Racism Is The Law
Successive Israeli governments since 1948 are
responsible for the institutionalised discrimination
By Ben White
On January 3,
two Palestinians were
removed from an Aegean Airlines flight from
Athens to Tel Aviv, after Jewish Israelis claimed
that they constituted a "security risk". The
incident made headlines
worldwide. A month later, a Tel Aviv-based
cleaning company sparked outrage with a
flyer that priced its staff based on ethnicity.
The story was also
covered around the
these kinds of episodes are proof of the racism that
critics claim permeates Israeli society; for others,
they are examples of isolated bigotry and idiocy. In
fact, neither interpretation is quite right. While
stories resonate and go viral, they can mask the
fact that in Israel racism is the law.
inequality in Israel is institutionalised. Contrary
to a widely held perception, there is no guarantee
of full equality for Jewish and Palestinian
citizens; as the Association for Civil Rights in
it, "the right to equality is not yet enshrined
in law regarding most aspects of life."
cannot be recognised on the constitutional level,"
wrote legal academic
Aeyal Gross, since that would challenge "the
inequality created by the complete identification of
the state with only one group."
that Israel's foundational legislation comes to a
specific commitment to equality is
Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, adopted in
1992 - Israel does not have a formal, written
constitution but a number of "Basic Laws" passed
over the years deal with key issues.
Yet even here,
equality is not "recognised as an independent
right that stands on its own". In fact, just in the
past month, the Knesset
voted against a draft bill that called for the
inclusion of an equality clause in Basic Law: Human
Dignity and Liberty.
the Basic Law allows for rights to be violated "by a
law befitting the values of the State of Israel", a
provides a basis "for giving significant weight
to the nature of Israel as a Jewish state and its
goals, at the expense of the fundamental rights
words of former Supreme Court President Aharon
Barak: "Israel is different from other countries. It
is not only a democratic state, but also a Jewish
state." In other words, Israel is not a state of all
its citizens, something freely
admitted by senior
Palestinian citizens of Israel face systematic
discrimination in law and policy - as these examples
in land and housing, family life, and immigration
In 43 percent
of Israeli towns, residential admission committees
filter out applicants on the grounds of
"incompatibility with the social and cultural
fabric". These committees, which operate by law, are
"used to exclude Arabs from living in rural Jewish
communities", as Human Rights Watch has
In 2014, the
rejected a petition against the committees, a
ruling slammed for having legalised "the principle
of segregation in housing". These small communities
control over a significant amount of land"
regional councils of which they are part.
citizens also face discrimination when it comes to
family life. The Citizenship and Entry into Israel
Law, first adopted in 2003 (PDF),
"imposes severe restrictions on the right of Israeli
citizens … to apply for permits for their
Palestinian spouses and children from the Occupied
Palestinian Territory to enter and reside in Israel
for purposes of family unification".
which has the effect of dividing Palestinian
families and separating spouses, has been
described by a senior European Union official as
establishing "a discriminatory regime to the
detriment of Palestinians in the highly sensitive
area of family rights".
upheld the law in 2012, stating (PDF):
"human rights are not a prescription for national
suicide", putting its stamp of approval -
not for the first time - on a "racist
For the former
Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, the law was about
"demographics". "There is no need to hide behind
security arguments," he admitted. "There is a need
for the existence of a Jewish state."
Perpetual status quo
Palestinian citizens of Israel suffer under
restrictions on family unification, Jewish citizens
benefit from Israel's discriminatory immigration
of Return, Absentee Property Law, and the
Citizenship Law, passed in 1948-1950, created a
reality whereby any Jew in the world can move to
Israel and claim citizenship, while expelled
Palestinian refugees were stripped of citizenship
and are still unable to return.
Israel's law "creates
three tracks of naturalisation": the highest
track for Jews, a second track "for non-Jewish
foreigners, who can apply for Israeli residency
status through a process of individualised
interviews and background checks", and the lowest
track for "Palestinian/Arab/Muslim spouses of
Palestinian citizens of Israel who are prohibited
from entry for the purpose of family unification".
million Palestinians live under an Israeli military
regime in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, an
occupation that has lasted for 49 of the state's
68-year history. In other words, one in three of the
population in territory under Israel's control
is not a citizen and is subject to military, not
important to remember that the territory occupied by
Israel since 1967 is not, in practice, distinct from
the rest of the state: land has been expropriated,
600,000 Jewish Israelis live in more than
200 colonies, natural resources are exploited,
and basic infrastructure - water,
telecommunications, transport - all bind the West
Bank to pre-1967 territory.
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, under
military rule within this de facto single state, are
subjected to severe policies of discrimination and
segregation, as well as military brutality and
repression. This is no secret: as Human Rights Watch
stated in 2010.
face systematic discrimination merely because of
their race, ethnicity, and national origin,
depriving them of electricity, water, schools, and
access to roads, while nearby Jewish settlers enjoy
all of these state-provided benefits."
this "two-tier system", the Israeli military
conducts nightly raids, detains Palestinians without
trial or charge, tortures detainees, and represses
any kind of resistance - including unarmed protests
- with lethal violence.
responsible for all of the above - for the
institutionalised discrimination, the racist laws,
and military rule over 4.5 million Palestinians?
Successive Israeli governments since 1948.
racism of private individuals - whether on a Greek
plane or at a Tel Aviv cleaning company - might get
the headlines, but it is the Israeli state and its
institutions that created and perpetuates the
colonial status quo, and which must be held to
Ben White is a
freelance journalist, writer and activist,
specialising in Palestine/Israel.