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The Israeli parliament has adopted a controversial bill that defines Israel exclusively as the 'nation state of the Jewish people', excluding the Arab-Israeli minority that makes up twenty percent of the population. Israel passed a law on Thursday to declare that only Jews have the right of self-determination in the country, something members of the Arab minority called racist and verging on apartheid. The "nation-state" law, backed by the right-wing government, passed by a vote of 62-55 and two abstentions in the 120-member parliament after months of political argument. Some Arab lawmakers shouted and ripped up papers after the vote.

"This is a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset after the vote. Largely symbolic, the law was enacted just after the 70th anniversary of the birth of the state of Israel. It stipulates that "Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it".  The bill also strips Arabic of its designation as an official language alongside Hebrew, downgrading it to a "special status" that enables its continued use within Israeli institutions.   Israel's Arabs number some 1.8 million, about 20 percent of the 9 million population.

The law will also apply to territories occupied in 1967 such as East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, which were annexed to the territory of the State of Israel by law, but which has not been internationally recognised.  Early drafts of the legislation went further in what critics at home and abroad saw as discrimination towards Israel's Arabs, who have long said they are treated as second-class citizens.  Clauses that were dropped in last-minute political wrangling - and after objections by Israel's president and attorney-general - would have enshrined in law the establishment of Jewish-only communities, and instructed courts to rule according to Jewish ritual law when there were no relevant legal precedents.

Instead, a more vaguely-worded version was approved, which says: "The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment."   Even after the changes, critics said the new law will deepen a sense of alienation within the Arab minority.  "I announce with shock and sorrow the death of democracy," Ahmed Tibi, an Arab lawmaker, told reporters.

"Ensure our state's Jewish character"

Netanyahu has defended the law. "We will keep ensuring civil rights in Israel's democracy but the majority also has rights and the majority decides," he said last week.  "An absolute majority wants to ensure our state's Jewish character for generations to come."   Hassan Jabareen, the director general of Adalah, the Legal Center for Minority Rights in Israel, said that the law had key elements of apartheid, which is prohibited under international law.

He said: "The new law constitutionally enshrines the identity of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people only – despite the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of the state and residents of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights – and guarantees the exclusive ethnic-religious character of Israel as Jewish."

Entrenching discrimination

"By defining sovereignty and democratic self-rule as belonging solely to the Jewish people Israel has made discrimination a constitutional value and has professed its commitment to favoring Jewish supremacy as the bedrock of its institutions,” he said.  Israel's Arab population is comprised mainly of descendants of the Palestinians who remained on their land during the conflict between Arabs and Jews that culminated in the war of 1948 surrounding the creation of the modern state of Israel. Hundreds of thousands were forced to leave their homes or fled.

Those who remained have full equal rights under the law but say they face constant discrimination, citing inferior services and unfair allocations for education, health and housing. 

In Ma'alot-Tarshiha, a municipality in northern Israel which was created by linking the Jewish town of Ma'alot and the Arab town of Tarshiha, there was anger among Arab residents. “I think this is racist legislation by a radical right-wing government that is creating radical laws, and is planting the seeds to create an apartheid state," said physician Bassam Bisharah, 71.   "The purpose of this law is discrimination. They want to get rid of the Arabs totally," said Yousef Faraj, 53, from the nearby Druze village of Yanuh. "The Israelis want to destroy all the religions of the Arabs."   Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, called the law a bid to advance "ethnic superiority by promoting racist policies".


Knesset member Oren Hazan takes a selfie with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a Knesset session that passed the 'nation-state' bill in Jerusalem on July 19 [AP Photo/Olivier Fitoussi]
  • In Palestine, we are dealing with a complex situation: We have a settler-colonial project that denies its colonialism and argues it is a democracy and we have its victims whose victimisation has been dismissed for decades and whose national liberation struggle has been defamed.  The colonisers have been successful in manipulating the narrative on what is going on, rewriting history and whitewashing their crimes. Various countries around the world have bought into their lies and kept a "neutral" stance, claiming their positions are "balanced".
What is there to balance, when one side has one of the most advanced armies in the world, financed and supplied by an allied superpower, and the other side has been altogether abandoned by allies and well-wishers and has only the determination and strength of its people to rely on?  

