Israel Pulse

Israeli Arabs campaign in Europe against Nationality Law

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Article Summary
Israeli Arabs explain that since the Nationality Law endangers values of democracy and equality, they are turning to the European Union for help in their battle.

Many wondered why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is quick to tweet in anger against any disrespect of Jews, was struck dumb after three Israeli Arabs were brutally beaten by a group of Jews Aug. 23 simply because they were Arabs. This was not negligence on his part, nor a lapse in judgment. The prime minister was true to his worldview, a view he expressed less than a week later at a ceremony naming Israel’s nuclear facility in the Negev Desert after the late President Shimon Peres. “The weak are collapsing, slaughtered, erased from history; and the strong, for better or for worse, are the ones who survive. The strong are respected, the strong enter into alliances … ,” Netanyahu said. The Arab doctor and his two friends who were roughed up were apparently the weak, whereas the gang of fascists who beat them were the strong, “for better or worse,” as Netanyahu put it.

On Sept. 4, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked bolstered Netanyahu’s Darwinist perspective. Speaking at an Israel Bar Association event, she threatened “a legal and political earthquake” should the Supreme Court challenge the country’s constitutional-level basic laws. Shaked was clearly referring to the top court’s deliberations in petitions against the controversial Nationality Law. Such a ruling, she added for good measure, would be “a regime earthquake.” The law, adopted in July, enshrines Israel’s status solely as the nation-state of the Jewish people. “As one who believes in democracy with all her heart, I will not concede the place of the nation,” she said in winding up her speech. “I won't concede its representative's place. I will not give up democracy, and the Knesset of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth."

With only a slim majority, this same Knesset tarnished Israel’s compendium of basic laws with legislation that strips 20% of the country’s population (Israeli Arabs) of their affinity for their homeland and only encourages the establishment of Jewish communities. It was a member of this same legislature, Moti Yogev of Shaked’s HaBayit HaYehudi party, who shouted at elected Arab lawmakers, “This is not your country.” He said that at a chance meeting at the airport this week as the Arab lawmakers headed to Brussels, making their way to seek redress from parliaments and law courts across the sea. This very same Yogev was the one who in 2015 urged the crushing of the Supreme Court with a bulldozer.

Shaked’s declared intent to strip the Supreme Court of authority to overturn a basic law, based on an interpretation of democracy as a system in which the winner takes all, leaves Israel’s Arab minorities with two options. One is to resign themselves to their new official status as second-class citizens; the other is to mobilize international law and the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights on their behalf. “Our visit to Brussels is a type of self-defense against the abuse directed by Netanyahu and his government at our public,” Joint List Knesset member Jamal Zahalka told Al-Monitor shortly after he and his fellow lawmakers met Sept. 4 with the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

“Our main goal is to convince the Europeans to take concrete steps pressuring Israel to revoke the Nationality Law,” Zahalka continued. “We demanded recognition as a national minority and asked the Europeans to activate section 2 of the [Israel-EU] association agreement, which obliges Europe and Israel to respect human rights and to condition the future of the special relationship with Israel on the rescinding of all racist legislation and all types of discrimination.”

On Aug. 30, Knesset member Aida Touma-Sliman met in New York with UN Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo to push for international action against the Nationality Law. “This law officially turns Israel into an apartheid state within the Green Line too,” she said, referring to Israel’s sovereign territory in addition to the lands it occupies. “Therefore this is not a domestic Israeli matter, but rather a law that requires sharp and urgent intervention by the international community and the UN,” she added.

The first article of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The landmark charter goes on to stipulate, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Israeli officials are well-aware that the Nationality Law is a manifest contravention in language and spirit of the Human Rights Declaration. Diplomats are monitoring with concern the meetings Arab lawmakers are holding in world capitals and even trying to sabotage them. However, other than a slight blow to Israel’s propaganda machine, the law is unlikely to damage its foreign policy. Past and more recent experience shows that the US Congress consigns to the rubbish bin any UN initiatives adopted against Israel’s will. The situation in Europe is not much better.

“So far we have received a lot of words,” Zahalka conceded. “But the countries of Eastern Europe block any move against Israel.” Indeed, Israel’s Arab citizens, like their brethren in the Israeli-occupied territories, are getting a generous supply of words from Europe. On July 13, the EU’s delegation in Israel issued the following statement: “We value Israel’s commitment to the shared values of democracy and human rights …We in the EU would not want to see these values being put in question or even threatened."

The Netanyahu government acted in accordance with Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s famous saying in 1955, when Israel was still in diapers, “Our future does not depend on what the Gentiles say but on what the Jews do.” Six days after the EU’s statement, the Knesset with a right-wing, ultra-Orthodox majority adopted the discriminatory Nationality Law to which it referred. Hours later, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban landed in Israel. No leader is more fitting than the EU’s radical right-wing standard-bearer to be the country’s first high-ranking guest after passage of the Nationality Law.

The leader who has declared war on liberal democracy and its institutions sought to compliment his host Netanyahu. “In this relationship between us I see evidence that a Hungarian patriot and a Jewish-Israeli patriot always find a common denominator,” Orban said, standing at Netanyahu’s side. He, too, probably believes in the survival of the fittest, whom one respects and with whom one forges alliances. With leaders of the same persuasion in European capitals and the United States, Israeli-Arab advocates of human rights cannot count on salvation from either Washington or Brussels.

Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.

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