Isn’t Israel a democratic state already?

“Israel is not a state of all its citizens, but rather the nation-state of the Jewish people and only them.” — Benjamin Netanyahu

Democracy, being government by the people, is based on the premise of equality between citizens. Although it is expected of a democratic state to discriminate on the basis of citizenship, the state of Israel discriminates on the basis of identity between:

1) Jewish non-citizens and non-Jewish (and/or Palestinian) non-citizens, with:

  • The “Law of Return” and the “Citizenship Law”, which favor Jews over non-Jews when granting residency and citizenship
  • The “Absentees’ Property Law”, the “Land Acquisition Law” and the enactment of an amendment to the “Land Ordinance (Acquisition for Public Purposes)” which allowed for the seizure of lands of non-Jews born in historic Palestine but forced to flee as refugees and denied Israeli citizenship and right to return
  • Its refusal to define who is a “Jew” and the consequent adoption of “recognition of conversion” measures that discriminate between non-citizens who profess to be Jews and are viewed and treated as Jews by it, and non-citizens who profess to be Jews but are not viewed and treated as Jews by it

2) Jewish citizens and non-Jewish citizens, with:

  • Legal segregation:
    • The “Basic Law” stating that the land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people and omitting any reference to the rights of any non-Jews in that same land, that “the realization of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is exclusive to the Jewish People”, and that the state’s emblem is a Jewish religious symbol
    • Israel’s distinction between one’s citizenship (Israeli) and their nationality (Jewish, Arab, Druze, or others, as defined by state institutions rather than the individual), which plays a role in the different means of segregation mentioned below
    • The Supreme Court ruling that Israel’s “founding principle is to be a Jewish state for the Jewish people”
    • The Supreme Court rejecting petitions to recognize an Israeli nationality on the grounds that it would “undermine Israel’s Jewishness”
    • The Law banning citizens who propose the transition from a state of the Jewish people to a state of all its citizens from participating in parliamentary elections
    • Tolerance of politically-motivated attacks on, including murder of, non-Jewish citizens
  • Land allotment and administration segregation:
    • Discriminatory land administration policies, a large percentage of land occupied in 1948 being under the control of the Jewish National Fund, whose vision is “to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people”
    • Non-Jewish municipalities exercising jurisdiction over only 2.5% of the land for around 20% of the population
    • “Admissions committees” operating in around 700 agricultural and community towns filtering out non-Jewish applicants, on the basis of their (loosely defined) “social unsuitability”
  • Control of education:
    • The Ministry of Education designing different curricula for Jews and non-Jews
    • Exemptions from the curriculum being granted only to Jewish schools, that also happen to be fully state-funded
    • The curricula, including the curriculum for non-Jews, deliberately focusing on Zionism and Jewish values and omitting civics and democratic values
    • Language segregation in terms of teaching Arabic to Jews and Hebrew to non-Jews
    • Reliance on teachers who are not Arabic speakers to teach Arabic
    • The Ministry of Education’s use of its power to vet teacher appointments in schools to reject Arab teachers, with only 30% of Arab teachers able to find jobs
    • Non-Jews having been denied the right to build a single university
  • Discriminatory distribution of resources and social welfare:
    • The absence of clear and fair criteria with regarding to taxation and the allocation of state resources
    • Discriminatory budget and government planning, in Jerusalem and other cities
    • The status of Arabic being vastly inferior to that of Hebrew in terms of the resources dedicated to its use in official fora; Arabic having recently been stripped of its designation as an official language
    • Deliberate segregative actions (some of them based on the premise that “educated Arabs are a problem for Israel”) such as state development programs that privilege Jewish citizens and the failure to implement, or slowness in implementing, development programs for Arabs, leading to the below social gaps
    • The income gap: Employed non-Jewish citizens earn on average just 58.6% of what Jewish citizens earn
    • The poverty gap: 35.8% of Arab families live beneath the poverty line (compared to a national average of 23%—which, incidentally, is also largely tied to identitarian discrimination)
    • The education gap: The proportion of Jews going to university is double that of non-Jews

3) Jews and non-Jews in territories it has officially annexed, such as:

  • East Jerusalem, where it:
    • Pursues the expansion of Jewish settlements
    • Systematically denies building permits for non-Jews
    • Demolishes houses and forces the eviction of non-Jews, confining them to progressively smaller enclaves
    • Denies access to adequate essential services such as garbage collection, electricity, public transportation and water and sanitation infrastructure to non-Jewish areas
  • The Golan Heights, where it:
    • Refuses to recognize non-Jewish inhabitants’ non-Israeli citizenships
    • Has expropriated 95% of non-Jews’ lands
    • Imposes restrictive zoning and building policies through the authority of the Jewish Agency for Israel (formerly the Jewish Agency for Palestine) which politicizes identity and whose mission is explicitly limited to the interests of Jews
    • Has established Regional Planning Councils in the name of the World Zionist Organization which also politicizes identity and whose mission is also explicitly limited to the interests of Jews
    • Discriminates between Jews and non-Jews in the allotment of basic services such as water and electricity
    • Also discriminates between Jews and non-Jews in other ways

4) Jews and non-Jews in territories it occupies but has not officially annexed, such as the West Bank, where it:

  • Denies citizenship to non-Jews while facilitating the settlement of Jews
  • Denies the right of return to non-Jews who were expelled from the West Bank while facilitating the settlement of Jews
  • Severely restricts movement through a network of checkpoints and road closures as well as a permits system that does not apply to Jewish settlers.
  • Has grabbed land belonging to non-Jews to establish and expand Jewish settlements
  • Denies non-Jews almost 100% of building permits
  • Applies a planning policy that discriminates between non-Jews and Jews
  • Forbids non-Jews from gaining legal status in the territories officially annexed by Israel through marriage, denying their rights to family unification.
  • Requires foreigners romantically involved with non-Jews in the West Bank to declare their relationship when applying for a permit or permit renewal to visit or stay there. Being in such a relationship automatically disqualifies the foreigner from requesting or renewing a permit to work, study, volunteer or teach in the West Bank. None of these apply to foreigners romantically involved with Jews in the West Bank
  • Uses excessive force against non-Jews in particular while enabling Jewish settlers' violence against non-Jews
  • Does all of the above for the purpose of irreversibly colonizing the land, in the words of Ariel Sharon

5) Jews and non-Jews in territories it controls, such as the exclusive evacuation of Jews from Gaza prior to imposing its blockade on it, following decades of identity-based discrimination during its prior occupation of the Strip, as per the points above.

Relevant readings and videos:

Israel must become a state for all its citizens — Gershon Baskin, Jerusalem Post

Debunking the myth that All Israelis are Equal — Decolonize Palestine

The Discriminatory Laws Database — Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel

The Inequality Report — Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel

Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid — UN Report, co-authored by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley

Annexation Legislation Database — Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights

Q&A: A Threshold Crossed—Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution — Human Rights Watch

Q&A: Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians—A Look Into Decades of Oppression and Domination — Amnesty International

Video: Israel's Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity — Amnesty International

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