But these claims of "neutrality" and "balance" are no longer tenable. Israel has stopped playing the democracy pretence game and has revealed itself for what it really is: an apartheid state. On July 19, the Israeli Knesset voted to pass the so-called "nation-state law" which declares Israel "the national home of the Jewish people". It is now officially an exclusive ethno-religious state.

Unveiling the ethno-religious state of Israel
For us Palestinians, this law reiterates the obvious: namely, that the Zionist ideology is inherently racist and undemocratic. The political goal of Zionism was to engineer a demographic shift in Palestine, making the minority Jewish population (which was just 7.6 percent in 1914) a majority through massive Jewish immigration and settlement building and expulsion of the Palestinians.

Inevitably, the expropriation of land went hand-in-hand with the violation of rights of the Palestinian majority. Zionists have always looked at Palestinians as invisible if not absent, or rather "present absentees". The identity of those who remained within the boundaries of what was to become Israel was erased through the term "Israeli Arab" and their rights curbed by a myriad of laws ("the nation-state law" being just the latest iteration).  This is because, contrary to modern liberal thinking, in Israel, citizenship and nationality are two separate, independent concepts. In other words, Israel is not the state of its citizens, but the state of the Jewish people. Thus Palestinians in Israel have Israeli passports but they do not have rights equal to those of Jewish citizens.

With the new "nation-state law", Palestinians in Israel are now considered "native aliens" or foreigners in their own homeland, because Israel is defined by its law as " the historical homeland of the Jewish people" i.e. not the state of all of its citizens. This is the direct result of Zionism and its ideology of racism. It is also the direct result of prevailing undemocratic sentiments among Israel's Jews. The contradiction between professed ideals and actual behaviour, which has been the engine of political change in many places around the world, does not exist in Israel because the democratic creed, or civic democracy, is absent in Israeli society.

There is no promise of equality for all citizens in Israeli political culture and praxis. And there is no tradition of civil liberties in Israel because such a tradition is incompatible with Zionism. Hence, one can understand the antagonism of the establishment to calls for the creation of one state for Palestinians and Jews, one secular democratic state run by parliamentary elections and majority rule in historical Palestine. This idea has been rejected outright by Israeli Jewish society because it would effectively mean the end of Zionism.

And as Israel effectively turns into an exclusive ethno-religious state, we have to ask uncomfortable questions: does this mean that Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, etc can also be the basis of modern states? And if we still insist that religion should be separate from state, then where is the international outrage? Why isn't mainstream media obsessing about the Jewish state, the way it was about the "Islamic state"? How is Israel different from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant that sought to establish a state for Muslims only through violence and dispossession?

The fight against apartheid is on the passing of the "nation-state law" should eliminate whatever doubt there still is among "neutral" observers that Israel is, in fact, an apartheid state.  Just as apartheid South Africa gave citizenship to white South Africans and relegated blacks to "independent homelands", Zionism gives all Jews the right to citizenship in the state of Israel, while denying citizenship to Palestinians - its indigenous inhabitants.

While South Africa's apartheid used race to determine citizenship, the state of Israel uses religious identification to determine citizenship. Just as apartheid South Africa made laws criminalising free movement of blacks on their ancestral land, Israel controls every aspect of Palestinians' lives through a military occupation infrastructure composed of checkpoints, Jewish-only settlements and roads, and the Wall, combined with a web of legal regulations.  The parallels between Israel and apartheid South Africa are infinite. And probably the only major difference between the two is that Israel gets away with its crimes with unprecedented impunity, as evidenced by its latest war crimes in Gaza. 

