One in Five: being 2nd class in a “Jewish Democracy” 

Jewish democracy: no better than a “white democracy”

“Do we want a Jewish Democracy (however imperfect) or do we want to rule over millions of Palestinians?”, asked an Israeli leftist. But a Jewish democracy is precisely why Israel is ruling over millions of disenfranchised Palestinians. A Jewish democracy is not just imperfect. It is a contradiction in terms, just as much as a white democracy (such as South Africa had) is a contradiction in terms.

The attempt to retain a majority defined by race inevitably leads to racist practices, attitudes and strategies ranging from gerrymandering to demographic tinkering to deportations and population transfers or violent clearances.

In Israel’s case this determination to retain the racial characteristic of the state is rationalised as being unique in having its roots in persecution. But it is in the mould of other once-persecuted minorities that colonise another land and then establish dominance over the indigenous population by violence: e.g. Australia’s transported convicts (many of them campaigners for workers’ rights and democracy such as the Tolpuddle Martyrs), the Plymouth Brethren, the Boers.

Whatever else it is, Israel cannot measure up as a democracy, which is defined as being government for the people, by the people etc  -  i.e. all the people, not a racial section of the people.

Two states, even going back 100% to the Green Line, will not answer this, leaving millions still in exile and another 1.2 million legally defined as second class citizens within Israel.


Jonathan Cook — No such thing as an Israeli: Uzi Ornan, an 86-year-old professor from the Technion university in Haifa, has one of the few ID cards in Israel stating a nationality of “Hebrew”. For most other Israelis, their cards and personal records state their nationality as “Jewish” or “Arab”. For immigrants whose Jewishness is accepted by the state but questioned by the rabbinical authorities, some 130 other classifications of nationality have been approved, mostly relating to a person’s religion or country of origin. The only nationality you will not find on the list is “Israeli”. That is why Prof Ornan and two dozen others are fighting through the courts to be registered as “Israelis”. It is a hugely important fight — and for that reason alone they are certain to lose. Why?

Far more is at stake than an ethnic or national label. Israel excludes a nationality of “Israeli” to ensure that, in fulfilment of its self-definition as a “Jewish state”, it is able to assign superior rights of citizenship to the collective “nation” of Jews around the globe than to the body of actual citizens in its territory, which includes many Palestinians. In practice it does this by creating two main classes of citizenship: a Jewish citizenship for “Jewish nationals” and an Arab citizenship for “Arab nationals”. Both nationalities were effectively invented by Israel and have no meaning outside Israel.

This differentiation in citizenship is recognised in Israeli law: the Law of Return, for Jews, makes immigration all but automatic for any Jew around the world who wishes it; and the Citizenship Law abolishes the rights of the Palestinian citizens’ relatives to return to their homes and land: that is, two legal systems within one country, differentiating between the rights of citizens, based on whether they are Jews or Palestinians. 

That, in itself, meets the definition of apartheid, as set out by the United Nations in 1973: “Any legislative measures or other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups.” The clause includes the following rights: “the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

Israeli artists’ Declaration: “If the state of Israel aspires to perceive itself as a democracy, it should abandon once and for all any legal and ideological foundation of religious, ethnic, and demographic discrimination.  The state of Israel should strive to become the state of all its citizens.  We call for the annulment of all laws that make Israel an apartheid state, including the Jewish law of return in its present form”

Eyal Niv: ” In countries around the world, all citizens form the nation, while in Israel the Jews are the nation, and the others are, well… something else. Israel adamantly refuses to accept the notion of an “Israeli nation.”

Adalah: Since the late 17th century, the test of belonging to “a clear territory” facilitated the definition of “Who the citizen is”. Israeli law, however, deals with “Who a Jew is” and not “Who a citizen is.”


Jewish and Palestinian citizens in Israel live in entirely separate physical worlds. They live apart in segregated communities, separated not through choice but by legally enforceable rules and procedures. … There are more than 700 rural communities — mostly kibbutzim and moshavim — that bar non-Jews from living there.

