UN Committee: “Excessive emphasis upon the State as a ‘Jewish State’ encourages discrimination”

In the context of the current bargaining over the Middle East ‘Road Map’ the Israeli government is pushing for assurances by all parties that implementation of the Quartet’s peace plan will include recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish State,’ in order to avoid future challenges of its 55-years old system of institutionalized discrimination against Palestinian citizens and implementation of the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.

A recent review by the United Nations of Israel’s performance under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) on 15 - 16 May resulted in the following findings:

Paragraph 16: “The Committee is deeply concerned about the continuing difference in treatment between Jews and non-Jews, in particular Arab and Bedouin communities, with regard to their enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in the State party’s territory. The Committee reiterates its concern that the “excessive emphasis upon the State as a ‘Jewish State’ encourages discrimination and accords a second- class status to its non-Jewish citizens (1998 Concluding Observations, para. 10).”

Paragraph 18: “The Committee is particularly concerned about the status of ‘Jewish nationality’ which is a ground for exclusive preferential treatment for persons of Jewish nationality under the Israeli Law of Return, granting them automatic citizenship and financial government benefits, thus resulting in practice in discriminatory treatment against non-Jews, in particular Palestinian refugees. The Committee is also concerned about the practice of restrictive family reunification with regard to Palestinians, which has been adopted for reasons of national security. […]”

Paragraph 34: “The Committee reiterates its recommendation contained in paragraph 36 of its 1998 concluding observations that, in order to ensure equality of treatment and non-discrimination, the State party undertake a review of its re-entry and family reunification policies for Palestinians.”

Paragraph 43: “The Committee further urges the State party to recognize all existing Bedouin villages, their property rights and their right to basic services, in particular water, and to desist from the destruction and damaging of agricultural crops and fields, including in unrecognized villages. The Committee further encourages the State party to adopt and adequate compensation scheme that is open to redress for Bedouin who have agreed to resettle in ‘townships’ […].”

From: Concluding Observations by the UN Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights (PDF), 30th session, 23 May 2003.

During the UN review in Geneva (30th session, CESCR) which coincided with the 55th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (15 - 16 May), Israel’s official delegation continued to uphold that Israel was not accountable for the situation of the economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian population in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories as the latter are located ‘outside the area of its sovereignty and jurisdiction.’ In violation of its Covenant obligations, Israel did not include information about the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories also in its second periodic report to the Committee. With regard to the area inside the ‘Green Line,’ Israel’s delegation produced a contradictory stream of denials that portrayed only progress in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by all.

Twenty-four Palestinian, Israeli and international NGOs, among them BADIL, presented formal testimony to the UN Committee on related human rights conditions in Israel and the 1967 OPT. The broad base of evidence demonstrated a seamless continuity of deprivation that Israel has carried out over time and territory against Palestinian refugees, the million Palestinian Arab citizens and the more than three million Palestinian residents under its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinian, Israeli and international NGOs urged the UN Committee to strengthen its 1998 Concluding Observations, to identify Israel’s ongoing human rights violations as ‘breaches’ of its ICESCR obligations, and to renew the request to Israel for additional information about the situation of economic, social and cultural rights in the 1967 OPT.

While the UN Committee reiterated its previous position that Israel is obliged to guarantee ICESCR protected rights in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories (paragraph 31), its 2003 Concluding Observations are disappointing. Committee members largely sufficed with re-iterating their 1998 Concluding Observations and issued a position, which apparently reflects their lowest-possible common denominator at the expense of human rights principles. The Committee, moreover, exempted Israel from all additiona l reporting requirements on its ICESCR obligations until 30 June 2008, when Israel’s third periodic report will be due.

Related Links:

  • Concluding Observations by the UN Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights (PDF), 30th session, 23 May 2003
  • BADIL’s report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • CESCR deeply concerned about inequality between Israeli and Palestinian citizens, 23 May 2003
  • CESCR concludes consideration of Israel’s report on compliance with covenant, 16 May 2003
  • CESCR takes up second periodic report of Israel, 15 May 2003