So what is left for the Palestinian people after the approval of this blatantly racist bill?  Well, we definitely are not foolish enough to expect anything from the so-called "international community".  Years of "negotiations" created only bantustans in the West Bank and a concentration camp in Gaza. Palestinians are still at the receiving end of merciless assaults by racist Israeli troops hidden in their US-made helicopters and F16's.  What all US envoys to the region have been trying to do is reach a "solution" in accordance with Israeli conditions, disregarding Security Council resolutions and international law. Neither the current US right-wing administration nor the spineless EU has a fair plan for how to resolve the crisis in Palestine.

The only thing that we, Palestinians, can count on is the power of people, just as South Africans did when, through a sustained global campaign, they forced governments to boycott their apartheid regime.  We will continue to expand the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and will continue marching to the fence in Gaza until we bring this madness to an end. We will also continue working on an alternative model, both democratic and secular, which guarantees equality and abolishes apartheid, bantustans and separation in Palestine altogether. We will not give up the fight.

Miko Peled

After several days of rushing and intense debates, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had his wish come true. He urgently wanted to get the Nation State bill passed into law before the Knesset goes into summer recess on July 22, and for several days now the Knesset committee charged with ironing out the bill was delaying the process with long discussions.  Now the law passed 62 to 55 and 2 abstentions. In an almost symbolic act of racism, the Palestinian members of the Knesset were kicked out of the chamber following the vote because of their vocal protests. An usher removes Israeli Arab Knesset member Jamal Zahalka for protesting the passage of the Nation State bill in the Knesset, July 19, 2018. Olivier Fitoussi | AP

Now, with the haggling and the opposition members’ delay tactics over, the final version of the bill has been approved by the Knesset. 
This law has been discussed for several years now; it has evolved, however, and has become extreme to a degree that even right-wing politicians like Benny Begin, the son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and former Likud Defense Minister Moshe Arens, who originally supported the bill, now oppose it.
No more Jewish and democratic
In Israel’s 1948  Declaration of Independence on which my own grandfather is signed, the word “democracy” is not mentioned. However, it says that Israel “will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants.” Furthermore, it states that the newly established Jewish State will, “be based on freedom, justice and peace. It will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex” .  
These promises were never fulfilled and Israel enacted laws and policies that favored the mostly immigrant Jewish population at the expense of the native Palestinians. The original version of the Nation State Bill read: 
"The purpose of this Basic Law is to secure the character of Israel as the National State of the Jewish People in order to codify in a basic law the values of Israel as a Jewish democratic state.”

In the new version that was accepted by the committee today, the word “democratic” has been eliminated — arguably so that so-called Zionist values could take precedence over democratic values where the two may collide, particularly over issues pertaining to the Palestinian people. The Nation State law codifies what have been racist policies and practices by Israel into law, and not just a regular law but a Basic Law that defines the State. Dr. Yusef Jabarin, member of the Israeli Knesset for the Joint Arab List wrote to me that even though some elements of this law already exist within Israeli law, codifying it as a Basic Law gives the discrimination constitutional standing, which means it will be harder to challenge the racist policies in the courts.

For example, since the State of Israel was established in 1948, over a thousand Jewish towns have been established throughout the country. At the same time, not only were close to 500 Palestinian towns and villages destroyed but in the last seven decades, not a single town has been established for the Palestinian citizens of the state, even though this community grew from a population of around 150,000 to close to 2 million within that same time frame.

