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A deeper shade of discrimination | New Straits Times

A deeper shade of discrimination

| New Straits Times


ENRAGED Arab-Israeli politician Zoheir Bahloul quit

parliament on July 28 in a symbolic protest against a new
“basic law” that enshrines the special rights of Jews in Israel.

He condemned the law as “racist” and “destructive”. Arabs are

a sizeable minority in Israel at near 20 per cent of the

His resignation followed parliament voting into law a bill

sponsored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his
right-wing allies 10 days earlier that declared Israel as the
exclusive nation state of the Jewish people.

Without a written constitution, Israel’s legal system

essentially functions by amending the 1948 Declaration of
Independence. Ironically, the original document promised
equality for all citizens, something the new law conveniently

It also puts another nail in the coffin of a sustainable peace

settlement with the Palestinians and discards any pretensions
of democracy in Israel by laying clear markers between “us”
and “them”.

Buoyed by the unconditional support of American President

Donald Trump for his government, including controversially
relocating the United States embassy to Jerusalem,
Netanyahu has given legal cover to Israel’s long-standing
policy of social stratification based on race. All that’s missing
are separate drinking fountains for Arabs and Jews.

The controversial “Jewish nation-state law” has three key

elements. One, that Israeli Jews have a “unique right to self-
determination.” If we take this phrase at face value, they can

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A deeper shade of discrimination | New Straits Times

now infringe upon minority rights with the blessings of the


Two, Hebrew will be the only official language of Israel, with

Arabic demoted to a “special status” that sounds like political-
speak for “et cetera.” With this, the state will slash funding for
a bi-lingual bureaucracy, education system, literary output,
traffic signs and generally any public-funded messages.

Three, the state will champion Jewish settlements that often

swallow up historically Arab land as a “national value.”
Regrettably, not only have Arab-Israelis been treated as
second-rate during Netanyahu’s premiership insofar as access
to public goods and services are concerned, they have also
been labeled a “fifth-column” that could immediately turn
traitorous in the event of another war with Israel’s Arab

It is worth noting the nation-state bill had been bouncing

around parliament since 2011, and in its legislated form irks
religious conservatives for excluding the word “God” from the
text. This is unsurprising as the founders of Zionism were
atheists who did not perceive Jews and Judaism as mutually

Yet, the Jewish people’s divine right to the “promised land”

has been central to the historical and biblical case for Israel,
and the beating heart of its foreign policy.

Which makes this omission both curious and ominous. If

Netanyahu’s government ignores the biblical definition of
Israel i.e. a land where the “Halacha” or holy law is supreme,
it may very well interpret to its advantage who is and isn’t a
Jew tomorrow.

And this brings us to the slippery slope of any law that

prioritises the protection of a particular community at the
expense of others. Put another way, it can potentially
endanger the very group it is trying to protect, especially when
the government controls the membership criteria.

Israeli Jews, for example, are not a monolithic bloc, even if

they support the nation-state law. There are sectarian, gender

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A deeper shade of discrimination | New Straits Times

and sexual rights at play. More significantly, far-right

politicians that led the charge towards codifying the nation-
state bill are not only anti-minority; they are also anti-

Moreover, they are steadily gaining influence in parliament,

especially after Netanyahu was recently charged with multiple
counts of bribery and he needs their support to stay in office.

Since the national rabbinate is by all accounts also a state

puppet, the right of “self-determination” may be narrowed to
what preserves the status quo.

Are single women seeking abortions against the

commandments in the Halacha really Jew? Are Arab and
African Jews like the Mizrahi and Sephardim really Jews?
Should African Jews have the same rights as European Jews?
Who is an “average Jew” given sectarian differences?

These are all pressure points the increasingly vocal hard-right

wing of Netanyahu’s government will gladly lean into if it
continues to accumulate power.

Next, discriminatory state policies invariably turn into self-

fulfilling prophecies that jeopardise national security. There
are two layers to this equation. One, state patronage of illegal
settlements as a “national value” may have the signaling effect
of encroachment onto Arab lands within Israel as an
expression of “self-determination.”

And if armed clashes break out as a result, how will the courts
throw out any Jewish claims of a “historical right” to tracts of
Arab land if he or she can prove it through some family
heirloom or ancient will? After all, they may cite forced
eviction by any number of historical parties and assert
ownership. At that point, justice in Israel will be well and truly

Finally, the nation-state law possibly sets Israel on the course

to civil war. Now that Netanyahu and his hardliner allies have
written into law the special status of Jews in Israel, this de
facto turns everyone else, including the Arabs, into “others.”

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A deeper shade of discrimination | New Straits Times

Future policies that project such a narrative will inevitably

reinforce the sense of victimisation among Israeli Arabs, who
will in turn begin acting as those “others” and openly resent
the oppressive state.

Down the road, such adversarial attitudes could easily take

the shape of Hamas-style guerrilla warfare, specifically given
the sizeable number of Arabs that serve in the Israeli police
and military. Which, again, may be the outcome Netanyahu is
hoping for to strip their citizenship and banish them from

The real shame here is another missed opportunity to

convince the international community that terrorism is the
sole target of his heavy-handed “defensive” operations in Gaza
and not Arabs at large.

Finally, confident that Washington will veto any retaliatory

United Nations sanctions, it seems Netanyahu remains
oblivious to the fact that marginalising Arab-Israelis will sow
nothing but strife for future generations. Is this what any wise
leader should want for his people?

S. Mubashir Noor is an Ipoh-based independent journalist

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