Race hatred in the heart of Israeli “democracy”

An important Haaretz editorial that requires little comment:

The endorsing of a bill criminalizing anyone who marks the Palestinians’ Nakba Day on Israel’s Independence Day, making it punishable by three years in prison, is a hasty and dangerous act. The Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved a private member’s bill by Yisrael Beiteinu MK Alex Miller, adopting for all intents and purposes the racist and antidemocratic worldview of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu. Particularly serious is the support by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, while in the committee only Isaac Herzog and Michael Eitan dissented.

Cloaked in loyalty to Zionist values and the aspiration to protect Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state, the new legislation threatens to undermine the Jewish state’s foundations and the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. Instead of civil equality, freedom of thought and expression, and the recognition of minority rights, the Netanyahu-Lieberman government proposes silencing voices and brutal punishment.

It may be assumed, or at least hoped, that the bill will not be passed, but its very existence is infuriating and worrisome. Israel was established with the encouragement and approval of the United Nations to give a homeland to the Jewish people. Herzl’s Zionism, which sought a political solution to the Jewish problem, saw in the Land of Israel – with which Jews in every Diaspora and era were attached – a natural place to establish a state. The Zionist act was daring and justified, but the renaissance of one people extracted a tragic price from the other, which lived on the soil of the Promised Land.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which Israel’s Arab citizens find themselves between a rock and a hard place, will not end until each side recognizes the injustice caused by the other, at least at the level of awareness. The attempt to force Israel’s Arab citizens to identify with the state and discard the memory of their past, or to threaten them with imprisonment, will only deepen the sense of discrimination and alienation felt by every fifth Israeli. The prohibition against marking the Nakba destroys the chances for reconciliation, suggesting that it be replaced with separatist nationalism and hatemongering.

We must hope the Knesset does not pass this dangerous bill. It’s not a patriotic or nationalist law, as its proponents argue, but one that is destructive to democracy and society.

As Independent Australian Jewish Voices blogger Michael Brull notes, mainstream Jewish groups in the West are deaf to anti-Arab racism.

Text and images ©2023 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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