both Jewish and democratic at the same time.
Israeli intellectual, Omri Boehm, joined a growing number of academics arguing that the balancing act is over. In an article in the New York Times, Boehm wrote, “What was long suspected has finally been made brutally clear: Israel cannot be both a Jewish state and a liberal democracy.”
Although many do see the law which defines Israel by its Jewishness without a single reference to democracy as problematic, they continue to subscribe to the illusion that Israel is or, at least, was indeed, a democracy,
Seventy years of Israeli Jewish supremacy, genocide, ethnic cleansing, wars, sieges, mass incarceration, numerous discriminatory laws, all aimed at the very destruction of the Palestinian people should have provided sufficient clues that Israel was never a democracy, to begin with.
However, the Jewish Nation-state Law is the last nail in the coffin — those who insist on supporting Israel must know that they are supporting an unabashed Apartheid regime.
The new law which was passed after some wrangling on July 19, has divorced Israel from any claim, however untrue, to being a democratic state.
References to the Jewish identity of the state are ample and dominant, with the clear exclusion of the Palestinian people from their rights in their historic homeland:
n “The state of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people ...
n “The actualisation of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.
n “The state will labour to ensure the safety of sons of the Jewish people …
n “The state will act to preserve the cultural, historical and religious legacy of the Jewish people among the Jewish diaspora,” and so on.
But most dangerous of all is the stipulation that “the state views Jewish settlement [colony] as a national value and will labour to encourage and promote its establishment and development.”
True, illegal Jewish colonies already dot Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, and a de facto segregation already exists in Israel itself. In fact, segregation is so deeply entrenched that even maternity wards in Israeli hospitals separate between mothers, based on race. The above stipulation, however, will further accelerate segregation and cement apartheid, making the harm not merely intellectual and political, but also physical. The law is a sordid addition to an already dark reality.
The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Adalah, has documented in its ‘Discriminatory Laws Database’ a list of over 65 Israeli laws that “discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinian citizens in Israel and/or Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) on the basis of their national belonging.”
According to Adalah, “These laws limit the rights of Palestinians in all areas of life, from citizenship rights to the right to political participation, land and housing rights, education rights, cultural and language rights, religious rights, and due process rights during detention.”
While it would be accurate to argue that the Jewish Nation-state bill is the officiation of apartheid in Israel, this realisation should not dismiss the previous reality upon which Israel was founded 70 years ago.
Apartheid is not a single law, but a slow, agonising build-up of an intricate legal regime that is motivated by the belief that one racial group is superior to all others.
Not only does the new law elevate Israel’s Jewish identity and erase any commitment to democracy, it also downgrades the status of all others. Palestinian Arabs, the natives of the land of historic Palestine upon which Israel was established, are reduced to a mere stipulation made to the Arabic language, downgrading it from being an official language, to a ‘special one.’
Israel’s decision to refrain from formulating a written constitution when it was founded in 1948 was not a haphazard one. Since then, it has been following a predictable model by which it would alter reality on the ground to the advantage of Jews, at the expense of Palestinian Arabs.
Instead of a constitution, Israel resorted to what it termed ‘Basic Laws’, which allowed for the constant formulation of new laws guided by the ‘Jewish State’s’ commitment to racial supremacy, rather than to democracy, international law, human rights or any other ethical value.
And with its latest racist law, Israel has dropped the meaningless claim to being both Jewish and democratic. This impossible task was often left to the Supreme Court which tried, but failed, to strike any convincing balance. This new reality should, once and for all, end the protracted debate on the supposed uniqueness of Israel’s political system.
Furthermore, since Israel has chosen racial supremacy over any claim, however faint, to real democracy, western countries that have often shielded Israel must also make a choice on whether they wish to support an apartheid regime or fight against it.
The EU must end its feeble political discourse and disengage from apartheid Israel, or it has to accept the moral, ethical and legal consequences of being an accomplice in Israeli crimes against Palestinians.
Israel has made its choice and it is, unmistakably, the wrong one. The rest of the world nations-must now make their choice too, and hopefully, the right one — standing on the right side of history: against Israeli Jewish apartheid and in favour of Palestinian rights.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Centre for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.