A Bedouin woman sits on the demolished remnants of her home in the village of Umm al-Hiran in Southern Israel, Jan. 18, 2017. Tsafrir Abayov | AP
Palestinians are not welcome in Jewish towns and in many cases would prefer to remain within their communities. Still, for seven decades the State of Israel expropriated enormous tracts of land from Palestinian towns that were not destroyed. These lands were taken in order to build towns and communities, but almost exclusively for the Jewish citizens of the state. Some Jewish towns have instituted “acceptance committees” in order to make sure that no Arabs are permitted to reside in them, and the legality of these committees has been brought to question in the courts. This bill puts the issue to rest by giving a quasi-constitutional stamp of approval to these committees. It is interesting to note that the original version of the bill said:   

"The State may allow a community, including followers of a single religion or members of a single nationality, to establish a separate communal settlement.”
In other words, followers of any religion on nationality were given this right. That language was scrapped and replaced with the following:
"The state sees developing Jewish communities as a national value and will act to encourage, promote and establish them.”
Clearly, they went from allowing segregated communities to encouraging, promoting and establishing segregated communities for Jewish citizens only.
According to a piece by Dr. Yousef Jabareen (not the member of Knesset) in the Israeli daily Haaretz, the new Basic Law only codifies a reality of racial discrimination towards the Palestinian citizens of Israel that is already prevalent. Jabareen, a professor in Israel’s Technion in Haifa, describes the findings of his research on this issue as follows:
In 940 Israeli towns that were studied and which sit on 82 percent of Israel, there is not a single Palestinian family and not a single Palestinian owns a home in any of these towns.”   Furthermore, Jabareen writes, many of these towns have committees that are responsible for accepting or denying citizens seeking to live within them, thus preventing Palestinian citizens of Israel from moving in. The state of Israel is the sole owner of 93 percent of the land, and Israeli law prevents it from selling or leasing to non-Jews. Arabs citizens of the state, who are the native citizens of the land and make up over 20 percent of the citizens, or close to 2 million people, own 2.1 percent of the land.
The Arabic language
In 1922, when the League of Nations handed over Palestine to the British Government as a Mandate, it stated specifically in Article 22:
"English, Arabic and Hebrew shall be the official languages of Palestine. Any statement or inscription in Arabic on stamps or money in Palestine shall be repeated in Hebrew and any statement or inscription in Hebrew shall be repeated in Arabic.”

An Israeli Arab teacher from the Arab town of Kabul gives an Arabic class to Israeli schoolchildren in a school in the Jewish village of Yokneam, Dec 20, 2011. Oded Balilty | AP

This has been the law of the land since that day. The status of Arabic began eroding once the State of Israel was established and state institutions almost completely disregarded Arabic so that Hebrew became the dominant language. Still, Arabic retained its legal status as an official language and is spoken within the Palestinian towns where, unlike the Jewish citizens of the state, the residents speak both Arabic and Hebrew. The Nation State bill demotes the status of the Arabic language and states:
"Hebrew is the language of the country. The Arabic language has special status in the country. Its speakers have the right of [Arabic] language access to the services of the state.”   This will erode the Arabic language even more and because this is now within a Basic Law, there will be little or no legal recourse for the Arabic speaking community seeking to challenge it.
Expansion by decree
The parts of the law mentioned above are only the more controversial within the bill, but its entire essence is a dangerous attempt to give constitutional status to the erasure of all Arab and Palestinian characteristics from a country that until 70 years ago was known as Palestine and that, in the minds and hearts of millions around the world, remains Palestine. The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
One has to wonder what Palestinians who have lived on this land for centuries, not to say millennia, must think when they read that they have no right to exercise self-determination on that land. What the bill does not show is that in the minds of its authors and supporters, the boundaries of the State of Israel are not the UN-sanctioned 1947 boundaries and not the pre-1967 boundaries. The Israeli government and all members of the coalition, and indeed many members of the opposition see the boundaries of the State as all of historic Palestine, from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. The bill gives no answer as to the status and rights of the Palestinians who are not citizens of Israel.
The Nation State bill claims that the entire unified Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. This is once again giving constitutional status to what is a violation of UN resolution 181 and international law, which call for the city to be an entity on its own and not part of any state. The status of the Palestinians in the city is tenuous and precarious. In 1948 every Palestinian was forced to leave West Jerusalem and since 1967 there is a campaign of forced exile that is gaining momentum by the day. This law will no doubt make things even more difficult as the state expropriates land, homes, and neighborhoods from the Palestinians to build for Jews.
Uniting the Diaspora
“Israel will be open to Jewish immigration and uniting the diaspora.”
Israeli soldiers and relatives of new Jewish immigrants from the U.S. and Canada, wave flags to welcome them as they arrive at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, July 23, 2013. Ariel Schalit | AP

