Israel passes law entrenching apartheid

Palestinian lawmakers stand up in protest during a session of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem, which passed a law further entrenching discrimination against non-Jews on 19 July.

Olivier Fitoussi AP Photo

Israel’s parliament voted early Thursday to further entrench Jewish supremacy and racial discrimination against Palestinians in its constitutional law.

Legal advocates say the law violates international prohibitions on apartheid and campaigners are urging more efforts to isolate Israel through BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions.

The so-called Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People law passed by 62-55 in the Knesset amid tumultuous scenes.

Lawmakers from the Joint List, parties representing Israel’s approximately 1.5 million Palestinian citizens, were thrown out of the chamber after they tore up copies of the law.

Joint List chairperson Ayman Odeh said that passage of the law means Israel has “declared it does not want us here” and “that we will always be second-class citizens.”

Palestinian citizens of Israel are the survivors and their descendants of the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Zionist militias before and after Israel was created in 1948.

Unlike millions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, they have some civic rights, like the right to vote. But they already faced entrenched discrimination enshrined in dozens of laws.

The new law goes further. As a “basic law” it has constitutional status and gathers together some of the most discriminatory features of Israel’s system in one document.

Among key provisions, the law defines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people,” with Hebrew as its official language and Jerusalem as its capital.

The law states that “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people,” thereby denying to Palestinians any national rights or existence.

Arabic is downgraded from an official language to one with “special status.”

The law declares “Jewish settlement as a national value” and that the state will “encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation” – a green light to further colonization of Palestinian lands throughout all the territories occupied or controlled by Israel.

The law’s endorsement of Jewish settlement sets no geographic limits, which means it encourages Israel’s ongoing colonization of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which is illegal under international law, as well as in Syria’s Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967.

The seven-branch menorah, a Jewish religious symbol, is legally defined as the state’s emblem, and the law confirms “Hatikvah,” a song with Jewish sectarian lyrics, as its national anthem.

Legalizing Jewish supremacy

Adalah, a legal advocacy group for Palestinian citizens of Israel, has stated that the new law “falls within the bounds of absolute prohibitions under international law” and embodies “characteristics of apartheid.”

The legislation draws a clear “distinction between the realization of basic rights between Jews and non-Jews,” according to Adalah.

It defines Israeli sovereignty on a “racist, ethnic basis” that includes those Israel recognizes as Jews anywhere in the world, but excludes non-Jews living within Israel.

The law justifies discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, according to Adalah’s analysis.

In short, Palestinians are rendered “foreigners in their own homeland.”


The law is proving an embarrassment to supporters of Israel who aim to present the state to the world as a “democracy.”

Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of the Israel lobby group J Street, was among a number of liberal Zionist figures to blast the bill.

Ben-Ami claimed that the law’s only purpose “is to send a message to the Arab community, the LGBT community and other minorities in Israel, that they are not and never will be equal citizens.”

But it appears that such critics view the law more as a public relations problem rather than fundamentally disagreeing with its racist nature.

J Street itself staunchly opposes equality for Palestinians by rejecting the right of return for Palestinian refugees solely on the grounds that they are not Jews and would therefore constitute a “demographic threat.”

J Street’s website even panders to the claim that Palestinians would “flood Israel with refugees and undermine it as a homeland for the Jewish people.”

But unlike the new law, J Street packages its rejection of Palestinian rights as support for “peace” and a “two-state solution.”

EU apologetics

Similarly, Emanuele Giaufret, the European Union ambassador in Tel Aviv, reportedly approached members of Israel’s ruling Likud party earlier this month to tell them that Israel’s international status could be threatened should the bill pass.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then ordered Israel’s foreign ministry to “reprimand” Giaufret for interfering in Israel’s internal affairs.

The European Union responded to the dressing down by acknowledging that Israel was entitled to pass discriminatory laws if it wanted to.

“How Israel chooses to define itself is an internal issue for Israel to decide and we respect the internal debate which is ongoing,” the EU stated.

“We value Israel’s commitment to the shared values of democracy and human rights, which has characterized our longstanding and fruitful relations,” the 28-member bloc added. “We in the EU would not want to see these values being put in question or even threatened.”

The EU embassy also denied through its official Twitter account that its ambassador had used “derogatory language” to describe the racist law.

While the EU considers Israel’s legally entrenched racism to be an “internal issue,” Israel’s attorney general warned before the bill’s passage that the legislation could put Israel in violation of international law.

