I head the parliamentary committee on hiring Arabs in the public service. The Arabs constitute 20% of the population, yet make up roughly 6.5% of all public service employees. This figure says it all. It is very from equality and expresses social exclusion, marginalization, neglect, and mostly discrimination.
There is almost no area of life here where equality between Arabs and Jews prevails – not in education, not in infrastructure, not in agriculture, not in industry, not in sports, not in employment, and most certainly not in earmarking land or in planning and construction.
Since 1984, Israel has been defined as a Jewish and democratic state through a Basic Law. Jewish comes before democratic, and this is no coincidence. I argue that both values cannot coexist within the same definition. A state that defines itself as “democratic” is obligated to offer full equality to all citizens. Yet if to begin with it defines itself using ethnic, religious or national characteristics – Jewish in this case – this creates preference for Jewish citizens over anyone else.
The prime minister, who knows that an incisive and fundamental domestic dispute about this definition is taking place in the State of Israel and at the Knesset, decided to export this debate to the international community and demand that the PLO recognize Israel as the Jewish people’s nation-state as a condition for signing an agreement.
There are three reasons for the Palestinian refusal to do so. First, the definition would reinforce the inferior status of Arab Palestinians within Israel, while granting a political, civil, and mostly constitutional advantage to Jews over Arabs – a fact that gravely undermines the value of “democracy.” Second is the issue of refugees and right of return. Such recognition would prevent any Palestinian from bringing up the refugee issue in the negotiations even before they started.
Let’s call the third reason “the narrative.” Such recognition would amount to admitting that the Palestinian narrative was a false sham, and that the Zionist narrative is true. That is, this demand asks the victim of Zionism – that is, us the Arabs – to admit that the Nakba did not happen in fact and that our Nakba narrative is baseless. No Palestinian leader would do that.
Those who decided to get the world involved in this debate as a condition for a deal should be confronted with a counter demand by Arab states and the international community: In addition to the refusal to recognize Israel as the Jewish state, the Arabs should demand that in any political agreement, the Arabs in the State of Israel would be granted full political and civil equality and be recognized as a national minority within the State of Israel.
Yet Yisrael Beiteinu’s plans do not stop at the amendment to the Citizenship Act, where naturalized citizens are required to recognize a Jewish, democratic Israel. This clause is part of a whole program highlighted by Foreign Minister Lieberman’s words at the UN in support of population tradeoffs.
Lieberman compares settlers who live on occupied land robbed from its Palestinian owners to Arab citizens who are a native population group and were here even before the State’s establishment. He wishes to keep the settlers where they are now and maintaining their citizenship, while annulling the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of Arabs and removing them from Israel’s sovereign territory.
There is no doubt that this is a gradual ethnical cleansing scheme; removing as many Arabs as possible while creating a Jewish, homogenous Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu is playing into the hands of Yisrael Beiteinu and is being led by the nose by Lieberman (yet prides itself on initiating the Citizenship Act amendment.)
The State of Israel, via ministers Lieberman, Ne’eman and Yishai, and with the Ehud Barak’s active cooperation, is bluntly provoking the Arabs in the country in direct continuation to the arrogant attitude ignoring the authentic feelings of this minority.
These people wish to convey the message that they are the masters of the house while we are subtenants in this country, which is in fact our national home and native land; we never immigrated here, as opposed to the chutzpah of the man making the proposal, who arrived here less than 40 years ago. These people are creating a growing sense of suffocation while minimizing the democratic living space.
The State of Israel manages to market itself to the whole world as the region’s only democracy, yet this description is far from being accurate. Israel manages three systems of government. The first one is a clear democracy for 80% of the population – a democracy for Jews, that is, an ethnocracy (or Judeocracy if you will.) The second regime is one of nationality-based social seclusion and discrimination of 20% of the population, the Arab minority. The third regime is the occupation in the territories.
Until Israel starts to treat the Palestinians, whoever they are, as equals, including the ones living within it as citizens, and until it recognizes their rights for this land, we shall all continue to be stuck in place and say with great degree of accuracy that Israel is indeed Jewish and democratic – democratic to the Jews, and Jewish to the Arabs.
Knesset Member Dr. Ahmad Tibi is the deputy Knesset Chairman and chairman of the United Arab List - Taal
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