This must be seen within the context of the Palestinian demand to execute their right to return to their land and their homes. It is made clear here that the state will be open to Jewish immigration only, which was the practice and now is codified in Basic Law. One may argue that the State of Israel has once again made the case in support of the call to impose boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) on the State of Israel. In a matter of a few short weeks, Israel has bombed Gaza, destroyed the small village of Khan Al-Ahmar, and has now passed a law that makes it an official apartheid state.  Jewish settlers march during a demonstration against a proposed decision to evacuate the Jewish-only West Bank colony of Beit El near Ramallah. Ariel Schalit | AP

Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”


Palestinian legislators in Israel prepare to launch series of events in protest of 'racist' nation-state bill.

Farah Najjar

Palestinian citizens of Israel are planning a series of actions, including a general strike and international campaigning, in a bid to cancel a controversial lawthat defines the country exclusively as "the nation-state of the Jewish people". Palestinian members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, described the legislation's adoption on July 19 as an effort to sabotage the Palestinian "story and narrative". "It's an attempt at destroying the entire rhetoric of historic Palestine … it stands against an entire people," MK Ahmad Tibi, told Al Jazeera.

The Basic Law, which has standing similar to a constitution, gives only Jews the right to self-determination. It also strips Arabic of its official language designation, downgrading it to a "special status" that enables its continued use within Israeli institutions. Additionally, it allows the Israeli government to expand the state's annexation of Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The law considers the expansion of the Jewish-only settlements a national value, encouraging and promoting their construction.

Adopted with 62 votes for and 55 against, the law has been met with widespread condemnation. Critics compare it to apartheid, saying it promotes ethnic superiority and further marginalises some 1.8 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and other smaller minorities.

"We now expect to see a storm of legal proposals that are racist in nature," MK Aida-Touma Suleiman told Al Jazeera. "We must be ready to face them and fight them in parliament and on the public level as well".

'Battle of fate'
Since the law's adoption, the High Follow-up Committee - a representative body for the Palestinian citizens of Israel - has been meeting to discuss a way to respond.  The various political factions within the committee have unanimously agreed to launch a series of counter-actions.

INSIDE STORY: An Israel law that divides and discriminates (24:01)
The first is scheduled for August 8 when Palestinians from various cities will attempt to block the main street where the Knesset building lies in Jerusalem during an extraordinary session called for by the Joint List, an alliance of four predominantly Arab parties in the Israeli parliament.

The committee will also soon announce the "national day of anti-apartheid", Tibi said. A petition to cancel the law will be distributed soon, with the aim of garnering at least 500,000 signatures. A general strike is also on the works."The aim is to portray the impact of the day-to-day contributions," said Tibi.  "We're also considering the possibility of reading out our speeches in Arabic during upcoming parliamentary sessions, in protest of the revocation of the status of Arabic as an official language," he said.  Organisers said the moves are meant to help escalate the "struggle" to a national, political and international level - not just in parliament.

"The Knesset to us has never been a place of privilege. It has served merely as one of the various spaces where we battle, struggle and strife," Suleiman said.
"It's going to be a long battle but it's not impossible … it is a battle of fate," she said, describing the difficult path towards scrapping the law.  Apart from campaigning locally, the legislators have so far pencilled in a meeting with European Union officials in Brussels and also plan on working with various United Nations bodies and the global organisation of national parliaments.

'Never democratic'
Earlier this week, Zouheir Bahloul of the Labour Party resigned in protest against the law, bringing the number of Palestinian MKs down to 17, out of a total of 120. His party, which is part of the Zionist Union list and alliance, voted in favour of the legislation. "The law oppresses me and oppresses the population that sent me to the Knesset,'' Bahloul said.