These rules control most of the inhabitable territory of Israel, land that once belonged to Palestinians: either refugees from the 1948 war, or (Israeli) Palestinian citizens who have had their lands confiscated under special laws. Today, after these confiscations, at least 93 per cent of Israel is nationalised — that is, it is held in trust not for Israel’s citizens but for world Jewry.

Access to most of this nationalised land is controlled by vetting committees, overseen by quasi-governmental but entirely unaccountable Zionist organisations like the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund. Their role is to ensure that such communities remain off-limits to Palestinian citizens. …

Again, the 1973 UN Convention on the “crime of apartheid” is instructive: it includes measures “designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups … [and] the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group.”

 Palestinian in Israel have third or fourth class citizenship; they have had almost all of their land taken from them; they are allowed to live only in their ghettoes; their education system is controlled by the security services; they can work in few jobs other than those Jews do not want; they have the vote but cannot participate in government or effect any political change.


Their activists and leaders face constant harassment, night-time arrests on trumped-up charges, and double standards in the justice system. “When a Jew meets another Jew in various locations worldwide he is not required to apologise or provide a report about it, yet if Ameer meets a Palestinian somewhere in the world he needs to report it.” (Janan Makhoul, talking about the arrest of her husband for “political espionage”.)

Arab members of the Knesset are also increasingly under attack. MKs Mohammad Barakeh and Said Naffaa have had their parliamentary immunity stripped so that they can face criminal proceedings, with the chair of the committee which deals with immunity issues reported to have suggested that “a serious decision” would have to be made as to “whether or not these parties can continue to sit in the Israeli parliament, even while they operate against the country”.

More recently, a trip by Arab MKs to Libya has been greeted by attempts to strip the members of their immunity, with MK Michael Ben-Ari declaring “an historic opportunity to abolish once and for all the immunity and rights of Knesset members who hate Israel and denigrate the state”.

At the heart of this and other cases against Palestinian citizens is contact with the wider Arab world. According to Adalah, the “charge of meeting a foreign agent” is so broad that it criminalises “almost any Arab who establishes legitimate relations with political and social activists in the Arab world”.

A recent law makes it a criminal offence to show signs of sadness and mourning on 15 May, the day that Israel celebrates its triumphant “independence” while Palestinians remember the refugees and mark the catastrophe which ruined their lives. This law, firmly at home in the Orwellian territory of thought-crime, would have carried a 3-year prison sentence, but in case this proved too controversial it now merely penalises the offending locality’s budget for services such as health and education. This follows incidents where riot police have attacked small knots of Palestinians and their Jewish supporters who marked Nakba day with visits to long gone villages.

 Israel’s election law makes it illegal for political parties, including Arab ones, to promote a platform that denies Israel’s existence as a “Jewish and democratic” state.

Meanwhile, another group of active policy makers and agents are entirely above the law, as they are not even citizens: Diaspora Jews who do not have Israeli citizenship have strong representation inside the political system and in state agencies through various international Zionist bodies: chiefly the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund inside Israel, and the World Zionist Organization in the occupied territories. These bodies have a keen influence on the decision-making process relating to two key issues: the immigration and settlement of Jews in Israel and the West Bank; and the confiscation of Palestinian land for exclusive use by Jews. Although these Zionist organizations enjoy a quasi-governmental status, none is subject to Israel’s anti-discrimination legislation (itself rarely enforced). According to their charters, these organizations represent the interests of world Jewry, not Israel’s population. (Cook)


Jewish Israelis reserve their keenest venom for the 1.2 million Arab Israelis (20% of the total) who annoyingly did not leave in 1948 and are seen as the Enemy Within.

“The vast majority of West Bank Arabs must be deported… We will have to make an additional decision, banning Israeli Arabs from the political system… We have cultivated a fifth column, a group of traitors of the first degree.” (MK Effi Eitam)

56% of the high school students polled believe Arabs should not be allowed to vote. 45% of religious high school students think “Death to Arabs” is a legitimate statement. 32% of students said they would not want to have an Arab friend. But asked which type of government they would prefer, eighty percent chose democracy.


Israel’s Arab citizens must fear that far worse is to come.  A poll of Israeli Jews in 2005 found 59% thought that “the state should encourage Israeli Arabs to emigrate”. And for some years now a number of parties have openly advocated “population transfer” or expulsion of  the 1.2 million Palestinians from Israel.

