Karina Piser - I am consistently flabbergasted by the U.S.’s unprecedented ability to befriend the world’s most anti-democratic leaders while touting its identity as the ultimate democratic state.
It becomes increasingly difficult to take democracy seriously when the House of Representatives supports President Obama’s use of his diplomatic capital to block the Palestinian bid for statehood at the U.N., in favor of the U.S.’s longstanding relationship with Israel–”the only democracy in the Middle East”–whose boycott law, along with last week’s proposed bill to institutionalize second-class status for Arab citizens, makes me question its democratic character.
The recently proposed Knesset bill is not the first example of Israel’s institutionalized discrimination against its Arab citizens. The last decade has seen a slew of laws promoting inequality, like a 2011 bill that allowed community segregation and another from 2003 that was extended in 2008, blocking a Palestinian’s ability to gain Israeli citizenship through marriage.
The new bill, which has a fair chance of passing, would give “Jewish values” an essential trump-card over “democratic values.” Ha’aretz reports that the bill also seeks to eliminate Arabic’s standing as one of Israel’s national languages, and would promote entirely Jewish communities. Farewell, democracy. It looks like Prime Minister Netanyahu waved goodbye to what was already a fragile democratic identity.
The bill is particularly shocking and serves as yet another action that shatters Israel’s “villa-in-a-jungle” identity. This should shed light on the disconcerting link between Netanyahu’s increasing ignorance towards democracy and the Obama administration’s continued commitment to Israeli policy and willingness to shoot down Palestinian attempts at even symbolic international recognition.
These policies reflect a fear of declining Israeli Jewishness amongst Israeli officials. Israel is clearly a unique case of attempted democracy, in that the role of religion is inherent to its statehood. But to insist on segregated communities within Israel and to threaten the culture of Israeli Arabs–who are, of course, Israeli citizens, and pose no threat to internal security–is a blatant act of racism. Attempting to eradicate a minority’s culture is a move that transcends politics and is grounded purely in hatred. Israeli Arab MK Hanin Zoabi, in response to the Knesset’s revocation of her rights after her decision to participate in last May’s flotilla, argued that “the extreme Right has become the face of the Knesset and Israeli society.” Over a year later, nothing has changed, and hateful ideologies are now translating into political reality.
As Israeli citizens begin to speak out against the current administration’s incapacity to pay attention to internal affairs, perhaps it is time for Israeli Arabs to speak out too, before their language is formally eradicated from Israeli institutions and the religious right consumes ideals of pluralism and equality.
In an interview with Just Vision, Khulood Badawi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, crystallized this sentiment: “As Palestinians inside Israel we have a big role in the conflict and should be the link between the two sides. We should be more active because we are part of a society that struggles for its freedom and at the same time we are citizens of Israel. We should be more active because we are part of a society that struggles for its freedom and at the same time we are citizens of Israel.”
Israel should not forget its citizens, regardless of ethnic or religious identity.
Karina Piser is an intern with the New America Foundation’s Middle East Task Force. She recently graduated with Highest Honors from the University of California, Davis with a degree in International Relations and French, and will begin a position as a Project Assistant for the National Democratic Institute’s Maghreb program this month.