"The government submits the Knesset to its whims. The Knesset has become a rubber stamp of exceptional and racist legislation. I will run from it as one runs from raging fire," he added.  For Suleiman and Tibi, whose parties are members of the Joint List, Bahloul's resignation was inevitable.  "There are Zionist parties with Arab MKs that voted in favour of the bill - that is the danger of joining a Zionist camp; it should never be the case," Tibi said. Palestinian citizens of Israel make up about 20 percent of the country's population.  According to Tibi, they have long been treated as inferior to Jewish citizens - and the new law will make this even easier.

"Israel was never democratic to begin with," he said. "It was racist in its policies, actions and laws. What's new is that this law is a Basic Law."  When Israel defined itself as "Jewish and democratic" in 1958, the "Jewish nature" of the state had always been a point that Palestinians adamantly opposed, added Tibi.  But the law took it a step further. "It is the definition of apartheid," he said.   "We want to say to the international community that there is a Basic Law that institutionalises apartheid and we demand steps to be taken."

With hopes to attain a new vote in parliament, a motion to either scrap it entirely or reformulate its language requires at least 61 votes.  In conjunction, Palestinian MKs plan to appeal to Israel's top court, Suleiman and Tibi confirmed.

'Apartheid, formalised'
However, experts say neither a Supreme Court ruling nor a call to the international community is going to change the reality on the ground for Palestinians.  Diana Buttu, a lawyer and policy adviser at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, said the EU and the UN can only issue condemnations, but that would be the "extent of it" owing to the US' Security Council veto.

Since coming to office, US President Donald Trump has been developing an even warmer relationship with Israel than previous  US presidents. From 

recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital amid talks of the "deal of the century", the passing of the law seemed to come at an optimal timing, said Buttu, echoing Suleiman's and Tibi's views. Buttu also noted the Israeli Supreme Court has a history of siding with the "Jewish" component when ruling in cases brought forward by Palestinians against the state.

"In the past, they have [Israeli courts] confronted this fundamental tension by always favouring the side of Jewish and not the side of democracy," Buttu told Al Jazeera, citing the admissions committee law passed seven years ago, which permits smaller Jewish communities to market state lands and determine prerequisites for residency.


Trump's 'ultimate deal' for Middle East peace overseen by Kushner (2:27)

In almost half of the Israeli towns, residential admission committees have therefore continued to filter out Palestinian applicants on the grounds of "incompatibility with the social and cultural fabric".  "This law is among at least 50 other discriminatory laws … And in the rulings has always fallen on the side of Jewish, rather than on the side of being democratic," Buttu said. With the recently enacted nation-state bill, Buttu said to issue similar rulings from now on will only become "that much easier".  "Now clearly, they're saying: apartheid, formalised," she said. "This [law] was only to make it official."   Buttu attributes the passing of the bill to the Supreme Court's precedents and its previous rulings.  

"The entire reason that this bill has been allowed to progress so far is because the Israeli Supreme Court has allowed Israel to be as racist as it wants to be," she said.  Despite the challenges, Palestinian MKs remain adamant to find a way to either cancel the legislation or change its language. "Our story is stronger than their law," Tibi said.


Israel's new 'nation-state' law follows in the footsteps of Jim Crow, the Indian Removal Act and the Nuremberg Laws

More than 80 years after Nazi Germany enacted what came to be known as the Nuremberg Race Laws, Israeli legislators voted in favour of the so-called nation-state law. By doing so, they essentially codified "Jewish supremacy" into law, which effectively mirrors the Nazi-era legislation of ethnoreligious stratification of German citizenry. Israel's "nation-state law" stipulates in its first clause that "actualisation of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people". In other words, the 1.7 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, the native inhabitants who managed to remain in their homes whenEuropean Jews conquered parts of historical Palestine in 1948, shall be without sovereignty or agency, forever living at the mercy of Israeli Jews. 

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