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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.