Last year, a legal study published by a UN agency concluded that Israel already practices apartheid against the entire Palestinian people.

Adalah stated that “no country in the world today is defined as a democratic state where the constitutional identity is determined by ethnic affiliation that overrides the principle of equal citizenship.”

“If ever there was a time for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel’s system of oppression, it is now,” Omar Barghouti, a founder of the BDS movement, stated.

“Israel’s official adoption of apartheid opens the door for the Palestinian people, Arab nations and our allies around the world to pressure the UN to activate its anti-apartheid laws and impose serious sanctions on Israel like those imposed on apartheid South Africa.”

No courts for Palestinians

Meanwhile, another law passed in the Knesset on Tuesday limits access for Palestinians to Israel’s high court.

“The law is meant to hamper Palestinian petitions against Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank,” Haaretz reported.

Over the last two years, Israel has been quietly carrying out some of its biggest land grabs from Palestinians in the West Bank for decades.

The law also extends Israel’s effective annexation of the West Bank by giving settlers access to an administrative court which previously only operated in Israel.

Yousef Jabareen, a Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament for the Joint List, said that the Israeli government has “paved the way to steal Palestinian land” and has created the “basis for an apartheid regime.”

Ali Abunimah contributed research and analysis.




Why do Electonic Intifada, and Ali Abunimah in particular, insist on making sustained personalised attacks on groups that are broadly sympathetic to their aims? In this case, the article takes broad swipes at J Street and the EU (a constant target of Abunimah on Twitter).

As a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause, I find it really counter-productive and quite petty to see these constant jibes at allies. For sure, the EU is not perfect and could do a lot more to support Palestine and take on Israel but it sometimes seems that Abunimah spends more time criticising the EU than criticising Israel itself. And it is certainly not a way to “win friends and influence people”. Much better to raise concerns bilaterally.

I’m afraid articles like these negatively impact on Electronic Intifada’s reputation.


Dear Stephen!
Having read the article and as a follower of The Electronic Intifada on a daily basis (and, if it matters, as an EU "national"; i.e., Portuguese), I find your critique very unfair. It is more than justifiable to report on the EU's (feeble, to say the least) reaction to such a hideous episode in an equally hideous story.


Dear Stephen, thanks for your comment. The main role of independent journalists  is to hold institutions of power accountable, and the means we have to do that is to make visible their role and complicity. All of our reporting on the EU and other powerful institutions that finance, arm and protect Israel is meticulously documented and done with great care to ensure absolutely accuracy. I’m very proud of the accuracy of our reporting. If however you find any errors, we appreciate you letting us know immediately so we can make corrections forthwith. I note that you have pointed out no factual errors in this article, but are simply unhappy that the EU’s support for Israel’s racism is being exposed. The same goes for J Street, a group that — as this article documents and you haven’t challenged — opposes Palestinian rights. Of course you are entitled to the view that the EU should be shielded from criticism for its major role in perpetuating the suffering and oppression of Palestinians. I just don’t happen to share it. The good news for you is that there are plenty of publications that will shy away from criticizing, say, the EU or J Street or others who help Israel violate Palestinian rights. I am proud to say that this publication is not and will never be one of them.


It has always been the case with Europe. Europe has built the Zionists their first nuclear reactor during the 1960's and proudly continues to be their sponsor/friend. No amount of lies and hypocrisy are able to conceal that fact. Actions always speak louder than words. In fact, today the EU is not even trying to hide its deep connections to the Zionist state as can be clearly seen from their own official statements !

By the way, I have never seen or heard any protests on behalf of the EU when Zionists claim they represent worldwide Jewry - even those people who are openly against them and DO NOT want to be associated with their heretical state in any way, shape or form. (I guess this tacit agreement with an identity theft is precisely EU's "commitment" to freedom, justice and democracy).

The same countries are systematically silent when Jews are being imprisoned for refusing to serve in the Zionist military, denied employment, attacked by Zionist police, Jewish cemeteries robbed and destroyed, Jewish children forcefully turned into racists and militants by the Zionist "education" system.

So yes. Truly great "friends" of both Jews and Palestinians.

Lo and behold: I have also never seen or heard any western newspaper or media outlet report about any Jewish opposition to the illegitimate Zionist state and their "laws", nor about vile human rights abuses of Jews who refuse to take part in the Zionist enterprise.

Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.