The largest of these parties, Israel Beitenu, led by Avigdor Lieberman and now Likud’s main coalition partner with 15 Knesset members, was quite recently in an alliance with Moledet, which boasts that its party cadres are “actively involved in establishing these facts on the ground, by encouraging the emigration of displaced and hostile elements from our land”.

An advocacy group founded by former military officers, Knesset members and settler activists, has published detailed plans on the “complete elimination of the Arab demographic threat to Israel” that included forcible expulsion and demolition of whole towns and villages. Such plans are probably superfluous as Israel is already an experienced practitioner in these matters.

Moledet leader Benny Elon is biding his time and ensuring a constituency of support among US Christians and says that when the Two-State Road Map explodes “we’ll be waiting with our alternative plan, ready to execute it on a moment’s notice. That is what I am working towards.”

The party’s late founder had justified the proposed expulsions by saying that the indigenous Palestinians had recently “infiltrated” the country. A significant word which is now incorporated into a West Bank military order that came into effect in mid-April 2010, and which sets up thousands of residents as “suspected infiltrators” to be deported within 72 hours, with no appeal, if their paperwork is not in order, e.g. if they were born in Gaza.

To make sure everything is above board, they will no doubt be issued a receipt for the fee they will be charged to cover the cost of their detention and deportation.


Housing loans, education loans and public-sector employment  are legally restricted to Jews by linking them to military service. Some 93% of pre-’67 Israel is at present reserved for Jewish use, as is much housing provision including the heavily subsidised Jewish-only West Bank settlements. … the Education Ministry bans all mention of Palestinian history in schools for Palestinian children. The domestic secret police, the much-feared Shin Bet, ensures compliance by interfering directly in the appointment and promotion of teachers and running a network of spies among the teaching staff and pupils. …  

A study last year revealed that Israel’s Palestinian citizens ranked in 66th place out of 177 countries in the Human Development Index (measuring standards of living, poverty and progress)—43 positions below the general ranking for Israeli citizens. The gross domestic product per capita for the Palestinian minority is a third of that of the Jewish majority, and is identical to that in Romania and Iran. The level of education in Jordan, Lebanon and Libya is higher than that of Palestinians in Israel. And the index of health among the Palestinian minority is lower than Costa Rica.


On 5 May 2010  a Knesset report presented by the United Arab List revealed that only six out of 439 (1.6%) Knesset workers are Arabs. These are much the same proportions as in Government run agencies such as the Israel Electric Company. (Israel’s telecoms giant Bezek employs 10 Arabs out of a workforce of 10,000.) This will be lamented as falling short of official fair representation targets, but it’s little wonder given attitudes such as this, from Likud MK Yariv Levin who chairs the House Committee: “The report is delusional and ignores the fundamental fact that a significant portion of Israel’s Arabs are disloyal to the state. “These are people who do not contribute to the state, and even try to undermine it.”


Israel proclaims to the world its generosity in permitting its non-Jewish citizens to vote and be represented in the Knesset. But they must formally accept that Israel is a Jewish state, i.e. that it is not their state, and that it is democratic. So if they campaign for democracy and freedom of speech, or a “state for all its citizens” or any constitutional reform, they are breaking the law.  A law explicitly bars candidates and parties that “deny the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” so they are hounded, harassed and imprisoned for incitement or sedition simply for promoting their political views, with many spending years in jail or having their citizenship revoked.


This year’s Knesset session saw 21 racist and discriminatory bills tabled, that included oneYear imprisonment to anyone who denies the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic country, Academic scholarships for soldiers who served in combat units, and an Amendment of the Citizenship Law stipulating that a person who committed an act that violated loyalty to the State of Israel may have his citizenship revoked by the Interior Minister. 

Information from Jonathan Cook: Why there are no “Israelis” in the Jewish State

Further Reading: Susan Nathan — The Other Side of Israel: My Journey Across the Jewish/Arab Divide


FacebookStumbleUponTwitterGoogle BookmarksYahoo BookmarksShare

Close window