RAMALLAH, occupied West Bank (IPS) - A number of recent incidents discriminating against Israel’s Palestinian minority has prompted Israeli Knesset (parliament) members to debate whether Israel is becoming increasingly racist.
Ronit Sela from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) has no doubts. “Israel’s democracy is under threat as an increasingly large racist element raises its collective head. A number of racist occurrences have taken place in a climate conducive to racism. This wouldn’t have happened prior to the current right-wing Israeli government,” Sela told IPS.
Recently an organization called Jews for a Jewish Bat Yam (a suburb near Tel Aviv) held a protest against “assimilation of young Jewish women with Arabs living in the city or in nearby Jaffa.”
“It’s a local organization of Bat Yam residents, because the public is tired of so many Arabs going out with Jewish girls,” explained one of the organizers, Bentzi Gufstein. “In addition to the protest, we will hand out pamphlets explaining the situation.”
For all the fear of “being swamped by the Arabs,” the amount of social, political and public interaction between Israel’s Jewish majority and its Palestinian minority remains restricted.
Professor Shlomo Hasson from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem argues that relations between the two communities are largely influenced by social and economic interaction.
“There is very limited integration between Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens. Unemployment amongst Israeli-Arabs is much higher than amongst Jewish citizens,” says Orna Cohen from Adalah, The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
“In the public sector Arab employment is basically limited to the health and educational sector where they work with fellow Arabs. There is some integration in the private sector where Arabs are employed and they are also hired for private services,” Cohen told IPS.
“There is also some mixing in mixed residential cities such as Haifa. But there are many Jewish communities where Arabs are refused the right to live and not allowed to buy land,” added Cohen.
“I don’t know the extent to which Arabs and Israelis are inter-dating, but that really is irrelevant.”
Several weeks ago Knesset members hotly debated an earlier development when a number of leading Israeli rabbis signed a religious ruling forbidding renting homes to non-Jews, specifically aimed at Palestinians living in the Israel town Safed, while studying at a local college.
“We don’t need to help Arabs set down roots in Israel,” said Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of the Beit El settlement. He stated that Jews looking for apartments should be given preference over gentiles and that the growing number of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship were becoming a nuisance.
Israelis who have continued to rent to Palestinians have received threats and been publicly shamed by right-wing organizations who have drawn up lists.
According to the Israeli news website YNet, a recent survey shows 41 percent of secular Israelis support municipal religious leaders’ call not to rent apartments to non-Jews, as do 64 percent and 88 percent of Israel’s traditional and Haredi Jews, respectively.
Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian member of the Knesset who participated in the ill-fated Mavi Marmara attempt to break the siege of Gaza in May, expressed outrage that some Israeli parliamentarians were feigning shock at recent developments.
“Three months ago the Knesset approved a law that villages with populations smaller than 500 residents could remain Jewish to ‘maintain their cultural identity.’ Furthermore, there have been approximately ten laws passed during the last year aimed against the Arab minority,” Zoabi told IPS.
“Israel has double standards. Some Knesset members accused the rabbis of being racist despite the loyalty oath they supported and passed several months earlier. This calls for the Israeli citizenship of the Palestinian minority to be dependent on swearing allegiance to Zionism and Israel’s Jewish character despite this conflicting with their rights as an ethnic minority,” she said.
“These rabbis authored the letter despite the fact they are Israeli public servants and on the government payroll. We wrote to the justice minister and got a legal injunction asking the minister to look into the matter. We have received no reply and nothing has been done about it,” added Sela.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not rebuked the rabbis. The fact that public servants are able to incite to this degree, despite there being no major changes in Israel’s judiciary in the country’s 62-year history, speaks volumes about the current political climate in Israel,” Sela told IPS.
Adalah has meticulously documented the discrimination against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.
This includes more than 30 laws ranging from the law of return applying only to Jews; the ease with which Palestinians can be stripped of their citizenship; under-representation in the judiciary and politics; under-funding of Arab education and social services; higher rates of unemployment; and inadequate access to land and planning rights.
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