Just like in the UK, the U.S. and France, a specific brand of extreme racist nationalism is tightening its grip over Israel. When excluding a group of people based on their race or religion becomes part of the mainstream political discourse, warning flags should be raised, and if the two pieces of legislature I discuss in this post become law, Israel should be approached with extreme caution.
The anti-terrorism bill.
A planned piece of legislation drawn up by the Netanyahu government that hopes to deter Arab-Israelis from engaging in terrorist activity, copied from The Telegraph:
- Loss of citizenship for Israeli-Arabs who engage or cooperate with militant attacks, and those living in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas will lose residency status.
- Deportation from Israel once prison time has been served.
- People killed while carrying out militant attacks will be buried in a secret location that will not be disclosed to friends or relatives. Attackers’ bodies will not be returned to their families.
- Houses of militants will be demolished within 24 hours of the attack.
- Those engaging in acts of civil disobedience like throwing rocks, Molotov cocktails or firecrackers will be held in custody until the completion of any legal proceedings. This also applies to people waving “enemy flags” at demonstrations, including the Palestinian flag. Those convicted will lose all social welfare and their drivers licenses for ten years.
- Relatives who publicly support attackers’ deeds (including through social media) will lose their citizenship and will be deported to Gaza.
- Businesses that distribute materials supporting attacks will be shut down.
- Employers will have some police access to potential employees records to see if they have committed attacks in the past. Employers will have the right to fire employees without severance pay if the employee has a past record.
Think back to your school days when the teacher used to threaten the entire class with after-school detention if one or two students were misbehaving. Unfair wasn’t it? You didn’t do a damn thing wrong and yet here is the teacher lumping you with the worst of your social group. It’s called collective punishment.So replace after-school detention with having your home demolished. With not knowing where your family member is buried. With a loss of citizenship.
Isn’t it ironic, that these measures are more likely to increase terrorism than prevent it? Deterrent measures like these rarely have any sway over the population (much like the death penalty doesn’t prevent crime). It’s like saying “hey why don’t we threaten Arab-Israelis with demolishing their homes, firing them from their jobs, automatically denying them bail, throwing their relatives bodies away and deportation, that should make them like us, right?”
This isn’t even the first time Israel has used collective punishment on the Palestinian people. The Gaza Strip is quite literally on a diet thanks to the blockade, whereby Israeli military officials only allow a certain amount of calories into the Strip, enough to keep Palestinians alive, but not too much that they’re fully provided for. They’ve even repeatedly blocked the UN from delivering food aid in the past. Horrific, but true.
(Under the anti-terror legislation, this flag would be outlawed at demonstrations. Plastering it across my blog here is the least I can do to express solidarity with demonstrators and innocent Palestinian civilians whose right to protest and criticize the government is under threat)
This isn’t about national security. This is about punishing the remaining Arab population in Israel, the ones who survived the exoduses and purges of the 20th century, during the numerous wars between Israel and its neighbours. This is about further marginalizing Arab-Israelis who have the audacity to refuse to relocate to the bantustans of the Palestinian territories. With a bill like this, it seems like the Netanyahu government may not be content until every last Palestinian Arab is in prison (either in an Israeli prison or the Gaza Strip, which amounts to little more than an open-air prison).
Because isn’t that the whole premise of extreme nationalism? Making sure you see people who look and sound just like you, wherever you go? That’s what right-wing American nationalism is about. That’s what right-wing British nationalism is about. Israeli nationalism is no exception.
This brings us to…
The Jewish nationalism bill.
A Cabinet-approved measure that defines Israel as “the Jewish, nationalist state for the Jewish people with equal rights for all citizens,” in the words of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and according to The Guardian “would recognise Israel’s Jewish character, institutionalise Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation and delist Arabic as a second official language”. It will be presented to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, this year.
When Netanyahu claims he believes in equal rights, he’s lying. You can’t endorse a law which defines a state as Jewish and then claim it won’t have an effect on the non-Jewish ethnic minorities. Not a single Islamic country on Earth treats non-Muslims the same way as Muslims. Not a single Christian or Christian-majority country on Earth treats atheists the same way as Christians. If you enshrine a set of laws that praise a certain ethnic or religious group, the chances are you will damage the rights of those who are not part of the group.
This bill, and its anti-terror sister bill, would severely reduce Arab-Israeli citizens’ access to free speech, and are a direct threat to Israeli democracy. Under the bills, Arab-Israelis may not be allowed to criticize the Israeli government for fear of being prosecuted. Imagine how horrendous it would be if we stripped UK Muslims or U.S. Latinos of their ability to openly criticize the government through written means. These bills stick a middle finger up to 20% of Israel’s population, who all happen to be the same ethnicity. Banning the Palestinian flag at demonstrations is just a facile and ridiculous proposition that will have absolutely no positive effect on Israel’s national security, which is the whole point of these bills (apparently).
But why have these bills been proposed?
This is the danger of a nation whose politics are unduly influenced by people who have four characteristics:
- A psychopathic sentiment – in the context of politics, an unreflective tendency to judge on the basis of somebody’s religion or ethnicity, and an inability to put yourself in the shoes of a minority or a persecuted people.
- A nationalist sentiment – a belief that you are attached to your nation and that it must be protected from external forces and outside groups (can be used for good, but can easily turn extreme).
- A patriotic sentiment – a belief that you must stand by your country and all the things that it does because it’s yours and is worthy of devotion.
- An exceptionalist sentiment – a belief that your nation is better than others, unusually gifted or otherwise different to other nations in a good way, and does not need to conform to normal rules.
Israel is not the only nation that is battling with these far-right forces – the U.S. is heavily influenced by people in and out of government who have them (see: Republicans), and the UK is increasingly seeing patriotism and exceptionalism re-entering the mainstream through groups like Britain First and UKIP. Even France is dealing with an extreme far-right political world-view entering the mainstream, thanks to Front National.
Thankfully, there is still left-wing opposition to Netanyahu in Israel that believes in a two-state solution and believes in a secular nation based on fairness and equal representation under the law. But they are increasingly marginalized and denounced as traitors or “Palestinian sympathizers”.
But similar to the head of state in the UK and U.S., Binyamin Netanyahu is faced with a powerful mob of outraged right-wingers who are disappointed that he hasn’t been harsh enough on ethnic minorities, and who have a lot of power to voice that discontent. These are the sort of people who dehumanize Palestinians and refer to them as “worms” and “serpents“, and they hold or have held key positions in Israeli politics.
Likud leadership elections are coming up and the government may be forced to hold early national elections if the current coalition collapses. That’s two upcoming threats to Netanyahu’s power, so if he wants to keep governing, he has to appease his far-right co-workers before they snatch the reins of power away from him. These bills give him the perfect opportunity, if he can get them past the Knesset.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has issued a “peace plan” that hopes to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by paying Arab-Israelis to leave Israel and relocate to Palestine.