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New Joint List MK: Israel discriminates against Arabs

In an interview with Al-Monitor, newly elected Knesset member Yousef Jabareen says that the State of Israel discriminates against its Arab citizens in regard to religious and educational services, land allocation and development budgets.

New Knesset member Yousef Jabareen (No. 10 on the Joint List, the unified slate of predominantly Arab parties) left the plenary hall, together with his colleagues in the faction, before the national anthem was sung at the swearing-in ceremony of the 20th Knesset. Jabareen, who has a doctorate in law and specializes in human and minority rights, was until recently a senior lecturer at Haifa University. He told Al-Monitor that for as long as he can remember, he has always walked out of any ceremony in which the national anthem was sung. In his eyes, the Hatikva is another Zionist symbol that excludes the Arab public.

Jabareen, 43, was born and bred in Umm al-Fahm, where he still resides. He completed his doctoral studies at Georgetown University in Washington, where he conducted a comparative research project of the legal status of African-Americans in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, and that of Israeli Arabs. He found that the gaps between Jews and Arabs in Israeli law and legislation are much deeper than he had thought.

In his first interview with Al-Monitor, Jabareen states that in no other country in the world that boasts about its democracy is there such a large volume of discriminatory legislation against a national minority.

Al-Monitor:  Knesset member Jabareen, do you already know what you will talk about in your maiden speech to the Knesset?

Jabareen:  On the one hand, I will want to portray the absence of basis human rights that even a right-wing government headed by [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu must treat and deal with. Simultaneously, I want to introduce my vision of the state, in which all its citizens will feel equal and connected — equality that ensures a just distribution of resources. In my eyes, this is a praiseworthy vision for the Arab, as well as Jewish, public. I come from Umm al-Fahm, and in recent years — also because of [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Liberman’s incitement — this city is starting to be a symbol of residents fighting for their rights, a symbol of exclusion and estrangement and lack of belonging. I will mention this too.

I belong to the young generation of Arab politicians who want, in addition to human rights, to strengthen the connection to the Palestinian identity. That is the challenge of our generation.

Al-Monitor:  How would you describe the position of the Arab minority in Israel?

Jabareen:  My doctoral research was on the subject of the legal status of the Arab minority, and my work shows that the gap between Jews and Arabs is deeper than is readily apparent. As a matter of fact, Israeli legislation discriminates against its Arab citizens, and I discovered that the inferiority of Israeli Arabs in law parallels that of the position of African-Americans in the 1950s and 1960s. In a lot of ways, the position of African-Americans was affected by formal legislation that discriminated against minority groups, and the main criticism in the US was that US citizenship was not egalitarian. Using the same logic, I reach the conclusion that a similar situation exists today in Israel. There are dozens of laws and legal clauses that benefit the Jewish majority. This is, in effect, formal discrimination.

Al-Monitor:  How is this discrimination expressed in legislation?

Jabareen:  The Jewish public views legal discrimination mainly in terms of several isolated laws, such as the Law of Return or symbols such as the national anthem. But my study showed that the gaps are much deeper, and in almost every key domain in the relations between minority groups and the majority, I uncovered legislation that creates a schism between the two populations. This is true on the symbolic front, such as the national anthem; it is true with regard to immigration, such as the Law of Return and Citizenship; and it is true with regard to the domain of language and culture. While Arabic is an official language in the country, even that is not exact. While there is legislation allowing for the option of developing other languages such as Ladino and Yiddish, there is no parallel legislation for the Arab issue.

In terms of cultural issues such as the Broadcasting Authority Law and the Second Television and Radio Authority Law, you find such terms as “preservation and maintenance of the Jewish culture” and sometimes expressly “Jewish legacy” and “Zionist culture.” But when it comes to Arab-language broadcasts, there is barely a reference to substantive issues; they don’t even always use the term “Arabic broadcasts” but “broadcasts for Arabic speakers.” With regard to the Jewish public, they are recognized as a group with a heritage and culture that must be preserved and developed, but when it comes to Arabs, the attitude is purely technical.

Even when we get to the subject of religious services, legislation defines the religious leadership among the Jewish population, starting from elections for the Chief Rabbinate and religious local councils to the maintenance of cemeteries and holy places. But other religious denominations are totally ignored. The Arab population does not have parallel jurisdictions.

With regard to land and property, there is legislation according a special status to Jewish institutions, such as the Jewish National Fund Law and the position enjoyed by the Jewish Agency. Here, too, nothing parallel exists for non-Jewish citizens. You don’t get the full picture of the position of the Arab public if you are not aware of this broad legislative domain.

Al-Monitor:  Female Arab journalist Lucy Aharish will be given the honor of lighting a torch at the upcoming Independence Day celebrations. You probably disapprove of such a thing.

Jabareen:  Like the national anthem, this, too, is a very Zionist ritual. What the Jews view as independence, the Palestinian Arabs view as the "Nakba," their national catastrophe. As far as I'm concerned, until a historic reconciliation takes place between Israel and the Palestinians, I view the participation of an Arab in Zionist ceremonies as very problematic. The majority cannot expect the minority to identify with their narrative until the majority shows willingness to recognize the narrative of the oppressed.

Al-Monitor:  How did you feel about the things the prime minister said about Arabs on Election Day [warning his electorate that the Arabs were "voting in droves"], and then his subsequent apology and statement after his election that he is the prime minister of all the citizens?

Jabareen:  When I saw the video of Netanyahu on Election Day, it looked fake. But when I realized that it was real, I thought to myself how far we have regressed. Precisely when it comes to the basic right of citizens to vote, the prime minister is even dubious about that. Red lines were crossed here and an apology was in order, because you can’t just overlook such a statement by a prime minister. But when he did apologize, that only made things worse because instead of appealing to the leadership of the real Arab public, Netanyahu simply continued his exclusionary policy and invited [Arab] Likud supporters. He did not even apologize; he only expressed his pain.

Just imagine if the French prime minister had said such a thing about the vote of Jews in his country. He would not have remained in his post for an hour after saying such a thing. Netanyahu himself would have raised a hue and cry in the entire world, and justifiably.

I have a hard time today voting for a state that calls itself democratic while simultaneously pursuing discriminatory legislation against a minority group. I can’t think of any other country in the world where there is such a large volume of discriminatory legislation, yet nevertheless boasts about its democracy.

Even in spheres where equal rights are supposed to be assured, such as budgetary allocation and employment, latent discrimination does exist, which I call socio-economic discrimination. One example is the partition of the country into national priority zones. When we checked this out with regard to education, the result was clear: Out of more than 500 localities selected as “national priority for education” zones, only four localities are Arab, in other words less than 1%. The source of this discrimination is rooted in policy.

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